Through the lens of sculpture, and both formal and material experimentation, Montreal-based artist Valérie Blass transforms the human body into choreographed, abstract compositions. Commissioned to create a site-specific installation in Allen Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place, she deconstructs the photographic view to confront the limitations of figurative representation and the instability of form.
For Nous ne somme pas des héros, which translates to “We are not heroes,” Blass produced a series of still photographs solely for the purpose of creating three-dimensional objects. Working with live models, she orchestrated their movements to create living sculptures, then documented each configuration from five vantage points. Dressed in contrasting pattern and solid colour clothing — lending further pictorial complexity and textural definition to the scene — her subjects re-formed their pose between shots to create essentially the same, but slightly different shape each time. The resulting photographs were cut into sections, adhered to a series of blocks, and stacked into assemblages that reflect the precarious nature of each arrangement. In Bleached Jeans (2017), the figures entwine in a type of pyramid pose atop a pedestal-like object, while in One Piece Mohair (2017), two figures stand in a close embrace, propping up the third figure between them.
Situated along the pedestrian thoroughfare of Brookfield Place Toronto, Blass’ theatrical, organically formed sculptures echo the dramatic arch of the glass ceiling and its freestanding support structure, generating a visual dialogue surrounding expressions of balance and biomorphic form. Looking to traditions of art history and monumental statues, Blass challenges conventional approaches to grandeur, static perspectives, and singular subjects. By contrast, the subjects of her sculptures are anonymous, their individuality metamorphosing into an abstraction. As these bodies fold inward, their differences intertwine and merge into single entities. The stacked blocks disorient the gaze of passersby, inviting viewers to conceptually reconstruct the scenes.
Collectively, these sculptures occupy and transform the surrounding environment, offering a sense of unabashed intimacy, balanced with a sense of humour. Blass’ installation invites a physically engaged method of viewing, opening up a dialogue in public space about shared activity that embraces forms of social change.
Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein.
ABOUT SCOTIABANK CONTACT FESTIVAL
Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival is an annual event in May with well over 1500 Canadian and international artists and photographers exhibiting at more than 175 venues throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1997 and now a charitable organization, the Festival is devoted to celebrating, and fostering the art and profession of photography, through a diverse range of programs.
As a leading proponent of photography, the Festival increases exposure and recognition for local, Canadian and international artists and is committed to advancing knowledge, creativity and innovation in photography. It stimulates excitement and discussion among a diverse audience that has grown to over 1.8 million. CONTACT is the largest photography event in the world, and a premiere cultural event in Canada.
ABOUT VALERIE BLASS
Through the lens of sculpture, Valérie Blass explores the tensions between form, figure, materials and art historical tropes. She often uses everyday objects and industrial materials, such as fractured figures and shattered artifacts, as a starting point to organically explore voids and absences in both natural history and art history. Blass reimagines and reinvents the present by borrowing from different sources, such as hunting supply catalogues or discount stores. In turn, the artist creates new worlds by observing and reintroducing the details of time and space. She anthropologically uses negative space in material culture to (re)present history as we know it.
Blass has a vision of a curious present: a place where seemingly stoic objects become alert sentinels, spent warriors, princesses and other mystical figures. She remains loyal to a sculptural tradition in her new versions of icons and figures. Using a variety of color, pattern, texture and scale, Blass fuses these elements together in the suggestion of an alternate reality—one that opposes sameness. Her work relies on the responses and reactions of an engaged audience. The immediate present and future are now anticipated with an unexpected ‘tour de force’.