[En anglais] 1. As you enter this show you expect to laugh, to keep on laughing, to laugh until the tears inundate your eyes, your cheeks, your entire face. The laughter is contagious. You feel as if you were in a chamber filled with nitrous oxide (N₂O), or in a dentist’s office where the dentist is the artist who hands you a mask as you slip into the chair while he is getting ready to extract your excruciatingly painful wisdom tooth. “Just a little sedative to make you relax,” he laughs. You laugh, and then you realize there are others in the room, all of them with masks muffling their words and stifling their laughter. You begin to feel a little light-headed or a tingling in your arms and legs. And then you begin to feel calm and comfortable. You realize then that this is not really an art exhibition at all. What you have witnessed is the making of an exhibition of the artist, Mathieu Lefevre, as he lures you into his space with gimmicks, disguises, traps, tricks and jokes.
Oh, of course, you can laugh, you can laugh them off! You can ignore them, and even admit sheepishly that you’ve been “had.” But then you begin to feel a painful throb in the back of your throat, a suspicion that it’s not all that simple. This is a young artist who takes words and paint, and throws them so brazenly, blithely and effortlessly in your face. He makes an exhibition of himself… and you, the spectator, often the butt of his jokes, become a participant in his show.
You enter his Space. His Exhibition takes you to many places, not just one locus. You may have been to his studio, his series of storage lockers across the city, various galleries that show his work, his home, a bar or café. You may have seen him at an opening reception, a vernissage, a party with friends, on the bus, on his bicycle or skateboard. You may have seen his work in a group or solo exhibition somewhere, or in a public place. You begin to see the artist and his work as one, and you begin to plan his One Exhibition. His engaging manner, his facility with words, his exuberant thrust of paint upon the canvas, his profusion of laughter, have invaded your world, your conception of Art.
You have decided to plan Mathieu Lefevre’s One Exhibition. You look, you survey, you scrutinize, you examine his art even though you are not an artist, an expert, an art critic, a curator, a collector or connoisseur of Contemporary Art. You are simply a spectator, a participant in this Space, where laughter resounds, where satire, parody and wit abound.
Somehow you feel a connection. You know this was as integral to his life as to his art. An expert in puns, one-liners and gag humour, Mathieu made art with wood, with paper, with Post-it notes, with garbage, with all the objects in his studio (Ode to Indecision), with what you keep and what you throw away (kitty litter, toilet paper rolls, lunch bags, garbage bags, waste baskets, his own tattoos…).
He made paintings… and more paintings… with paint, and more and more paint, sometimes thin slivers, sometimes thick slabs of paint. In his own words he “sculpted with paint.” He “painted sculptural objects that communicate the absurdity of making and viewing contemporary art.”
You follow the trajectory of his work from the paradox of Stay In School to The Boredom Desk. Ah! The absurdity of rules! Every school child knows the rules. Breaking them results in punishment, a detention or perhaps even a suspension. But only if you’re caught. And what rules are more absurd than “No gum allowed” and “No writing on the desk”? Yet, anyone visiting a school will see inked grooves of names and initials carved in memoriam into the wooden surface of the desks, and on the underside, bulging wads of forbidden bubble gum are carefully and surreptitiously sculpted onto the rough surface. The Boredom Desk glistens in its iridescence and transforms willful disobedience into a work of art, une oeuvre, part of his One Exhibition.
Indeed, Mathieu was a realist, often inspired by the common, ordinary objects around him, observing, examining The stuff things are made of. And doing stuff, all kinds of stuff. Wasting time. “I am continuously searching and finding new and more meaningful ways to waste time,” he wrote. But maybe wasting time was not a waste of time. Maybe it was needed to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to imagine, to dream. Maybe The Boredom Desk did have a message. Maybe one could create something while doing something else, just making stuff while doing nothing, or while being bored. The Boredom Desk is a universal symbol for anyone who has ever sat in a desk in school or an office, whiling away the hours as time limps on. Ah, the tedium of time passing. You see a whole series of what Mathieu called Ass Paintings, the artist sitting on a canvas and thinking, the imprint of his derrière weighing down on the canvas until it takes its shape. “My artistic practice is so boring I could go on writing pages upon pages about it,” he said.
