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Diane Morin/Nelly-Eve Rajotte
Société des arts technologiques (SAT), Montreal
by Dan Adler

Canadian Art, "Diane Morin/Nelly-Eve Rajotte" by Dan Adler, Fall 2008, pp. 156-60


The exhibition “Effleurements,” curated by Nicole Gingras, featured multimedia works by the Montreal artists Diane Morin and Nelly-Eve Rajotte, who both employ light, movement and sound in their art. Visitors were greeted by a video installation by Rajotte that set the show’s dramatic, provocative tone. Her SI IS (2008) combined projected imagery of a deserted gas station with a quadraphonic soundtrack. The work offered an experience of place in which a viewer’s sense of being oriented in space was unhinged easily by attempts to interpret its superimposed layers of sights and sounds.

While Rajotte’s project exuded sensory abundance, Morin’s installation Capteurs d’ombres (2006–08) began with sensory deprivation. As visitors stumbled uneasily into a space bathed in total darkness—arms raised, to prevent collision with either art or people—the feeling of trepidation was amplified by the desolate basement setting. As one stooped to inspect five light boxes affixed to the wall and a measure of optical ability returned, this body-conscious anxiety became less acute. Each box contained fragments of old-fashioned machines that the artist collects and dissects. These fragments were suddenly illuminated from below, and shadows sprang to life—stuttering, squirming or advancing steadily—on the translucent surfaces of the boxes, as if in a traditional Asian puppet show.

Morin’s recent work reflects a preoccupation with the process of salvaging and exploring the potential of technologies often dismissed as either obsolete or too mundane to be worthy of attention. In the video work Effondrements (which was exhibited in 2007 at Mercer Union in Toronto and Optica in Montreal), Morin documented a series of tiny explosions that she created by placing explosive powder inside hollow, translucent household objects. A suspenseful soundtrack of fuses burning accompanied the work. Not powerful enough to obliterate the objects inside the containers, the explosions illuminated each item for an instant, allowing momentary recognition of each article’s identity. In Capteurs d’ombres, the silhouetted technologies and objects on display were less readily identifiable, and the mystery added to their metaphorical complexity. One box seemed to contain a portion of a clunky old phone, along with a cord that dangled and twitched like a serpent’s tail. Another featured an uneven row of vertical forms with pointy tips; here the light animated these forms, which were derived from a knitting machine, in a cinematic fashion, as though they were pickets in a fence captured on film by an antiquated camera from a moving vehicle. An audio track featuring what could have been the accelerating click-clack of a locomotive, or perhaps a horse, bolstered this reading. A nearby box contained objects arranged to resemble an industrial landscape, with a horizon line and factory-like structures that shifted inside their container, perhaps reflecting the relentless evolution of industrial technologies. The vibrating soundtrack brought to mind heavy machinery in motion, reinforcing the idea of an industrial context and providing a literal gravitas. Another container featured a key from a typewriter; one end of the C-shaped form moved toward a circular object, like a hammer striking an alarm bell in slow motion.

It was impossible to assign specific identities or functions to Morin’s silhouetted contraptions—they were freed from clear-cut meanings by their abstraction and their unexpected movements—and this led to productive semantic speculation. As time passed, the typewriter key and circular form began to resemble a single-cell organism being manipulated under a microscope. The show in general referenced the space of the laboratory, but other environments were suggested as well. In addition to puppet theatre and early cinema, the display also evoked vitrines in a natural-history museum. Morin achieves this symbolic richness without ever depending on gimmickry or spectacular effects.

Dan Adler
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