Étienne Tremblay-Tardif

The interchange of place and identity
"Every good art piece should have a bit of mystery to it."

Étienne Tremblay-Tardif l Photo: Christie Vuong Étienne Tremblay-Tardif l Photo: Christie Vuong

For an artist whose early paintings and drawings were inspired by the bucolic landscape of his native Charlevoix, Étienne Tremblay-Tardif has become fascinated with an environment that's the polar opposite: the Turcot Interchange.

He's been studying the gritty, crumbling spaghetti junction that connects the strands of several major intersecting Montreal highways for a couple of years now. The large body of unique prints he's creating will form the heart of his MFA thesis. "It's a classic case of brutalism and minimalism," he says of the interchange built in the late 1960s.

Tremblay-Tardif's interest reaches further back, even, to the land as it was before the massive highway structure rode roughshod over it.

"I'm most interested in the historical significance and the ideological opportunities around that," explains the third-year student, whose main areas of interest are architecture, printed matter and film. "I see the final product as a monumental cyber archive, as an information interchange."

He pulls out a large folder from a drawer in the spacious, sunlit printmaking studio at Concordia and goes through the dozens of prints he's already produced of the interchange area. Montages of black-and-white photographs, drawings, newspaper clippings, maps, blocks of muted colour tell the Turcot story as the artist sees it. A recipient of multiple scholarships and prizes, Tremblay-Tardif presented some of these prints at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery in spring 2011.

Geopolitical roots

Two key elements shaped the framework of Tremblay-Tardif's artistic perceptions: place and identity.

He was raised in a tight-knit, insular community of 1,400 on Isle-aux-Coudres, an island in the St. Lawrence. He had a unique family-cum-community album: a trio of documentaries by filmmaker Pierre Perrault, who in the 1960s and '70s recorded the daily lives of Isle-aux-Coudres's inhabitants. "The films exposed me to ideas of everyday life being highly politicized, and links to identity and cultural rituals," he says.

Tremblay-Tardif was also exposed to the landscape painting of Quebec artists past and present, the art firmly rooted in a sense of place. Recognizing his home in art reinforced the idea of geopolitical territory, which now manifests itself in work he describes as surveying "the intersections of personal and collective identities."

Étienne Tremblay-Tardif, Proposal for the vertical integration of the media-historical stratas of the Turcot Interchange, MDF, metal sawhorses, 5 single channel videos, 7 publications, prints, photocopies, found objects, adhesive vinyl, 2011-2012, 48'x288'x90'. Photo by Paul Smith. Click to enlarge. Étienne Tremblay-Tardif, Proposal for the vertical integration of the media-historical stratas of the Turcot Interchange, MDF, metal sawhorses, 5 single channel videos, 7 publications, prints, photocopies, found objects, adhesive vinyl, 2011-2012, 48'x288'x90'. Photo by Paul Smith. Click to enlarge.

While he enjoyed drawing, Tremblay-Tardif didn't pursue it into university. He majored in Art History at Université de Montréal, and took drawing classes on the side. One of his drawing professors convinced him to go to art school.

Choosing Concordia after obtaining his BA, he experimented with different media while earning a BFA and, for his master's, decided to focus on print media. Recently he began to explore performance, appearing on sidewalks and parks to drill through books on topics such as the FLQ (Front de Libération de Québec), then hold them up to examine them. He likes the tension of live performance, of having passersby wonder what he's doing - whether they stop to find out or not.

That's how Tremblay-Tardif wants viewers to receive his work, too: to feel the tension between form and matter, idea and sensuality. "I try not to give them something tout cuit [clear-cut]," he says. "Every good art piece should have a bit of mystery to it."

 

SIGHTINGS V: The Shaped Canvas and the Highway Interchange as Case Studies, a project by Étienne Tremblay-Tardif featuring artworks by major Québécois artists, is on display in the EV Building, metro level, until February 17, 2013. Details.

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on Mar. 14, 2012

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