Since 2017, Martin Désilets has been systematically photographing the modern and contemporary art works on view in the museums he visits throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, following a strict protocol. He then superimposes these digital images with the ultimate goal of creating a monochromatic black photograph that will exhaust his ability to perceive; a paradoxical work which, while bearing witness to the sum of everything Désilets has observed, seems to offer nothing to look at. How much time do we spend in front of a work in order to fully appreciate its worth? How do we consume works of art? Does the fantasy of completeness lie behind every act of collecting?
The Matière noire [Dark Matter ] project identifies several issues that are relevant to museum practices. For this reason, the Musée d’art de Joliette invited Désilets to continue his project as part of an on-site artist residency from January to July 2020. Inspired by The Reunited Islands, in which works from the collection are installed thematically, Désilets decided to adapt his original protocol and conduct an inventory of the still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and abstract works that were accessible to him in the MAJ’s vault or in its galleries. The four works on view here—the result of superimposing the source material he photographed at the Musée—are the same size as the four paintings they have displaced by infiltrating the permanent collection gallery. The Reunited Paintings provides an assessment of the collection which, paradoxically, is erased in the artist’s work. In addition, part of Désilets’ Matière noire project and images from his Lieux-monuments [Places-Monuments] series complete the selection of works on view and offer a glimpse into the artist’s other ongoing projects.
In its current sense, photography is defined as the trace that redoubles the real and fixes the instant of a fleeting moment forever. In this way, the photograph is a memory object, or a “melancholy object,” as described by the American intellectual Susan Sontag, who wrote extensively on the subject. Désilets’ photos undeniably refer to the now-past event of their recording, but their abstract quality seems to more strongly evoke an attempt to materialize the affective content of that moment, intensified by memory. Reality captured by a lens-less camera leading to an absence of figuration, or the sum of several photographic moments which, through the accumulation of information, culminate in erasure. The works act like metaphors; they allow part of the intangible to become discernible by pointing to that aspect of experience that the image, as trigger of the phenomenon of reminiscence, can only hope to revive without really being able to embody it.
Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre
Curator of Contemporary Art
Martin Désilets has completed a two-month residency in the MAJ reserves between January and July 2020.
Image in the banner:
View of the exhibition The Reunited Paintings, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2021. Photo : Romain Guilbault.
The artist acknowledges the support of the Conseil des arts de Longueuil, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, the Agglomération de Longueuil and Culture Montérégie.
Martin Désilets has taken part in numerous residencies since 2015, in Bâle, New York, Paris, Berlin, and at Gros-Morne National Park, Newfoundland. His work has been the subject of many exhibitions, in Montreal (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Occurrence, B-312, Circa, Optica), Laval (Maison des arts), Toronto (G44 Gallery), Oakville (Oakville Galleries), Paris (Gest Paris), Berlin (Institut für Alles Mögliche), and Beirut (Espace SD). His works can also be found in private and public collections, including those of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The exhibition at the Musée d’art de Joliette follows an artist residency that Désilets conducted in the storage spaces of the Museum in 2020.