Hostile and heartwarming

Montreal-based artists Elisabeth Belliveau and Jessica MacCormack have created a world that is both hostile and heartwarming in their new exhibit Natural Disasters, Pets and Other Stories. The show, hosted at aceartinc. in the heart of the Exchange District, is a collection of pieces in different media including stop-motion animation films, sketches, paintings, collages and paper mâché.

What is difficult about the exhibit is that there is no distinction given between the work of Belliveau and the work of MacCormack. None of the pieces are given labels that list title, date of creation, or media used, with the exception of three stop-motion films that give credit to their creators. The films give the viewer a clue as to which pieces belong to whom, but it can’t be confirmed.

The gallery, spacious and nearly all painted white, is divided by an untitled piece composed of 46 spools of thread in different colours and sizes which are wrapped around one of the gallery’s pipes, then affixed to an oval pin cushion which is screwed into the wall. On one side of the piece are drawings and paintings, and on the other are three benches, with films projected onto the walls and a large TV flickering off to one side.

One wall is taken up with sketches on all kinds of paper: cardstock, white lined paper, graph paper, yellow paper and post it notes, using marker, pencil and pen. Only a broken narrative running across them connects the sketches of people, animals, landscapes and objects. All of the sketches are drawn with care, giving the wall a very heartwarming and comfortable feel.

What really drew my attention were three rosebuds made of pages from a book, and a sketch of a woman shaking her head. The focus is on her moving lips and tongue because they are drawn with pink pencil crayon, and her glasses, which are drawn three times overlapping to show motion.

The opposite wall contains a series of paintings, collages and paper mâché pieces that give an unsettling vibe: paintings with a child’s face surrounded by poppies, legs caught in bear traps dripping poppies and a horse standing in a fish tank with an erect penis where a unicorn’s horn should be. The paper mâché pieces are all heads of dogs that seem slightly deformed and misshapen. On the other hand, the collages further down the wall feel homey and safe; the caricatures of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen add a nice touch.

The first of three films on the opposite side of the room is Belliveau’s, and is called Margaret’s Mountain. The 13-minute short is in stop-motion animation featuring cut outs from collages.
A broken narrative, spoken by a girl with a very strong French accent, tells a story of love, friendship and loss to a soundtrack of the noises of nature and remixed folk tunes. It ends abruptly when the screen suddenly fades to black.

MacCormack’s film Nothing Ever Happens is terrifying and leaves you feeling sad. The film is composed of photographs and paintings from the exhibit. Narrated by the artist and others, it’s just as disjointed as the paintings: fish swimming through rooms, the sounds of snoring and the rush of the ocean. A cat’s eyes fall out of its head leaving only black voids. There is talk of suicide and the fact that nothing happens. It’s very unsettling.

Overall, the exhibit leaves the viewer with mixed feelings. I found parts of the exhibit joyous, while others were saddening. Because of the surreal nature of the exhibit, not all viewers might understand it, but I don’t think that should be a hindrance to them going to see the show. MacCormack’s training at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany and Belliveau’s training at the Alberta College of Art and Design and Concordia University have served them well, and Natural Disasters, Pets and Other Stories is a piece of Canadian art worth seeing.

Natural Disasters, Pets and Other Stories runs at aceartinc. until Oct. 1, 2010.