Blouin Division Gallery | Canadian art at its best

Three fascinating exhibits at the Griffintown Contemporary Art Center allow us to discover heartwarming reworked photographs, deceptively naive fabric works and very talkative beaded creations. Make way for the corpora of Canadian artists: Sarah Anne Johnson, Hannah Epstein and Nico Williams.

Sarah Anne Johnson has a knack for appeasing. By transmitting all the delicacy of his soul. For Woodland, this series that she has been exploring since 2020, she is once again interested in the links between human beings and nature. Our environment, often denigrated, revered by the first peoples and those who find inspiration there. Including Sarah Anne Johnson, totally in love with the spirituality of peaceful landscapes. As were Emily Carr, the painters of the Group of Seven or, in literature, Henry David Thoreau.

Woodland is another of her nods to the environment, as she did with her corpora Tree Planting, Arctic Wonderland and The Galapagos Project. But this time, added to his concern to evoke the fragility of nature that of considering its paradisiacal and penetrating character.

The photographs of Woodland were taken in dense, bright Manitoba woods, not far from the 45-year-old artist’s home. She has affixed touches of oil paint, a little ink or holographic tape on her photographic prints. And she used Photoshop. To add more leaves to trees caught in late day light. To give effects of stained glass, kites, fairyland. With multicolored touches that make these small pieces of fabric think of Tibetan prayer flags that we see in the Himalayas on the roads and in the villages.

These additions give a magical and spiritual atmosphere. “They create an image that reflects my personal experience with the landscape,” she says. It succeeded. There is often dream, desire, utopia in the creations of Sarah Anne Johnson. As we saw with his corpus Field Trip and rituals of outdoor music concerts. In this Woodland with the allure of a wonderful park, the touch of youth and childhood memories that she inserts makes her work invigorating and restful in this depressing period. Thank you !

Hannah Epstein

The gallery induces a different kind of solace with the woven works of Hannah Epstein, created in cotton and jute following an artistic residency at Arsenal Contemporary Art last summer. Comical and playful in appearance, his textile creatures drain a critical content. The artist has chosen handmade textiles for these characters, to counteract the omnipresence of the virtual and the artificial in art and communications. The Toronto native of Halifax – who drank since her childhood in the world of the Internet and video games – wishes to alarm us, with this corpus, about the harmful effects that technology and simplistic entertainment have on human behavior.

Yet they seem nice, these little colorful demons! But laughter is yellow, warns Hannah Epstein. Digital hyperconnection tends to disconnect us from reality and reason, she warns. In particular with its installation Self-Driving Car & NPC Victim, a work that illustrates a driverless automobile that has struck an NPC, or “non-player character”, these video game characters who have no particular role in relation to the main star.

Characters who are the kind of extras we would have become if we were captive, manipulated, or even controlled by the entertainment industry, believes Hannah Epstein. For example, she alludes to the consequences of “ludocapitalism”, this very fashionable system which tends to make workers forget their poverty wages by installing ping-pong tables in their locker rooms, for example.

Hannah Epstein has previously exhibited at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. She is 36 years old and is represented by the Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles.

Nico Williams

More lightness, but no less humor and depth with the pearly works of Anichinabe Nico Williams, originally from Sarnia, Ontario, and whose first solo with Blouin Division. We discovered it during the expo The machine that taught birds to air, mounted last year by curators Mark Lanctôt and François LeTourneux at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.

We find at the Arsenal Rock On, the native identity card that he had also exhibited at the MAC. A small object with a playful portrait of the artist, made with dozens of fine colored pearls. A work that criticizes the colonial status of Indigenous people, forced to have this identity card because of the Indian Act, a federal denomination decried … and still in force.

In the center of the exhibition hall sits a sort of “paper” bag, in fact created from brown glass beads containing 24 carat gold. A work that refers to his youth and to the bags supplied by his local convenience store, the Starlite Variety. Inside the bag are pieces of cedar branches, a plant that the Anichinabe consider to be purifying and use to make tea. On the walls of the room, beaded creations are mounted on leather and represent cereal wrappers. As well as a kind of lace made entirely of tiny glass beads. Quite a job!

The three exhibitions of the Blouin Division gallery are presented until January 22 at the Arsenal.

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