You look at his notes, his words, his musings, his proposals for exhibitions and you see he often spoke and wrote of his method and his practice of art. It was as if he was preparing for his One Exhibition. His method was to please, to make you laugh, to attract you, and then to spring a trap. By then it was too late. You the spectator had become a participant in his “game.” But then the artist reminds you that this is no “game.” You should be Keepin’ It Real. Where in the elitist world of ART, you ask, could a young artist like Lefevre find his place? And now your plan takes shape as you wonder what if there were only One Exhibition comprised of all the places the artist had been, all the places where he was thinking, imagining, dreaming, making, doing, discussing, laughing, mocking, loving art? What if?
What if, as in interactive theatre, nothing mattered but the performance? What if the artist had only One Performance, One Exhibition? The Exhibition is the performance; the painting transforms itself into three-dimensional sculpture as it is spread out on the canvas in thick, colourful, bulbous, pulsating tongues of paint. Art, like poetry, like life, is not easy to grasp, to decipher, to understand. It is a facade, a mask.
How Do I Make This Look Like Contemporary Art. How? It really takes only One Exhibition, one entry into his Space. That’s when you put on the mask or take out the binoculars (Ghost with binoculars) and examine the Art establishment (I Hate Art Critics). The young artist criticizes the Institution of Art, the bastion, embodied by the National Museum of Fine Arts in Québec ripped from its very foundation, rising to the sky in flames, like a space rocket, while he, the artist, finds himself on the doorstep waving good-bye to the surrounding world. He places himself on the threshold. One thing he is sure of: he is going along for the ride in the spaceship. Like the Institution, he is rising above the conventional world, the world with a solid foundation. He is going to a new world, to the future, to a world unbound by rules and traditions, to the vast unknown beyond the horizon. The sky is dark but filled with the light of shimmering stars and distant celestial places.
For Mathieu, art, making art, means Breaking Boundaries. But the young artist does not break free from the Institution; the Institution itself breaks free from its very foundation, taking the artist along to the future, to the magical world of imagination and dreams. This is his One Exhibition.
When you examine the medium Mathieu preferred, you see that he did not privilege one more than another. In his view, anything was capable of being and becoming art. No refuse was refused. If you looked, you could see the trash, the ugliness, the excrement, the “shit,” as he said, but that too could be transformed, could take on another shape, another life. You could even paint it: Shit On Walls and hang it in an art gallery, where you see More Shit On Walls. Scandalous? Shocking? Outrageous? Sure, but not so far off the mark.
In much of Mathieu’s art you see the exuberance, the naïveté, the innocence, the pure joy of a child embracing the world with a new pair of eyes as if he were seeing it for the first time. Awesome, You Look Great, You Smell Good, The Precious. That is the essential Mathieu you can see, in life as in his art, his One Exhibition.
And finally, there is love, fire and passion in Mathieu’s art. He cultivated fire, made it into an art form (Painting On Fire, Paint Tube On Fire). He painted with fire… and with passion as if his paint tubes really were on fire. Chief JosephBeuys ToMenInBlackSabbath, TedAndTinaTurner Prize Horse Radish and Backstreet Boy George Michael Jackson Pollock. Word plays à la marabout-bout-de-ficelle-selle-de-cheval par excellence! In this part of the One Exhibition you see Mathieu’s love of language, of words, of word games, of playfulness as well as his passion for paint. The artist, like the poet, becomes a contortionist, a funambulist, who twists and turns, distorts, strains words forcing them to take many shapes and meanings, exaggerated forms, simplifications, willful misinterpretations, “over the top,” “skewing things,” in Mathieu’s words. That is his performance, his One Exhibition.
And finally, you ask, as he had specified in his Dernier Testament, if there ever were One Exhibition of his work and his life, shouldn’t it be in the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal? It really makes you wonder if they are still trying to Figure this one out genius. Ha! Ha!