Irem Karaaslan

Catalog of Ruins

Centre des arts actuels SKOL
January 18th -
March 30th 2024

Catalog of Ruins, at the Centre des arts actuels SKOL from January 18th to March 30th, 2024, assembled the artworks of Samuel Bernier-Cormier, Lauren Chipeur, Kuh Del Rosario, Xavier Orssaud and Elise Rasmussen, which converge on themes of territorial retrieval, ecological awareness and the aesthetics of accumulation. The curatorial committee, including Manolis Daris-Bécotte, Clara Lacasse, Adrien Guillet, Hugo Nadeau and Stéphanie Chabot draws our attention to ruins, usually considered through two distinct lenses: the former encompasses sites regarded as ancient vestiges that serve as monuments to once-thriving civilizations while the latter involves the residual landscapes of former extractive pursuits (and capitalist economies). In response to the ecological crises and disasters occurring on a global level, Catalog of Ruins hones in on the latter perspective, calling into question the prevailing myths of human civilization and progress. The exhibition presents the “capitalist ruins,”/ using scholar Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s conceptualization in which viewers are confronted with diverse manifestations of the environmental impact of human activity. The artworks present ecosystems that feature abundance and exploitation, emblematic of the Anthropocene—the present geological time in which human activity has detrimentally affected the climate and environment.

Meticulously arranged side by side, Lauren Chipeur’s tinted papers of What is it Like to be an Onion (2023) cover an entire wall, drawing the visitor into the gallery space. The textured materiality of Chipeur’s papers, imbued with hues derived from onion skins, invites the viewer to look closely: the subtle variations of the papers’ muted saffron tones unfold as they stretch across the wall. Chipeur deliberately utilizes onion skins due to their high sulfur content, a mineral that is key to organic and synthetic processes. With its abundant presence in nature, sulfur is an indispensable element in a wide array of processes, ranging from its fundamental role in agricultural practices such as the preparation of pesticides and fertilizers to its involvement in industrial processes of steel production, natural gas refinement and petroleum processing. This circulation of sulfur emphasizes its dual role in sustaining life while also facilitating extractive pursuits. Sulfur mining, notably, stands out as a prominent example of such activities: the mineral is extracted in perilous conditions and often entails unjust labour practices, including hazardous working conditions and unfair wages. Through her experiments with this substance, Chipeur contemplates the intertwined relationship of natural resources with industrial processes and the evident ecological impacts of human activities.

Samuel Bernier-Cormier’s Thinking About the Color of the Sea (2021) occupies the gallery’s opposite wall. In a similar vein to Chipeur, Bernier-Cormier experiments with the colour of the ocean. The artwork, consisting of eight consecutively arranged canvases, was conceived during the artist’s fourteen-day quarantine. Each canvas features an inkjet print of the ocean juxtaposed with a swatch of a distinct blue hue, prompting viewers to engage with the sea’s chromatic colour nuances actively. While the spectrum of blue varies, ranging from deep marine to subtle gray, Bernier-Cormier’s mark-making paired with the photographic elements draws our attention to sensory details that are not provided in the scientific recordings of nature. The artist’s work prompts us to imagine the sound of the churning waves and the salty mist carried by the wind. Thinking About the Color of the Sea emphasizes the limitations of a purely scientific approach to understanding the nuances of nature. In a manner akin to Chipeur’s artistic approach, Bernier-Cormier challenges the visitor to transcend the mere representation of the sea and engage with what lies beyond. 

The limitations of representation are explored further in Xavier Orssaud’s altered reproductions of 16th and 19th-century paintings. Drawing inspiration from the aesthetics prevalent during the Romantic era, Orssaud’s Ideal Landscape 4 and Ideal Landscape 5 (2021) weave together a combination of historical paintings and contemporary landscape photography to produce a series of unique prints. The imagined destruction presented in these prints portrays the potential repercussions of human intervention, illustrating the irrevocable harm that can be inflicted on nature. In Ideal Landscape 4, a fragment of a hill, hovering in negative space, reveals the exposed and degraded soil along its edges. Meanwhile, Ideal Landscape 5 depicts a colossal gouge in the earth’s surface, emblematic of the extractive activities undertaken. These prints disrupt the prevailing Western narratives of human mastery over nature and introduce an imagined collapse of civilization. Showing this tragic possibility, which seems inevitable, prompts a re-evaluation of our relationship with nature. Orssaud’s Ideal Landscape subverts anthropocentric perspectives and confronts the viewer with the flawed premise that continuous advancement and development lead to a better and prosperous future.

