To Make the Improbable

Jérôme Delgado
Le Devoir, 30 Aug 2013

The three days of contemporary art that will animate Saint-Jean-Port-Joli this weekend is based on the theme of improbability. One thing is certain, however: the public will be surprised.

Head east, then north, then finally a little further east: there, on the south bank of the river, lies the village of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. The place is home to numerous workshops, craft shops and artists’ residencies.

Just yesterday, Saint-Jean, with its 3,500 inhabitants, was a sanctuary of woodcarving. Today however, it is vibrating with contemporary art. And on Saturday and Sunday too: eight projects as unexpected as a hovercraft or a “museum of uninteresting experience” are scattered throughout the village.

To the east, to the north, to the east... this is the home of Est-Nord-Est, a contemporary art centre specializing in artists’ residencies. Events such as this weekend’s have been simmering in recent years, based on creative residencies. The works, ranging from a hovercraft to the museum of the uninteresting, are brought together under the title To Make the Improbable. So can the improbable be made?

Research Hypothesis

Dominique Allard and Véronique Leblanc laugh at the idea of providing an instruction manual. The title of the event comes from the two thinkers, both curators at the beginning of their careers.

‘It’s less a theme than a research hypothesis. We are trying to find out what it means to make the improbable. Is it possible? Is it in the art that the improbable is made?’ asks Véronique Leblanc. ‘We have no answers,’ says her colleague: ‘we ask questions; we do not offer answers.’

If they do not know how to get it, they do at least have some idea of what the improbable is. And in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, they are confident that all will be revealed.

Incongruous Encounters

‘We know that the improbable is the opposite of the probable. It is encountered by chance. These are the risks of unusual, incongruous encounters,’ says Dominique Allard. ‘It might be countered that to make the improbable is ambitious, that it is to make the impossible. But that is not our position,’ insists Véronique Leblanc. ‘The improbable is probable. It is probable that the improbable will happen. A natural disaster is improbable, but it can happen. What we call the improbable, is what happens.’

In Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, for example, where artisans of wood and other materials make leaps of imagination. With blank slates in hand, the invited artists this summer have set out along multiple paths. Dave Ball in particular, who constructed The Museum of Uninteresting Experience. This British artist based in Berlin set his mind on seeking out boredom. Accustomed to long-term projects, he walked and walked his surroundings, and every moment of boredom finds itself in the museum. An object, a drawing, a photograph... the evidence takes diverse forms.

‘The project reflects my feelings, my state of mind. It is not objective at all,’ he says, as if to distance himself from an implausible pursuit, before admitting that, ‘in this small village, there is not much to do.’ Tongue-in-cheek, Dave Ball nevertheless hopes that the museum will not illicit yawns.

The exhibition aims to bring together the unexpected. Empty spaces are filled and transformed into attractive places, which is, more or less, “to make the improbable”. And in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, where the dwindling trade in wooden trinkets is pushing artisans out of business, opportunities abound. Dave Ball’s museum is entrenched in a small square brick house along the main road, which is currently for sale.

A short stroll away, a former workshop houses the project of the other international artist of the exhibition, Paul Wiersbinski. Also from Berlin, and a “bag of treats” according to the curators, he has been working on a synthesis of science and politics, specifically entomology and social organization. His installation is a somber little world of experiences, which we certainly do not leave ignorant.

The Headquarters

The headquarters of the event is situated in the former Plastics Gagnon factory, a local landmark – ‘the Gagnon brothers invented and patented wind engines,’ says Dominique Allard. The opening night, featuring sound performances, takes place in the factory’s construction shed today at 18.00.

It is also here that Emi Honda and Jordan McKenzie have made their improbable: an installation of miniatures and greenery, music and projections. They amassed what they could find relating to the environment in the fields and on the shore. A week before the event, the result seemed to hold within it a political commentary in the form of a fairy tale.

‘It’s an anti-utopian landscape with an island in the centre, an industrial space that, hopefully, develops without harming nature,’ says the male member of the Montreal duo, pointing to the skull of a squirrel found outside the building.

A Film, a Beluga...

The improbable also points towards Saint-Jean’s local bar, the beating-heart of the village, in the form of a film by Jonathan Villeneuve and Thierry Marceau. At the quay is a beluga whale, formed out of dough by Karina Pawlikowski. And at the ice-rink, the hovercraft, constructed by Steve Topping.

So has the improbable been made? Thomas Bégin, an ingenious handyman, has forged it into the shape of a geodesic shelter. ‘I’ve built a hyper-portable chalet,’ he says. ‘It could be fixed between two rocks, or even hung from a tree.’ The module, to which the artist has attached a hammock, a barbecue and a guitar, provides a clever solution to a housing problem. It is highly likely that this itinerant structure will cross your path in Saint-Jean.

Text translated from original French-language review Fabriquer l’Improbable.