The Western Front is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Montreal based artist Sophie Bélair Clément. The exhibition is the culmination of research done by the artist during her Media Arts residency at the Western Front this past winter. Bélair Clément uses a variety of discursive working methods—writing, talks, correspondence, and restaging—to interpret generational assumptions and the engrained practices that inform exhibition making and display strategies in art institutions. For this exhibition she turns her eye toward the near 40-year history of the Western Front.
Through both regimented research processes and associative instinct, Bélair Clément uses the curious and often-overlooked details that she gathers during her research phase to inform her work. From this, she generates installations involving architectural interventions, artistic collaborations, as well as borrowed artworks and other objects, to reposition our view of the strategies used by art institutions that rarely get a second thought from the public. By reframing these scenarios, Bélair Clément exposes the mechanisms that shape our perception of, and our response to artworks. Ultimately, drawing attention to the visitors’ often highly mediated experience of a particular exhibition space from the artwork, to the lighting conditions, or the institution’s staff themselves.
Often, the primary starting point for Bélair Clément’s practice is the archive. She used her own comparative research methodology to mine the Western Front’s video and print archives, spend time with the institution’s founding members and map architectural shifts throughout the building’s history. From this line of inquiry, a new body of work produced for this exhibition reveals the complex circumstances that arise when our memory of an artwork, an exhibition and institutional histories, become inseparable from each other.
The residency period has brought forth several projects in Bélair Clément’s practice, three of which have been realized so far. The exhibition is comprised of a new video work, an architectural intervention and a compilation of selected time-oriented apologies, that were pulled from the Western Front’s correspondence archives.
This compilation of apologies will be available to current Western Front staff, who will be instructed to use these generalized mea culpas in current email and print correspondence when necessary and footnoting them to reveal their origination. The compilation is available for consultation in the reading room and a second compilation of these apologies will be collected as the staff reuses them.
The architectural intervention in the gallery serves as a reminder of ever-changing veneer of the Western Front’s exhibition space. One portion of a double window, which has been hidden behind the east facing gallery wall since the mid 1980s, has been revealed and refinished. This cutaway will be maintained in the gallery space throughout the run of the exhibition programme for the coming years. As part of this gesture, Bélair Clément also dates and attributes several other elements in the gallery to their respective authors—whether they be past artists, curators or building owners.
An ambitious six-channel video work revisits a videotape produced at the Western Front on August 1, 1973. Originally taped on location in the Western Front’s offices during one of French artist Robert Filliou’s many visits here, several members and associates of the Intermedia collective sit around a table and tell the history of the collective’s actions, works and exhibitions as the camera pans through dozens of photographs. Bélair Clément used this videotape to initiate a series of DVD commentary type audio recordings from the artists Eric Metcalfe, Glenn Lewis, Michael Morris, Vincent Trasov, Paul Wong and Ed Varney—all of whom were present for this very early example of self-historicization. The voiceover recordings have been transcribed into texts and play on monitors, accompanying the original video, offering a visually comparative view on narrative history practices.
Sophie Bélair Clément’s residency and subsequent exhibition are part of Past is Prologue, an ongoing programme that invites artists, writers and curators to produce critical, research-based projects related to the Western Front Media Archive. Past is Prologue will continue into 2013, marking the Western Front’s 40th anniversary.
Sophie Bélair Clément is an artist from Montreal and she has exhibited previously at Galerie Clark, Montreal, The Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum, Turku, Finland, Optica, Montreal, Galerie Leonard & Bina Ellen of Concordia University, Montreal. In 2010, she was the Conseil des arts et des letters du Québec resident at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany.