Michelle Allard sculpts what diamonds would be if they weren’t made out of diamonds. (Or, err, carbon? What are diamonds made of these days?) All the design principles are there- the multi-faceted surfaces, the intricacy of the details, the simplicity of the raw materials and the intensely focused energy over a long period of time on a single item of creation. The only difference is that instead of carbon she uses thousands of pieces of office paper. And instead of millions of years of heat and pressure, her latest art exhibition Materialscape, took two weeks, 20 volunteers, and 30,000 pieces of office paper turned into 30,000 paper tubes. In the same way that the different sides of a polished diamond reflect the different ways you can look at it’s beauty, so too do her art installations make you rethink your home printer. Except without the generic copywriting-esque connotations that last description just gave.
When the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery invited me to come chat with Michelle and help her roll paper into tubes, I was excited. Then, I got nervous. It’s always struck me as intrusive to watch an artist working. The process of creation is deeply sacred! It’s something along the lines of how raw and visceral it is to distil yourself and your impulses into some form outside of your physical being. It’s not just the final piece that you’re putting out there for the world to see, it’s a part of your being that you’re presenting to others.
I shouldn’t have been so worried. Michelle was as gracious as gracious can be, and has sparked a serious interest within me for getting to know more professional fine artists.
The tubes are analogs. They’re individuals within the society, and they come together to form things. What kinds of things? I asked Michelle this, and I got the response I was expecting: “Well it’s abstract art, so it becomes whatever the audience wants it to be.”
I see a city skyline at first glance, and it’s the notion that I hold on to. I was born in a big, coastal city and whenever I’m not in that kind of setting, my heart feels geographically awry. I look at all the paper tubes, close my eyes and imagine the smell of salty ocean air and long to be in Toronto, because that’s as close as I can get to the environment I crave without hopping onto a plane. Her art makes me homesick in a big way.
In her day job, Michelle Allard works as a landscape architect. The influences are obvious in her work. It’s easy to see rolling mountain ranges, or hills, or even a choppy sea in the sculptures she assembles. We talk about lots of things while I contort myself into weird angles to see the paper tubes come together in different ways. We talk about whether or not she believes in originality (always and interesting question to ask an artist) and she responds with something beautiful about modernism and post-modernism and the avant garde. She talks about what she really hopes her audience will get from the work and what she hopes to do next and the whole time my mind and eyes dip in and out of the folds and sharp edges and soft transitions in the landscape. Some of the paper tubes have a slight pink cast under the lighting. They’re not actually pink- those tubes are just a different kind of paper than the others. They’re my favourite parts.
Apparently, spiders and other small bugs love to use her sculptures as temporary homes, which we both think is awesome. “They’re like little apartment buildings for them!” she says. (Isn’t that amazing, the way we provide safe spaces for others when we allow our creative impulses to break free?) For her, part of the drive and purpose behind her work is in making beauty out of banalities. You interact with paper several times a day, but how often do you stop to think about what more it could become?
How often do you stop to think about the fact that the paper originally came from trees, and now you’re using it in your temperature controlled, insulated buildings, protecting you from the very nature from whence it/you came? That last observation was my own, not the artist’s by the way. That’s what comes to mind though, when you walk around Materialscape. Here we are in the stark cement cube that is the Gallery’s designated space for the sculpture, looking at a brightly coloured by-product of the nature we diligently keep away from ourselves.
It’s all very interesting and there’s so much to consider when you experience the sculpture that it’s easy to forget that it’s just pieces of paper and cardboard boxes. Or perhaps they aren’t just pieces of paper and cardboard tubes? Afterall, the only difference between your mind and Michelle Allard’s is how you look at and think about the objects you interact with on the daily…
Materialscape is on display at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery from now until March 20th. Entrance to the gallery is always free too(!!) but I’ll rave about the importance of accessibility to art at a later date.
It breaks my heart that after the exhibition is over, they’re going to crush it all and recycle it. Dear KW|AG, I will gladly take parts of Materialscape home with me on March 21st if you’ll let me. I’ll mount them on my bedroom walls, and it will be fab.
Click here to find out more about the exhibition. Michelle also blogged about the process of creating Materialscape here, which is also where the pictures come from. If you like big words and abstract concepts even pretentious people have to read twice, her profile on Re-Title is here. And an incredible, well written interview with her was done in the Waterloo Chronicle.
Make art not war,