Matthieu Brouillard

Montreal

Matthieu Brouillard: The Resurrection/Children of Broken Symmetry, Installation view at Centre OBORO, Montreal: All images courtesy the artist.Matthieu Brouillard: The Resurrection/Children of Broken Symmetry, Installation view at Centre OBORO, Montreal. All images courtesy the artist.

By James D. Campbell

Matthieu Brouillard
Galerie Oboro
September 17  October 22, 2011

In the image “Cannibal’s isolation cubicle”, one of the latest in the Resurrection series by the brilliant young photographer Matthieu Brouillard, three bodies are shown in a wretched state of physical depravity. One is emerging from a squat stone hut with an implement attached to his leg. Another figure seems to be scrabbling to exit through a trap door like a wolf spider.(Or, is that a broken picture frame he is peering into, Narcissus-like?) Still another lies naked, belly upwards and perhaps dead.

This series of photographs, as well as the series Children of Broken Symmetry that was also displayed here, represents Brouillard’s attempt to voice anathema. His subjects are to be pitied or shunned, or perhaps more pitied than shunned. There is also the matter of excommunication. His subjects, mostly alone even when depicted together, yield a clear sense that they have been cut off from humankind and from any entity of a higher order, natural or supernatural. They are excommunicated, rather than exterminating, angels of the pavement, inhabitants of cinder block hell. Speech seems to have deserted them.

Matthieu Brouillard: Untitled (Falling Soldier 7), 2011, from the series The Resurrection (2005 – 2011): Black and white photograph, inkjet print on polypropylene, 142 x 178 cm.Matthieu Brouillard: Untitled (Falling Soldier 7), 2011, from the series The Resurrection (2005 – 2011): Black and white photograph, inkjet print on polypropylene, 142 x 178 cm.There can be no mistaking that these works have been influenced by Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (c.1516). Grünewald's risen Christ levitates out of the tomb into the night sky with tremendous theatricality. The nimbus of an immense sun is like a coruscating aureole over his brilliant white flesh. It was painted for the hospital Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim where the monks were celebrated for their treatment of sufferers of skin diseases like ergotism. Symptoms of such diseases are displayed by the painting’s figures, including the crucified Christ in the altarpiece.

Brouillard says:

“In this painting depicting an energetic and luminous Christ (this great phallic figure) rising above the ground on which human beings suffer, I feel that Grunewald announces the triumph of light over darkness, spirit over matter, justice over chaos, etc. In my various “resurrections” of this tableau, the falling soldier that appears in the background of the original – a petrified figure whose stopped motion recalls photography’s mortifying effect – becomes the miserably terrestrial centre of the image, around which revolve the other elements of the scene.”

The fallen soldier has various surrogates throughout Brouillard’s corpus, only now it is not in response to a religious phenomenon but to a darkness so bright that it at once blinds and segregates human subjects, imprisoning them in blocks of solid ice out of the Dantean hell.

Like Jasper Johns, Brouillard subverts the meaning here in order to achieve luminous content without illusionistic symbolic light. (Johns’ Perilous Night from 1982 is a good example of this.) The sun turns black. No high-contrast colors or brilliant palette here that would leech the shadows away, only an incandescent penumbra that holds sway.

Brouillard continues:

“I use Grünewald’s painting as a kind of “script“ from which I can alter and rearrange the elements to the point where the scene becomes unrecognizable, loses its significance. This lack of the “great phallic figure”, which traditionally organizes representation, leads to nomadism and metamorphosis. That was the main idea that animates the series. And, the only repetition is that of a fall. I also like the idea that where the body is classically – and especially in photography – imagined as being “present” and autonomous, this restating of the source picture (the falling soldier) implies that these bodies exist in dependency to a world of orbiting images that can be altered and reconfigured. That’s how these figures become ghosts.”

Untitled 9, 2011, from the series Children of Broken Symmetry (2007 – 2011): Black and white photograph, inkjet print on polypropylene, 122 x 152 cm.Untitled 9, 2011, from the series Children of Broken Symmetry (2007 – 2011): Black and white photograph, inkjet print on polypropylene, 122 x 152 cm.Brouillard tests the limits not only of existing definitions of art but of human embodiment, of what it means to be human. He questions the verities of transcendental intersubjectivity and its shadow legions, and the limits of assimilation in a universe so bleak that it literally begs for analogies in literature and other art forms that might help define its extremities, regulate its geometries, caress to smoothness its myriad rough edges and make it all somehow thinkable, feasible, digestible and able to be assimilated.

The artist is certainly on the side of theorist Slavoj Zizek, who recently argued in “The Monstrosity of Christ”:

“And, mutatis mutandis, that is the monstrosity of Christ: not only the edifice of a state, but no less than the entire edifice of reality hinges on a contingent singularity through alone it actualizes itself. When Christ, this miserable individual, this ridiculous and derided clown-king, was walking around, it was as if the navel of the world, the knot which holds the texture of reality together (what Lacan called in his late work the sinthom), was walking around. All that remains of reality without Christ is the Void of the meaningless multiplicity of the Real.”

This monstrosity bears on Brouillard’s violent uprooting of the Rising of the Christ depiction, and his imagistically vacuuming it out, leaving only subjects and their doubles who see no light, have no hope – and know nothing like redemption. For him, the Christ depicted in all his Glory in the Isenheim Altarpiece is nothing else than the navel of the world.

Brouillard is employing something akin to Lacan’s highly suggestive and useful notion of the ‘sinthome’ – his knot-like rubric for subsuming a ‘constellation’ of signifiers that circulate around an empty center under the name of a profane cohesiveness. There is no 'objective' basis for meaning in the case of a sinthome but, like the psychological ‘symptom’ of the individual, the sinthome supports organization and network. It forms the very nerve fibers of the structural relationship that obtains among subjects, and between subjects and the object world.

It is not unusual for artists to use sinthoms like stitches in the form of repetitive motifs that effectively guide audience attention to 'empty centres of meaning' that resist interpretation but serve important, indeed crucial, structural roles. What is striking in Brouillard’s case is his employment of it to evacuate any religious content and not replace it with a gravid symbolic order but by tropes that guarantee a fertile ground for the Uncanny to breed, building launching stages for the numinous and opening up possibilities for the tiered interpretation of his photographic images.

Clearly, Brouillard is not about easy answers or anything like sweetness and light. He is a profoundly transgressive artist whose corpus has a spectral underside, a hidden nimbus of meanings.

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.