The Laboratory of Feminist Pataphyics Presents: Ateliers of the Near Future, the current exhibition at Stride Gallery, proposes fantastical solutions for the cultivation of culture and gardening — two thorny issues that have plagued Calgary for generations. The exhibition consists of 15 dioramas constructed by Mireille Perron, each combining artist studios with community gardens, as well as works by 14 local emerging artists that deal with the future of the environment.
Coined by French writer Alfred Jarry, pataphysics refers to a branch of pseudo-philosophy that extends beyond the realm of metaphysics. To put it simply, it is the science of imaginary solutions. Like other branches of science, pataphysics has been largely dominated by men — Jean Baudrillard, Jean Genet and Marcel Duchamp are a few of the many to carry out the absurdist traditions.
In 2007, Perron presented the LFP’s Emergency Mobile Unit at The New Gallery. The exhibition aimed to recruit members as well as elevate the creative work and inventions of women to the same level of respect that society gives mainstream science. The recruits were inducted by performing annual feminist interventions. Recruits recount their interventions to a statutory member who determines if the recruit’s narration “feels good.” If so, member status is automatically granted to the recruit.
A similar humorous “feel-good” sentiment pervades Perron’s current exhibition.
Fifteen miniature worlds are constructed on, or inside, domestic-themed vintage children’s toys. Artist studios exist inside the quaint kitchen objects, with community gardens and greenhouses thriving on the surface. Virtually every art form is represented, from ceramics to glass, even acting, music and filmmaking. Most art forms are cleverly matched to the kitchen spaces they inhabit — kilns and glory holes inside ovens and fibre arts atop an ironing board.
Perron’s quirky wit is dressed in kitsch esthetic. A group of backpackers stand atop a tin mountain gazing at an elk printed on a collectible plate. It uses tacky Canadiana residue to indirectly invoke a sense of nostalgia for nature — something scarce, or even foreign, to an inner-city dweller.
The theory of pataphysics is cleverly illustrated with a found chemistry set used as the base of a sculpture and garden scene. Two boys excitedly appear on the front of the “magic lab.” Vignettes pictured on the backdrop show how the operators of the set can turn “make-believe ‘wine’ into water,” or use disappearing ink to “write spirit messages.”
Small mirrors are placed inside the dioramas to give a fuller view of the static, but lively, scenes. This element, beyond being functional, adds a layer of magic — making the viewer’s shrunken reflection part of the composition and adhering to the feminist agenda of inclusion.
The other works in the exhibition are just as clever and, at times, downright hilarious. This is especially true of June Hills’s “Atelier in the Forest” — a t(r)ea party, with model trees sprouting from tea cups — as well as in Ryan March Fairweather’s “Flower Mountain.” The beautifully crafted, cartoon-like glass mountain is paired with a digital print of Starchitect (an “energetic creator of stars, an atom-sized mechanic bear deity embodying the qualities of non-violence and clarity of mind”). A didactic panel describes the absurd science of weather mechanics — the imaginary technological solution to a destroyed environment.
Other works take on a more serious approach. Mikhel Proulx’s “Research Study on Milton Kandbourg,” demands the most of a viewer’s interpretative skills. Arranged on the wall are various artifacts highlighting Proulx’s investigation of the obscure Danish-Canadian landscape painter Milton Kandborg. Photographs, a painting on loan from the Walter Phillips Gallery, a dim slide in a slide viewer and a packet of emails documenting Proulx’s inquiries on Kandborg’s legacy institutionally describe the growing absence of a man who once existed. In presenting information that is mundane — a common belief on the state of landscape painting — Proulx’s work proposes that perhaps it is not the artist’s legacy that is important, but how Kandborg’s lack of legacy acts as a metaphor for our constantly changing and diminishing landscape. This is not the most esthetically magnetic work in the exhibition, but along with Romy Straathof’s “of everything that disappears there remain traces” — names of endangered species inscribed on handspun paper — it is the most conceptually poetic.
Eco-feminist art aims to correct the imbalances in the patriarchal political framework, one that conflates women and nature and depreciates both. This exhibition successfully combats this markdown in value through clever humour and a childlike ingenuity. Playful in its display, this exhibition is inviting and accessible on multiple levels; it effectively communicates its ideas to a wide demographic that perhaps anyone from children to academic scholars could understand.