Walking up the steps of St-Brigide de Kildare Church in Montreal, I was faced with an entrance structure bound by ropes, a gateway of some sort into our future located simultaneously in our past. As I walked through the gateway, a harmonious chorus of angelic tones welcomed me into the space; this fortuitous event however was purely happening by chance, as the singers for the special event at the Rope+Thread=ism exhibition were preparing their show.
The Church produces a sanguine and calm effect when one walks in, as the light coming through the colored glass windows makes sure you know this is a grand place demanding humble piety from all pilgrims. That is precisely why the organisers of the exhibition Amy Lilien and Atiq Kamel, from the IQ Gallery, have brought their concept into this space.
The idea of ism is being placed under the microscope here, and you are being taken on a journey from the classical to the avant-garde so you can question your understanding of all art movements in the past. This exhibition highlights the much debated question of continuity in art and history, and requires further contemplation on the subject.
The notion of continuity in human evolution and civilization undoubtedly has much evidence to support it. Just like natural selection, civilizations progress into a much more apt frontier by adapting to circumstances surrounding them; as Herodotus put it: “Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.”
When it comes to Art, many have observed that it cannot be improved upon. One cannot say that Impressionism was an improvement on academic painting, or Abstract Expressionism trumps Cubism. Each art period was a direct result of its milieu; each new ism in art was simply a new way of looking at the socio-economic and political factors the artists were exposed to at the time. What they expressed were products of their time and not improvements on previous artists. However, the way they expressed it can be seen as an evolution.
Pablo Picasso once said: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”, though he neglected to mention that Raphael had less opportunities to paint like him because of the scarcity in equipment, technological advances, discoveries of primitive art and social consciousness. Picasso and modernism was born from the freedom those artists had to experiment with art. The collages, assembled sculptures, pottery, photography and all the other tools that the avant-garde artists had access to paved the way for them.
One must not forget the Collective consciousness of the viewing public. Shocking as it might have been to see a cubist painting in 1920s, the public had been familiarized with notion of breaking academic rules by the Impressionists, and in turn Delacroix and Manet had done their part to open doors for those Impressionists. So continuity in Art becomes fathomable when one takes into account history, science, technology, psyche and other progressions in society; and although the subjects of those artworks are not improvements on previous generation, the means can be.
Amy Lilien and Atiq Kamel have transformed a grand religious building into an utter modern space where the bravery of contemporary art can be observed without being overshadowed by relics of the past. It is far too simplified to say there is a progression from the classical to the new here, because as luck would have it they weren’t allowed to hang the work on the walls, and so they have made a decision to place all of the artwork on the floor; so now, they do not need to compete and are separate entities.
The artwork on the ground makes us feel as if we are looking at the beginning which at the same time is our future. We have gone around in a circle, yet infinity of our art as subjects of our time becomes apparent. What we have here is timeless, and challenges our preconceived rationalities. History has lent a hand and each thread has played a part in this rope to produce an outstanding contemporary show.
Rope+Thread=ism Exhibition at St-Brigide de Kildare Church 1151, rue Alexandre-de Seve, Montreal is on until July 14th 2012