Seeing beyond what you see

Artist Philippe Hamelin showcases his exhibition, Feu Mirabel, for the first time

Artist Philippe Hamelin moves audiences beyond their field of vision. He understands the concept of hors champ (French for “outside the field”) to be more than what happens beyond the camera lens.

“Often, I’ll leave hints for some facts, but I’ll also leave the door open for interpretation and I’ll mix reality and lies,” says Hamelin. “For me, the notion of hors champ isn’t just what I know outside the camera, but also allows the audience to determine for themselves what is not there.”

Hamelin’s exhibition, Feu Mirabel—named after a gorgeous airport near Montreal which was once the world’s largest and is now merely a location for shipping cargo—questions the idea of reality and the idea of a constructed zone of human understanding. Initial efforts to bring the show to Platform were spearheaded by J.J. Kegan McFadden, who is on leave while co-directors Collin Zipp and Derek Dunlop run the organization.

The title of the show itself is like the contents of an eerie and magical suitcase: once you think you have unpacked its contents, something else spills out. The title is in memoriam to what the airport could have been; it means The Late Mirabel in English. But it is not a dead space, Hamelin emphasizes.

“Feu [which also translates to “fire” in English] also refers to something vibrant, alive, intense.”

The sense of funerary respect is entailed in this belief.

“All the new pieces for the show are black and white, so I could mix documents from the past with documents from the present. I was going with the colour scheme of ashes.”

Hamelin says three-quarters of the works are new. One piece was made earlier this year in September at the Jeux de la Francophonie in Nice, France.

He also says that the title isn’t what the exhibition is, necessarily.

“I picked the title before I knew the work I’d produce.”

With video works (including TRRAMM, La Vie Modéle, and Camouflage Bureaucratique), two  projected images (as yet untitled)—which show the face of the same man before and after he shaved off his beard and had his hair styled during the year Mirabel opened in 1975—and a wallpaper hanging titled “Jungle,” Feu Mirabel invites visitors to deeply question sensibilities and sensitivities about what is real and what is not, and how we arrive at those concepts and who might be in charge of instilling ideas into us.

The airport itself is referred to as an example of the white elephant effect, but physically it resembles a gigantic black box.

These contrasts are not merely playful.

“What I wanted to reproduce—you know the movie Predator, you know, with Schwarzenegger?—well, in the early films, when it attacks its prey it becomes slightly invisible,” says Hamelin. “So the subject becomes slightly invisible but mimics its environment before an attack.”

Hamelin cautions the visitor to be wary of political situations, and be aware of who or what might attack us.

“In the world we live in now, the enemies and predators are invisible. They don’t come with armies and weaponry; they act by signing letters and they can be very destructive.”

Hamelin’s works combine 3D imagery with video technology and blur divisions between the virtual and reality.

The exhibition—stemming from the blurred boundaries of a dream airport, which occupies space—was made to be easily transportable for a single person by airplane.

“The way I work in general is often trying to create links or contrasts between nature and construction – how our own nature and our environment is transformed by every aspect of modern life and every system we build,” says Hamelin.

“The exhibition is about transformation and reproduction. The natural process of reproduction is to perpetuate a species. In the exhibition, it’s to erase or change the nature of something.”


Have your perceptual foundations shaken: Feu Mirabel is showing from Nov. 22 until Jan. 18, 2014 at Platform Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts.