Friendly Fire is but one of many installments in this years Art Matters festival – a multidisciplinary 10 day extravaganza of art matter in Montreal, Quebec. While Art Matters isn't a political showcase, once in a while they do get their politics on. Friendly Fire, and an exhibition entitled “Complot” by UQAM studio arts and art history students, (while there are two shows, they blend together well) has got some such stuff, and while it may not be overt and in-your-face, the residue of political themes emerges if you give it time. Co-curator Edwin Janzen (with Joshua Barndt) says it's not “activist art – but all of it is politically informed in some way.” The show, which is on display at Art Mur on St-Hubert, runs from March 1 to 17 and includes the work of 16 artists. Walking through the rooms that hold the photographs, sculptures, mini-gardens and men-reading-on-stool installments a political theme did indeed surface.
Friendly Fire/Complot expresses the intersection of technology, disposable consumerism, urbanism and the natural world (with some quixotic First Nations culture placement) in stitched together fleece unicorns and horses (pictured above right, artist: Kate Hampel, title: “it cannot be taken alive”), resistance gardens that appear in periphery as area rugs, urban landscape photography that places human disconnect amongst concrete, steel, glass and grass, and plastic strip-tie woodpeckers that diligently peck away – driven not by instinct but by tiny motors – in the foreground of a wallpaper forest. There is also a life-size pharma-closet full of all the bottles of capitalist ingenuity that promise to ease all neurotic and psychotic tendencies in a brutal modern world (artist: Sophie Juneau). Across from the plastic wood peckers an innocuous pair of speakers plays the soft chorus of songbirds and next to them are images of a human in various fetal positions surrounded by an enclosure of foam mold that threatens to consume the body.
The organic-meets-humanmade-meets-nostalgia-for-the-lost-organic is a thread articulated throughout all the pieces in this exhibit, where a dystopic but quietly chemical and seemingly sedate unnatural future communicates the necessity of adaptation, all the while reminding one of the inability of humans to adapt to our natural environment sustainably and respectfully. The presence of technology – whether it is the rows of perfectly cultivated backyards adjacent an Ontario highway or the spray-foam enclosures – is shown as our coping mechanism as well as humanity's violent extension from atop the food chain down to the landbase we exploit and pollute.
Friendly Fire/Complot is best taken as a whole, where each piece ads something to the project of realizing the complex patterns of human industrialism as well as the impact we have on our surroundings, and how those surroundings in turn, impact us. As the by-line from the Friendly Fire poster reads:
Encircled and manipulated by vast social, economic and political structures, we humans witness, struggle, adapt, resist and sometimes even creatively challenge our complex, even treacherous presence in the world.
The piece I found to embody this description the most compellingly is the photograph (posted in our gallery) by Terry Yun, of a man (or “boy” as the title of the installation suggests) crouched defeatingly, caressing the green fuses (thank you Dylan Thomas) that persist in resisting in the middle of Concordia University's massive development in downtown Montreal. Tellingly, the site of the photo is now a giant pit with machines and humans building, developing upward, upward, toward the lie of progress and the infinity of disconnectedness that Friendly Fire/Complot seeks to confront.
For more on Art Matters, go here.