They live in Montreal, New York and Vancouver. Through their sculptures, ceramics, and photographs, artists Maude Bernier Chabot, Brie Ruais and Elizabeth Zvonar have developed unique ways to make themselves heard.
How can the female body be re-signified? Should we avoid representation altogether, and instead evoke it through sensation? Use abstraction to escape objectification? The female body is the nexus of a set of forces that endlessly reshape it. Like clay, it retains a memory of touch. Mysterious, sacred, impure, tempting, provocative: it comes wrapped in a tapestry of references and connotations.
It is difficult to free ourselves from certain ideologies. We are so deeply steeped in them that they exert a pernicious influence on our ways of being, doing and thinking. For women, the body remains a site of claims and resistances. Instead of approaching the subject head-on, the three artists invite us to question the assumptions underlying our cultural and ideological references.
Images in the banner
Maude Bernier Chabot, Brie Ruais, Elizabeth Zvonar view of the exhibition Afterimages, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2020. Photo credit: Romain Guilbault.
Maude Bernier Chabot
Maude Bernier Chabot has lived and worked in Montreal since 2005. She holds a master’s degree in sculpture from Concordia University (2015) and has received grants from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts, among others. Her work will be presented at Diagonale in Montreal in April 2020 and has been exhibited at galleries such as Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre in Sackville, New Brunswick (Plaza) in 2018; L’Oeil de poisson in Quebec City (Anatomie d’un paysage) in 2016; Circa in Montreal (The Fourth Kingdom) and Galerie Yvonne Bombardier in Valcourt (Triade).
Brie Ruais [b. 1982, Southern California] lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts in 2011 and is a recipient of the 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Her work has been exhibited at public institutions including the Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a forthcoming solo presentation in the Spring of 2020 at the Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, Texas. Ruais’ work is in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, TX; The Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia; the Pizzuti Collection, OH; and the Burger Collection Hong Kong.
Elizabeth Zvonar is a Canadian artist living in Vancouver on the west coast of British Columbia. She makes objects and pictures that think through metaphor and the metaphysical, often using humor and referencing art history while noticing the discrepancies between the sexes and regressive hierarchical structures. She was recently inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts and was shortlisted for the 2016 Aimia Photography Prize at the AGO in Toronto. In fall 2019, Zvonar presented a new commission for The Polygon Gallery entitled, Photography Is Hard. She is represented by Daniel Faria Gallery.
A word from the curator —
How can the female body be resignified? Should we avoid depicting it altogether and evoke it through sensation instead? Should we treat it in the abstract and thus steer clear of misrepresentation? The female body is at the centre of a force field that constantly reshapes it. Like clay, it holds the memory of contact. A web of references and connotations surrounds it: mysterious, sacred, dirty, tempting, provocative. They cling, persist, and renew themselves through time. The body is desirable, idealized to the point of mythology. Its image is therefore distanced from reality, neutralizing its many facets. The body desires; it is perceived as menacing, driven by a wild hunger that stems from nature and the animal world. It is even capable of murder—at least according to the discourse of the anti-choice movement.
This exhibition is inhabited by an underlying violence that suggests dismembered bodies under examination. Nonetheless, we are seduced by the glossy surfaces, the evidence of bodies wrestling with materials, the anonymized faces, the unkempt hair—or conversely, hair bound tightly by a form that attempts to subdue it. These anthropomorphic forms speak to us—“I Decide What Goes Inside,” “My Body, My Choice”—without acknowledging our presence. No gaze returns ours; instead we are left with a persistent feeling of malaise, of voyeurism. Are we contributing to the objectification of women’s bodies? Or does the artists’ use of humour and irony disrupt the workings of this machine?
For women, the body remains a site of advocacy and resistance. It is still difficult to rid ourselves of the intersectional ideological legacies that pervade us in pernicious ways, to the point of influencing how we live, behave, and think. These works by Maude Bernier Chabot, Brie Ruais, and Elizabeth Zvonar do not address this subject directly. Rather, they echo each other in ways that reveal the archetypes we are invited to question. Together, they allude to certain narratives and associated ideas, and disrupt their usual expression. Through visual and textual double meanings, they resist restrictive frameworks and thus contribute to highlighting more complex and nuanced realities. Self-reliance is the power to reject labels, embrace fluidity, and assume a rebellious stance, even if it means being insolent.
Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, Curator of Contemporary Art