City Hall Art Gallery -  Intangible Materials: Doug Dumais & Simon Petepiece

Two Person Show - Ottawa, ON

July 21 to September 16, 2022

In Montreal, there is a running joke amongst residents that the city experiences two seasons; winter and construction. Beginning each May, detours, cranes, and neon traffic signs are littered throughout the city, forming a temporary maze
for cars and pedestrians to navigate. As a result, the orange pilon has, to many, become both an iconic and ironic symbol for the city. However, the reality of this inconvenient, and often frustrating, season presents much bigger questions surrounding the future of the city at large. The exhibition Intangible Materials presents the perpetual state of change construction poses within the urban landscape. In this show, artists Doug Dumais and Simon Petepiece explore the language of construction along with the ramifications of its embedding into the Canadian landscape.

In the series Construction Holiday (2018-2020) by Doug Dumais, the artist presents a selection of images taken while wandering the city during Quebec’s annual construction leave. Scenes free of workers capture the odd sense of stillness and silence that envelops the city for these two weeks every summer. As construction often imposes a loud and commanding presence throughout the city, the muted aesthetic of these images provides a much-needed pause. Abandoned demolition sites scattered with rain-soaked boxes and with concrete walls covered in vinyl condominium advertisements allow for a moment of reflection on the speed and consequences of development. Though many of these photographs were taken in Ottawa and Hochelaga, a neighbourhood in Montreal where gentrification and renoviction are becoming a stark reality, there is a sense that these spaces could exist anywhere. Just as the title Construction Holiday implies, Dumais explores the banal, capitalistic, and sometimes humorous nature of these sites.

The mundane and utilitarian nature of construction is further depicted in Simon Petepiece’ work. Formerly trained as an architect, Petepiece’s assemblages offer a playful exploration of the materiality of these spaces. The artist expresses an aesthetic curiosity for the language
of architecture using a wide variety of everyday materials that may be found at any local hardware store. Montreal, like many Canadian cities, faces a housing crisis fuelled by big developers and rising rent prices. The speed of construction and the desire to fill condos as quickly as possible inject a sense of urgency into the city. Low-cost materials are often found sprawled throughout the sidewalks, leaking out of nearby work sites as deadlines are rushed to be met. In this body of work, Petepiece investigates the economic speed of building, in which architectural beauty
is traded for cheap materials and fast labour. Referencing the formal qualities of abstract expres- sionist painting, Petepiece’s works evoke a sense of irony and nostalgia through art historical references and the elevation of everyday building materials. Steel studs are folded into Gothic church windows and nettings embroidered with Mason’s line are hung on the wall like tapestries. Using drywall and insulation foam as a replacement for traditional paint and canvas, the bones of a building are revealed, becoming a central decorative focus within the home.

Art historical references are mirrored once more in Dumais’ series, A Landscape for Construction (2020-2022). In this selection from the series, imagery from building sites is seamlessly superim- posed onto paintings created by Pieter Bruegel and sourced from museum archives. The seasonal series by Bruegel, Six Seasons for a Dining Room (1565), depicts labourers in the vast, lush, natural landscape of northern Europe. By combining these works, Dumais allows for a comparison between the transitory cycle of nature and that of human imposition through labour.

Together, the artists play with the duality of what is perceived to be temporary and what is permanent. The ever-changing skyline of the city is understood to be an ephemeral space; one that nature
is expected to eventually take back. Throughout these works, however, the relationship between the eternal power of nature and that of man shifts. As many of these synthetic materials are non-compostable, they are destined to be perpetually embedded into their environment. The plastic drop sheets shielding lumber from the rain and the foam insulation hiding between our walls are the elements within these landscapes that remain forever while nature shifts and fades around them. Through their individual practices, Simon Petepiece and Doug Dumais put forward questions surrounding the future of the Canadian landscape and the tangible consequences of development. Using art historical references within their exploration of materiality and photography, Doug Dumais and Simon Petepiece raise concerns regarding the transitory state of the city and the speed at which land is transformed.

- Cindy Hill 

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