Sophie Jodoin


Sophie Jodoin: You have to kill a whole to get a little (installation view at OBORO, 2011): Photos © Paul Litherland, 2011. Images courtesy OBORO, Montreal.Sophie Jodoin: You have to kill a whole to get a little (installation view at OBORO, 2011): Photos © Paul Litherland, 2011. Images courtesy OBORO, Montreal.

By James D. Campbell

You have to kill a whole to get a little
January 15 – February 19, 2011

De peine et de misère
Galerie Clark
October 14 – November 20, 2010

Sophie Jodoin is attempting something truly remarkable in her recent work: to name the darkness in our nature, going where angels fear to tread, as it were, in this pursuit, and palpably evoking the tremendum, or nameless Other, in the process. Her true subject matter is specifying this demonic alterity that threatens to swallow us whole and deprive us of our human wherewithal. She is a connoisseur of pain and we are, at first, unwilling voyeurs. But, soon enough and strangely, we never want to turn away.

In the exhibition at OBORO, which consisted of an installation of 87 drawing-collages, a video, a light box and an engraved glass piece (a rarity for the artist), Jodoin is at the height of her powers. She purveys all the hectic clamour at the height of the scream. If her recent work dilates on war, childhood trauma and wholesale abjection, it does so to identify the monstrous perp behind both evil and void. Her figures are often blurred, shrouded, almost spectral in presence. Their suggestive power is immense. Indeed, it was impossible to remain unmoved when visiting with this work.

The wall-length, black and white video Shooter (2009-10) is of a young girl in a dress, face unseen as though hidden by a black veil, raising a handgun in one hand, and then the other, pointing them towards the viewer. The guns seem to follow us as we move in front of the figure, and the sound of gunshots splits the silence. One even fancies the stench of cordite in the air. One wants to run for cover, but there is nowhere to go.

Sophie Jodoin: Small dramas & little nothings (detail, 2008 -  ongoing).Sophie Jodoin: Small dramas & little nothings (detail, 2008 - ongoing).The works that constitute the magisterial array of Small Dramas & Little Nothings, (2008-10) are a meta-index of suffering at once foul, bestial and unnatural. Drawing on a deep well of personal memories and experiences, as well as visual references from magazines, the Internet and personal photos, she conjures up a haunted space marked by trauma and the tremendum. By this, I mean the mysterium tremendum that the eminent German Lutheran theologian and scholar of comparative religion Rudolf Otto once discussed, and which implies three qualities of the numinous: its absolute inapproachability; its power; and its immediacy. The subject matter here can be and is inassimilable: the adult hand of violation on a child’s groin, the severed hand worried by dogs, the bandaged heads and nightmarish entities on a work leave from Hell. Here were all the morphologies of human flesh as it transited the dark side. Joudoin’s whole palimpsest is fraught with auguries of the death event and a host of talismanic shadows.

Jodoin is an artist who is achingly nimble in this matter of the shudder. In this state, the soul, as Otto says, "held speechless, trembles inwardly to the farthest fiber of its being[;] implies that the mysterious is beginning to loom before the mind, to touch the feelings."

She conveys creature-consciousness ­- our awareness of ourselves as embodied beings - and the co-intensive experience of the self as nothing. The nothingness is synonymous with a sense of being profane, privy to the ‘unholy’. According to Otto, only the person who is "in the spirit" can experience profaneness, which Otto describes as a "piercing acuteness... accompanied by the most uncompromising judgment of self-depreciation, a judgment passed, not upon his character because of individual ‘profane' actions but upon his very existence as creature before that which is supreme above all creatures." Somehow, some way, Jodoin is “in the spirit” and is a conduit for this profane nothingness as feeling. "I am nothing in the presence of that which is all."

The numinous has a further aspect that meaningfully co-exists with the mysterium tremendum, namely, the power to fascination. The numinous fascinates with a magnetic energy impossible to resist. Otto calls this alluring quality of the numinous the mysterium fascinosum, a quality that Jodoin invests each and every work she executes with, including the long, magniloquent rectilinear light box Before (2010) with its image of a row of women (or children, maybe?) kneeling face towards a wall as though awaiting execution. The frisson one felt in front of this work was deeply unsettling as heart was forcibly propelled into mouth.

In an earlier show at Galerie Clark, Jodoin provided dovetailing continuities with the works at Oboro, demonstrating once again the that all her work is cut from the same magic cloth, and that her technical virtuosity migrates fluidly across several different media.

The series shown at Clark, De peine et de misère, (2010) and the De peine et de misère, an 88-page artist’s book (one copy in collaboration with poet Louise Marois), was also deeply troubling, auratic and unforgettable in its mien.

A hallmark of Jodoin’s work is that the longer we spend with it, the more moved we are, the more emotionally implicated we become. Each of these drawings contained a full measure of the uncanny. I have spoken of this numinous content before when writing on Jodoin, but it is still highly relevant. (Freud developed the idea in his 1919 essay entitled The Uncanny, which comments on the work of the writer of weird tales E.T.A. Hoffmann, who Freud called the preeminent master of the uncanny in literature). He claims the source of the uncanny in Hoffmann’s The Sandman is the Sandman himself, a mythic, monstrous figure that tears children's eyes out of their heads, leaving the bloodied sockets behind as a sort of obscene souvenir.

Jodoin’s work draws out its dark radius between what Freud held: that the uncanny “undoubtedly belongs to all that is terrible – to all that arouses dread and creeping horror”, and Julia Kristeva’s understanding of abjection as our reaction to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. Between these poles, the numinous truth of Jodoin’s work is locatable. What seems at first to be outside (the face of the fearsome metamorph, our own nameless Other) is soon recognized as existing inside. We are chastened beings once again, maybe christened, too (although never obscurely Christianized), standing bereft on the threshold of infinity like little children who have wandered too far from home.

James D. CampbellJames D. Campbell is a writer on art and a curator based in Montreal. He is the author of well over 100 catalogues and books on art and artists. Upcoming and recent publications include monographs on painters Paul Bureau, Michel Daigneault and Mirana Zuger. Campbell also contributes frequently to many art magazines, including Frieze, Border Crossings, Canadian Art and others.