Montreal – Galerie Simon Blais | esse arts + opinions

Montreal – Galerie Simon Blais

Galerie Simon Blais
  • Irene F. Whittome, Words get in the way (detail), 2007. photo : courtesy of the artist & Galerie Simon Blais

Irene F. Whittome, Words Do Not Matter
Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, September 10—November 10, 2007

The 11th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival boldly affirmed “Words do matter, today more than ever.” Irene F. Whittome begs to differ, as evidenced by her most recent exhibition at Galerie Simon Blais.
Bluntly entitled, “Words Do Not Matter,” the provenance of this artwork gives credence to its premise. This assertion gains verisimilitude in light of the artist’s apparently random modus operandi. To tell the truth, Whittome’s canvases quote verbatim a German gallery invitation, whose wording she appropriates as a “found object.” The fact that neither she nor most viewers understand the language of this advertisement compounds its aleatory effect.

Further, she employs these “found words” to articulate a visual language wherein they transcend their literality. By the same token, her recourse to randomness circumvents artistic literalism. Indeed she subverts art by displaying its announcement as an “aesthetic object.”

Whittome’s transliteration of German words into visual art achieves three ends. First, in line with seminal linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, she demonstrates that language, like art, represents a sign system. Second, by visualizing this similarity, she helps us realize that art constitutes a pre-linguistic means of communication. Third, her creative use of words shows that they do not intrinsically possess “meaning” but, rather, contextually acquire it.

Yet Whittome undertakes a Janus-faced endeavour. On one hand, she theoretically denies the significance of words. On the other hand, they methodologically furnish the blueprint for her project. The exhibition accordingly includes the five-part series, “Words Get in the Way.” It features woven-like works whose warp and woof visibly consists of words. Whittome thus materializes the notion of text, which derives from the Latin verb, textere—to weave. Its cognates, textile and texture, also describe these seemingly quilted pieces.

No. 5 in this set deploys waves of welts that simulate multilayeredness. It models the philosophy of Jacques Derrida that all writing comprises layers of “meaning” which constantly shift. In addition, nos. 2 and 4 crisscross strands of disjunctive phrases so as to render tangible the concept of intertextuality. It maintains that every text results from the absorption and transformation of previous texts. Literature consequently forms a fabric of interdependent texts. In this vein Whittome’s intersecting, spliced snippets of words amount to patchwork narratives, replete with tactile dangling participles.

Meantime the eponymous fivesome, “Words Do Not Matter,” evince a strict linearity, intensified by their austere white-grey-black colourband. It overlaps and obscures words whose lettering furtively eludes the eye. These canvases therefore assume the guise of palimpsests—a semblance partially due to the artist’s use of paper, archival tape and graphite.


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