In recent years, many visual art exhibitions have given a prominent place to objects. Not those that—due to their status or showcasing—are recognized in the art world and already have an inherent aesthetic value, but rather the everyday objects that we either accumulate around us or destroy when they are no longer useful. Hardly intended to be viewed according to rigorous epistemological parameters, these commonplace utilitarian or decorative objects occupy our everyday spaces and impact our personal lives. But why is there an interest in them in the field of contemporary art? Is this a way to resist a system of objects premised on planned obsolescence? Is it to oppose the aesthetics of immateriality, by underlining the importance of things that partake in our subjectivity by virtue of being objects of affection?2 In giving them a “second life,” is this phenomenon of reinserting objects in an ecology of conservation not akin to what we understand by the fetish-object?
The theme of this issue of ESPACE art actuel is “Monuments/Counter-Monuments.” The monument is not a new concept; the notion emerged with the awareness of history. With its roots in the Latin monumentum, which signifies “that which serves as a reminder,” the monument is an object of commemoration. Its presence draws our attention to what once was, ultimately making us more mindful of the future and subtly evoking a duty of remembrance. But has this commemorative design lost its significance? Does the duty to remember depend upon building a permanent monument? A monument, especially when it evokes an event from the distant past, whether funerary or commemorative, is simply put on display. It exists for the purposes of official celebration, which circumvents the efforts required in the true act of remembering – particularly as monuments create the illusion of a collective memory.
At the mention of human migration, we think immediately of people across the globe who are obliged to leave their native countries in search of safer territory. The reasons for these forced migrations may be political, economic, ethnic, religious, or even, as is more and more often the case, climatic. While most of these migrations have been occurring since the development of nation-states and the establishment of new borders, we must admit that our age has “produced more refugees, migrants, displaced persons, and exiles than ever before in history.” Considering the extent of these displacements and in order to circumvent the lucrative market for smugglers, Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, a specialist in international migration, advocates for the right to migrate and the right to mobility, even if such notions are not always welcomed with open arms.
At the start of this 21st century, the issues that ecology raises unfold on a true battleground. The supposition that made André Malraux herald this century as irreligious seems hardly credible when the decisions to be made for humanity’s greater good focus on our duty to future generations. In Quebec and in Canada, just as everywhere else in the world, the protection of the environment elicits public outcry. Whether in respect to the exploitation of oil, shale gas development, the harnessing of river energy or deforestation, the representatives of organizations mandated to preserve our natural heritage fight on the front lines for the need to protect our natural resources. In the name of civil society, they demand more transparency in the decision-making process. Thus, in the span of a few decades, ecology—initially viewed as a natural science reserved for experts committed to studying the life of organisms in their natural habitats—has become an increasingly ideological movement for developing policies to protect the environment.
With issue 109, ESPACE, the new generation, completes its first lap around the track. While the first two issues focused on Re-Thinking Sculpture?, this third issue features the diorama, as put forward in contemporary art. Although the diorama initially had a purely dramatic purpose, since it created an optical illusion, over the years, it became a three-dimensional object, gaining a new vocation towards the end of the 19th century, particularly in natural history museums. Thus, from its origins of pure entertainment, the diorama could henceforth also assume an educational purpose.
In this issue, we once again set out to rethink sculpture by proposing new ways to link sculpture, understood as a medium, with sculptural practices that involve other uses of space. From this perspective, it is hardly surprising that several contributing authors referred to Krauss’ famous 1979 essay in which the art historian mapped the new directions that emerged in the 1960s-1970s. In analyzing the postmodern sculptural practices of artists Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and several others, Krauss engaged in a reflection on the limits of classical sculpture’s aesthetic language. She envisaged new ways of understanding this medium by analyzing practices in which artists take the exhibition site into account. Consequently, it is not surprising that several of the artists Krauss mentions had participated in Harold Szeeman’s exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form that was held ten years earlier.
With issue 107, Espace begins a new cycle. While staying true to its former character of a magazine connected to the presentation of contemporary sculpture, Espace also turns to the future as a magazine of contemporary art. Thus, as noted by Serge Fisette, the magazine’s editor from June 1987 to December 2013, its adventure or odyssey — to take up the title of the exhibition celebrating the magazine’s 25 years and the publication of its 100th issue — continues with many projects on the horizon.
Entitled Espace architecturé, (“Architectured” Space) this issue’s collection of essays brings together texts by André-Louis Paré, Nycole Paquin, Éric Valentin and Jessica Li. They discuss, notably, Collective Folie, Tadashi Kawamata’s gigantic tower at Parc de la Villette in Paris, Chihuly: Utterly Breathtaking at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Yam Lau’s installation at the Darling Foundry and the work of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, examined in terms of sculpture as a subversion of architecture.