I don’t want to end up with something I already know
Some intellectual systems exist ready-made, just plug and play. We know how they work before we even set them in motion. These systems, with their well-known structures, endlessly repeat the same truths, confine us to the same roles, encourage the repetition of the same never-ending clichés. These more or less frozen schemas are something like Isabelle Pauwels’ raw materials. By submitting them to examination, then cutting them up and putting them back together in a very elaborate manner, she seeks to break them while at the same time ensuring that we are still able to recognise them.
Through an intense exploration of mise en scène, filming and especially montage, Pauwels’ videos reconfigure popular genres such as sitcoms, home movies and documentaries. The blend of performance and documentary realism shines light on the tense relations that exist in her work between narrative convention and everyday social interaction.
Some of the videos presented here first existed as installations. Projecting them in a small movie theatre underscores the profound ties they have to cinema. This succession in time gives even more intensity to some of the tropes that contribute to deconstructing the genre mould from one work to the next. From their writing to their shot breakdown, filming and editing, these works are an exercise in out-and-out disregard for the rules.
The exhibition takes the form of three programs. The first is organised around repetition. Used like a musical motif, it serves to reveal rather than to repeat. The second program is a challenge to all genres and their lot of appearances by means of a unique cinematic grammar with an unbridled pace and editing. The third program shows and reworks, helter-skelter, pornography, the history of video art in Vancouver, musical comedy, documentary and television reality shows.
12:05 pm | PROGRAM 1 — Do-overs, redux, and fuck-ups
The Embellishers (2007): A question of small change, cigarette lighters, harassment and eviction. The artist and her twin re-enact a series of confrontations with their neighbours in the Downtown Eastside district.
June 30 (2009): For a long time, video imitated cinema and cinema imitated theatre. Lawns, laurel hedges, home movies, blacks in rags working and white children playing. A perfect loop in which, through a special effect, images of North American suburbs imitate those of 1950s colonial Africa. But here the link between one place and time to another is, from a narrative point of view, incomplete.
B‑‑‑‑‑+‑‑‑‑+‑‑‑‑+‑‑‑‑‑E (2008): Porn as structuralist film. A series of epiphenomena and repetitions, in particular the constant opening and closing of a door at the back of the last porno movie theatre in Vancouver, breaks up the integrity of the screening taking place.
1:15 pm | PROGRAM 2 — I know it when I see it
Eddie (2005): The artist tells the story of her one-night stand with Eddie, but the true subject of the work is on the viewers’ side and their desire to believe — or not — the story they are being told.
B & E (2009): A hand-held camera shot of a metaphorical break-and-enter by the artist in search of a story amongst family objects and the family gathered on the property of her deceased grandparents when their possessions are disposed of.
W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010): The artist’s mother discusses the waxing of coffee roots and wonders at the meaning of a stamp on the rear end of a negro statuette. The work’s interviews and colonial imagery might make one think this is a documentary in a classical mode, but the editing constantly interrupts and fragments the viewer’s thoughts and expectations.
3:10 pm | PROGRAM 3 — Summer Stock
Triple Bill (2007): Three visits to an xxx cinema bring out the artist’s impressions on the architecture, the films and the clientele, culminating with a conversation with M., a customer, recorded without his knowledge using a hidden microphone.
LIKE…/AND, LIKE/YOU KNOW/TOTALLY/ RIGHT (2012): Legendary characters created by members of the Western Front artists’ centre in the 1970s meet their descendants: a blasé dominatrix, a club for teenagers, the Kardashian sisters and an aspiring reality show actress.
Isabelle Pauwels was born in Kortrijk, Belgium and lives in New Westminster, British Colombia. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001 and in 2006 completed a master’s degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She works mostly in video but also in sculpture, the book and printmaking. Her work explores the history of television, colonial exploration narratives and the culture around television reality shows and has been exhibited widely at venues such as The Power Plant (2011), Western Front (2013) and as part of the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibition Storytelling. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Sobey Art Award. She is represented by the Catriona Jeffries gallery.