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James Gardner & David Lafrance

Moving Pictures


June 12 - August 25, 2023

Vernissage: June 22nd 2023, 5 pm to 7 pm

Exhibition description

Activating the long narrow architecture of the York Vitrines, James Gardner and David Lafrance share an installation of paintings, studio ephemera, and architectural motifs. Addressing themes of the studio, accumulation, the archive, and performance, this dual exhibition enables the artists to continue a dialogue that has been ongoing since 2018. Their past installation work created a platform for research wherein both artists could explore their practices while considering the cumulative nature of picture-making and how that can be schematized and elaborated within exhibition formats. This show will display new and old works from both artists and the production of new sculptural constructions that will serve as scaffolds, shelves, desks, or storage racks upon which the paintings will hang. As a caricature of a supplanted studio space, the York Vitrines act as a semi-public site foregrounding the idea of space and location as essential factors in creating a work of art. 

Commissioned essay

On works, mountains, planets and stars

Essay by Maude Johnson

Over 4.5 billion years ago, stellar debris agglomerated to form the Earth. The transformation of this molecular cloud, composed of stellar particles first dispersed in the galaxy by the force of their explosion, then reunited by gravity, took place over a period of 30 million years. It took another billion years before the planet's inner core began to solidify. Finally, mountain ranges were formed, the very ones that punctuate the landscape we see before our eyes today. Near Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang (Montreal), where James Gardner has his studio, the Laurentians are one of the oldest geological formations, having been completed a billion years ago. Wigwômadenizibo (Mont Saint-Hilaire), where David Lafrance's workshop is located, is 125 million years old. Siám' Smánit (Stawamus Chief), overlooking the small town of Squamish in British Columbia, where I live at the time of writing this text, was formed 100 million years ago.

Geological time puts things into perspective. It takes us out of our anthropocentric relationship with what surrounds us: geology is, after all, one of our planet's most important regulators. For example, by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, soil plays a major role in the long-term maintenance of the planet's climatic equilibrium. Geology, however, operates over such a long period of time that it is considered abstract. The movement underlying the various geological phenomena cannot be experienced by human beings. We can understand it, but it operates in a temporality that escapes our comprehension, where accumulation is the main source of knowledge–rock strata revealing the traces of terrestrial evolution.

This concept of a movement that animates material accumulation over time seems to me a fascinating metaphor for considering artistic creation, and more specifically the studio space, whose issues are at the heart of the exhibition Moving Pictures. Conceived by artists James Gardner and David Lafrance, the installation presented in the oblong window of the FOFA Gallery combines the context of creation with that of exhibition, thanks to a fruitful collaboration between two practices that collectively question the place of the studio. Using a resolutely theatrical approach, the artists have created a vast mise-en-scène in which a panoply of works–some unfinished, fragmented or several years old, others created jointly by Gardner and Lafrance for the exhibition–simultaneously dialogue, turn their backs on one another and merge together. The accumulation of works creates a form of movement, like an animation produced by the layering of images, although not visually perceptible. Here, the movement evoked is that of negotiated ideas, of the back-and-forth of thought, but also of the brush, of the creative gesture, of the manipulation destined for exhibition. It's also the movement of the studio, which is frequently displaced by socio-economic factors: rising rents, eviction by new owners, the building's new purpose; the Montreal art scene is facing a crisis that is making creative spaces dangerously fragile.

Gardner and Lafrance's accumulation of mostly individual works echoes the slow accumulation of geological processes, which precedes and/or follows the solidification of matter. This asynchronous accumulation shapes a chaotic architecture, where the artists script the time of creation. In this way, the ecosystem of the studio is skillfully reproduced, with all the elements acting as a vast tableau. To this end, Gardner and Lafrance have designed pieces of furniture that recall the studio, works in their own right that further complicate the status of each element in the installation. In this narrative space, where the subtleties and tumults of artistic work unfold, the works bear the traces of experience, of the care devoted to them, of their displacement.

The images in Moving Pictures reflect the necessary movement of artistic practice, tossed about by the repeated search for spaces to create. The project offers food for thought about the role of the exhibition: while it has become a creative space for immaterial and performative practices, can it now serve as an archive or storage space for material practices? Can it lighten the burden of artistic creation that requires a studio? The space of the studio, like that of the exhibition, has a strong influence on the way work is conceived and interpreted. Given that there is no such thing as a neutral container, space permeates production, shaping manipulations and readings. Each work is made up of innumerable layers of everything and nothing, like planets formed from the agglomeration of stellar debris.

About the Writer

Maude Johnson is an author, curator and contemporary art consultant. She holds a master's degree in art history from Concordia University and a bachelor's degree in art history from UQAM. She is interested in performative, critical and curatorial practices, with a particular focus on their methodologies, processes and languages. Her projects have been presented at the Galerie de l'UQAM (Montreal, 2022), at the Regart artist-run centre (Lévis, 2020), at the Critical Distance Centre for Curators (Toronto, 2018) and at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery's SIGHTINGS space (Montreal, 2016). She has been an active contributor to Esse magazine since 2015. From 2018 to 2023, she worked at MOMENTA Biennale de l'image, where she participated in strategic planning, the development of a curatorial vision and the expansion of the organization’s outreach.

About the artists

Born in Kitchener, James Gardner currently lives in Montreal, where he graduated from the MFA program at Concordia University in 2020. His recent exhibitions include SOS: A story of Survival at the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, As Gardens Need Walls at Galerie Nicolas Robert (Toronto, 2021) and Vessels and Broods at Concordia’s MFA Gallery (Montreal 2020), Gardner’s work has been supported by multiple grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council.  

David Lafrance (b. 1976) holds a Master of Fine Arts from Concordia University in Montreal. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions and biennales in Canada, the United-States, and in France. Among his recent solo exhibitions are Maison de la culture Marie-Uguay (2018); Galerie Hugues Charbonneau (2014, 2016, 2018 and 2021); Ceaac (2015), Strasbourg; L’Œil de Poisson (2014), Québec City; and the Musée régional de Rimouski (2012). Lafrance lives in Montreal and works in Saint-Jean-Baptiste. 


The artists recognize the support of the Canada Council for the Arts

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