In retrospect I would say that my first encounter with the work of Stéphanie Chabot was quite telling. Upon entering La Centrale Gallery in Montreal on the occasion of her 2006 solo exhibition, the unsuspecting gallery patron is introduced to what appears to be a man seated on a lazy-boy recliner. From the angle of the gallery entrance we see this person only from the back, his unkempt hair surmounting the top of the recliner, an elbow on the armrest, and an outstretched right leg extended onto the attached footstool. Entering the gallery we inevitably approach this relaxed figure, one component of an installation entitled Deaf Forever, only to be shocked by a sudden revelation: all aspects of this body in a chair are missing except for the pieces that describe a man from the particular angle of the doorway. In the time that it takes to “read” the situation, a quirky, form of time-based sculpture has forcibly stripped away all of our assumptions, and with this act of subtraction the artist has drawn us into the wilds of the imagination. From there the artist surrounds us with other bent objects and humorous motifs, and the visit becomes one of curiosity prompting further curiosity.
This theme of the missing figure or missing parts, whether submerged, amputated, broken or dissolved, plays a recurrent role in Chabot’s artistic production, one that is repeatedly characterized as “uncanny”. While it is true that her work trades on an ontological contingency that forces a certain un-grounding, a flight from “common sense” that may be accurately described as uncanny, it is also true that in so doing we must redress the Freudian conception of the uncanny with something quite divorced from the “mommy-daddy-me” theatre of that rumpled old cigar-wielding curmudgeon. At heart Chabot is compelled by a decidedly feminist-punk impetus to problematize dominant narratives and their attendant explanations, investing in even the most familiar or mundane object with a surplus that resists encapsulation. Understood in the light of an acerbic wit, these objects are not confessional revelations of some festering, repressed trauma– quite the reverse! At every turn the artist emancipates her subjects, and it is the out-bounding character of what cannot be taken for granted that lends her work a monstrous, uncanny presence. Chabot has alluded to this method of producing a surplus of language, stating in an interview, “I like to think my work contains secrets I haven’t discovered yet.” It is in this sense that her gargantuan pocket combs, featured in her 2008 installation Time of No Reply, become enigmatic, imbuing the everyday object with an amplified presence that is attenuated at points with scaled-up broken teeth. While the intonations of such gestures are genuinely disturbing, more precisely the “disturbing” of a “ground,” the moral component of the Oedipal reading (as the judgemental and relentlessly reductive basis of a Freudian diagnosis) is suspended and replaced with a mischievous and complexifying affirmation of contingency itself.
Famously, Deleuze and Guattari recall the schizophrenic Judge Schreber, who once claimed to have “sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus.”1 In so saying, the Judge entered into a schizophrenic state by intuiting “nature as a process of production”, and thus engaged head-on in deterritorializing nature, producing folds in the vastly complex aggregate that always forms the context for such a line of flight. Chabot proceeds with just such a schizo-agenda, the strangeness of her work is in large part synonymous with “the new” that constitutes a creativity unrestrained by an Oedipal theatre. None of this commentary is meant to romance the medicated and tragic (society-fulfilling-prophecy) form of schizophrenia we collectively seem to be so scared shitless of. And to be clear the artist is not this unfortunate case. Rather she is able to manoeuvre freely, generating an array of bizarre and disparate forms that are free of any fearful, prescriptive, mollifying chemical gag-orders. Here we find deep blue, wrinkled, boney hands, silken mannequin appendages that emerge directly from the wall, and a bestiary that includes a bemused Bear and a menacing jumping spider that can only dwell at a brilliantly intense spike of phobia. In fact Chabot’s production harvests alternate realities that in turn constitute an atypical expression2, one that places what we think of objects into variation, thus displacing the “constant” (or centre) of the classical (patriarchal) status of the art object.
With her billboard project for the current exhibition, Chabot symmetrically arranges four finely textured hands, two blue and two white, in mirroring gestures around a nebulous green ball of energy. At the risk of contradicting the atypical program discussed above, the forced symmetry of the composition seems to immediately brand the front of our building with a “you are here” centrality. However, be this as it may, the follow-up question must be asked: where is this “here” that we are? Well, PAVED Arts and AKA Gallery occupy a presence on 20th Street in the Riversdale district of Saskatoon, and yet this image seems to suggest an elsewhere that is utterly alien, somewhere of heaven or hell, a hitherto undisclosed germinal point to the building, the street, the city. After all, the inversion is indeed consistent with her decentering program insofar as the reveal embodies some form of witchcraft that is operative just under the veneer of our street side edifice. The rest is left up to the encounter, a ticklish storefront affair in which a sense of dark wonder is put into motion.
1 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus,Page 3.
2 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus,Page 99.
-text written by David LaRiviere
Stéphanie Chabot is a multi-disciplinary artist that works primarily in painting, sculpture and installation. She received her Masters Degree from York University in 2008. Chabot’s work has been shown in many Canadian artist-run centers including La Centrale Gallery Powerhouse, Clark Gallery (both in Montréal) and YYZ in Toronto. Her work has also been presented in the United States, Spain (Sala Riekalde, Bilbao), England (Sassoon Gallery, London) and in Australia (H-Block Gallery, Brisbane). She is a member of the curatorial collective L’Araignée, and has been involved at La Centrale Gallery Powerhouse as both a member of the selection committee (2008- 2011), and the interim artistic coordinator (2010). Chabot currently lives and works in Montréal.