Kuh Del Rosario’s artistic practice delves into the pervasive presence of plastic pollution. The artworks incorporate a blend of organic and inorganic ruins, to emulate intricate ecosystems that amass materials such as fallen branches of juniper, scotch pine trees, pumpkin seeds, convoluted foam pieces, plaster and black computer toner. Collapsing discarded remnants and unanticipated materials together, Del Rosario’s sculptures take the visitors with their distorted, rotten and almost garbage-looking appearances. This moment of bewilderment that the works’ unyielding appearance causes, is transformed into an opportunity to look closely at the materials. For instance, Del Rosario’s Stunt Double (2022) pays attention to the duration of materials in marine environments. The works prompt speculation about the future of these materials in nature, the decomposition and material process they will undergo. 

Shifting from Del Rosario’s microcosms, Elise Rasmussen’s video In the Valley of the Moon (2022) calls for a variety of scientific developments and ecological innovations. Rasmussen’s video discusses the discovery of the Haber-Bosch method, which enabled the creation of a fertilizer to fulfill the nutritional needs of a growing population, and traces the chain of events that have led to a vulnerable ecosystem. This method notably made way for the development of poisonous gases during the First World War. Also, in response to the increasing emissions, the mining sites in the Atacama Desert in Chile have become ghost towns as the industry collapsed. While the ever-increasing human population heavily depends on these resources, the extraction of the natural mineral deposits continues to inflict environmental damage on the already delicate ecosystems.

Catalog of Ruins thus transforms the gallery into a site of mourning. When considered as a form of ecological grief, Ashlee Cunsolo and Neville Ellis suggest that mourning is “felt in relation to experienced and anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”2 Catalog of Ruins addresses the ecological grief felt as a result of humans’ long-enduring exploitative actions and modes of thinking. These artists invited visitors to engage in mourning, through the shared presence of their artworks in the gallery space, which seek to bring these schemas to light as well as offer further understanding of “what it means to be human in the Anthropocene.”3 Navigating the gallery space, visitors were confronted with reminders of ecological destruction, which causes grief for the environmental loss so far and anticipates what is at stake. In so doing, Catalog of Ruins compelled viewers to confront the cyclical repercussions of human endeavours, and thus, they were left with a sense of urgency and a call to action.   

 

1Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015), 299.

2 Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo, “Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief,” The Conversation, April 4, 2018. [Online]: https://theconversation.com.

3 Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo, “Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief”. [Online]

 


Irem Karaaslan is a writer and researcher from Istanbul who is currently based in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. Engaging with frameworks of liquidity and care, her current research explores contemporary artworks that address transitory spaces and migratory routes such as the sea.

Catalog of Ruins, Exhibition view, 2024. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Catalog of Ruins, Exhibition view, 2024. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Catalog of Ruins, Exhibition view, 2024. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Kuh del Rosario, Stunt Double, 2022. Saved coffee grounds, wood frame, spices, road salt, borax, table salt, pvc glue, glass, silicone, ceramic, collected protein filament (hair) felted and dyed, water, seaweed cast in aluminum, dried sunflower stalk, extruded polystyrene foam crumbled, turmeric, one dried leaf. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Lauren Chipeur, What is it Like to be an Onion, 2023. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Samuel Bernier-Cormier, Thinking About the Color of the Sea, 2021. Oil and inkjet prints on canvas. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Xavier Orssaud, Paysage idéal, 2021. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
Elise Rasmussen, In the Valley of the Moon, 2022. 16mm film transferred to 4K video, Surround Sound, 20:27. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.