May 30 to June 21, 2008
Rachel Yoder, abstract painter, and Julie Castonguay, photographer, collaborate in investigating the effect on the individual of time passing in the context of exploring the differences and similarities between painting and photography in an installation titled Tracking Time. Rachel Yoder is a carpenter, and Julie Castonguay is a forester, which brings a rich field of related imagery into play.
Each individual has a unique experience of time, and of the events that shape her memory and her personality. Life deposits memories like a string of images in the individual. These often seem random and mysterious in their strength, depth, and reappearance. As time passes a selection of memories is brought to the surface and accumulates in new and surprising ways, while others are obscured and discarded, hence developing the individual experience.
The birth of photography in the 19th Century challenged painting by questioning the purpose of representational painting and by stripping away functions that had given painting a utilitarian value. As a result, photography freed up the painter and indirectly contributed to the development of abstraction and non-representational painting. Over time, painting and photography have asserted their own voices and exist in a healthy dialogue.
Although the two media share many things: a flat field of information on a surface and reflecting light, painting has been seen as subjective, and photography as objective. A painting has been valued as unique, a one-of-a-kind, an interpretation by an artist of some inner vision or perception. Photography has been perceived as truth, a moment in time that has been captured by some mechanical means. The photographer was seen as merely documenting something real, and able to endlessly reproduce prints of the photographs.
The development of digital photography and the ease with which the manipulation of photographs can now be performed raises doubts about the truth of what is seen. In the same way that photography contributed to freeing up painters, this new technology opens possibilities for photography. What is presented, either in painting or photography, is information that represents a reality, regardless of the perceived truthfulness of the image.
Julie and Rachel comment on the accumulations and distortions that time effects by engaging photography and painting from a variety of angles; by building paintings from replication of segments, layers, embedding and obscuring details. They borrow techniques used for painting in photography and use photographic techniques in painting. In the series Weeks, the passing of time is displayed by painting a randomly chosen circle or square each week, and then painting over the entire accumulation on a regular basis. The repeated image refers to the replication that is possible with photography, and less common in painting. The fantastical buildings in Constructed Constructions are an example of the way in which photographs are manipulated and similarly, paintings are manipulated and reconstructed. In Hands, the layering of photographs of aging hands makes reference to the layering of paint changing the canvas over time.
Painting can be a tool of photography and photography can be a tool to painting. It is in this spirit that Julie and Rachel explore the dialogue between painting and photography while questioning the meaning of the image. As in life, time passes and individual consciousness is built up of all previous experiences, these photographs and paintings create a new reality by layering and integrating painting and photography.
Julie Castonguay, originally from the city of Québec, holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from Laval University. In 2002, she temporally suspended her work as professional forester to study photography at NSCAD University where she graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Photography has been her strong interest since the mid-80’s when she started printing B & W photography.
As a digital image-making artist, Castonguay has been primarily engaged with nature and how human’s relate to it. Castonguay’s first solo photography exhibits were held in 2005 in Nelson, BC and Halifax, NS. She was awarded a special mention at the prestigious 2005 Banff Mountain Photography Competition. In 2006, Castonguay was select to be part of Touchstones’ inaugural exhibition. Currently, she resides in Nelson, British Columbia, where she balances her forestry career and her photography, continually exploring and integrating her connection to nature.
Rachel Yoder chose to immigrate to Canada from California as a young adult in 1971. Continuing to follow her interests led to further adventures including going “back to the land” in Alberta, moving to the city working for five years printing colour photos for commercial photographers, and returning to the country in 1982 where she obtained her ticket as a journeyed carpenter. For the past 25 years she has built custom homes, including two for herself. A serendipitous KSA course in furniture design contributed to the groundwork that saw her take up painting in her 50’s.
Building and her knowledge of colour informed her way of seeing and when she began painting, the building up of layers to form structure and space emerged in her art. Rachel Yoder has exhibited yearly since 2000 in the Nelson area. She resides on her rural property in a mountain valley near Nelson and continues to build houses during the summer and build paintings the rest of the year, a lovely balance.
Structure, Texture and Colour: Castonguay and Yoder – Susan Andrews Grace
Tracking Time, collaboration by Rachel Yoder and Julie Castonguay, uses construction as a controlling metaphor. This post-modern trope and its irony come from the knowledge and authority of the artists. The works deconstruct and reconstruct ideas of construction of buildings and of colour with an intelligence and wit reminiscent of the sixteenth century. The collaboration is framed by the grid, just as any building is. The works and their presentation are orthogonal presentations of conscious and unconscious operations by Castonguay and Yoder. The grid is vehicle of the collaboration and at the same time has been instrumental in delightfully warping meaning in perspectives and processes.
Both artists approach construction as subject matter and technique with first-hand knowledge. Castonguay is a forester and knows colour and light as photographer. She often constructs a hyper-real photograph of the forest, for example, from the close-up view of nature herself or that of an aethereal body or alternatively, a microscope rather than from that of a human being seeing from a distance. This technique involves meticulous digital ‘stitching’ of images and is evident in “Ring” and “Cedar.” Rachel Yoder knows wood as a carpenter and colour as a painter who uses construction tools and processes in her painting but who was also once a colour processor of film. Form and content could not be more perfectly suited in both the making and the presentation of their collaboration. The framed wall and manipulated sight lines in the exhibition at Oxygen Gallery construct the viewer’s experience of Tracking Time, including the scale model of the exhibition in Oxygen Gallery which includes the scale model! As in the best of post-structuralist art, there is in Tracking Time evidence of rigor and discipline in a dialogue between painting and photography, hence the term ‘tracking.’
Tracking refers to the traces of time, the act of discovering and pursuing as well as the condition of being in alignment. Attributes of both noun and verb’ track’ are evident as the works consider time. There is the real time it takes to build a house, and there is the time evident in a tree ring and on aging hands. Time elapses between when a painting is painted and then photographed and between a photograph being taken and it being painted over. “Weeks” is an example of time tracking as is “Wednesday Morning.” Yoder photographed the same Hawthorne tree once a week for twenty-eight weeks and massed those images in one photograph, ‘registering’ the images. “Tansonville” takes a line drawing of a tree, repeated, to make a hedge. Tansonville is a reference to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Proust’s modernist concept of the past was a self-conscious notion of the flexible ego and a reaction to the rationalist idea of the absolute. Yoder and Castonguay deconstructed that notion further in their collaboration. Yoder used as subject matter Proust’s hawthorn tree, magnifying its importance and at the same time playing with it so that it resembles the hedge Proust likened to a painting which “one imagines, one will be better able to “take in” when one has looked away for a moment at something else:” The piece represents that looking away for a moment and the time it takes as well as the consciousness of the differences. The use of the grid amplifies the flexible ego in a non-hierarchical move on the part of these artists who also blurred individuality in these works.
Tracking techniques and layers of collaboration in Tracking Time will make your head swim. It is a seamless collaboration which involved tracking ideation of how and when photography and painting correspond. Yoder and Castonguay followed their imaginations in their own ways: painting by Rachel and Julie, photography by both, painting on photography collaged into painting, photographs of paintings reconstructed and grids of photographs and paintings. They each crossed over into the other’s medium via digital manipulation of images.
The foundation of this collaboration began with Yoder’s summer project, which was the construction of a house on View Street in Nelson, ergo the View Street series, “Ladder” and “Constructed Development” which are digitally manipulated non-real images. Castonguay, photographer and lover of forests, trees and wood came to the site to document the progress. “Ring” by Julie has digitally stitched images from the construction site in the rings of the log. Over the winter they employed extensive (and meticulously recorded) discussion, chance, painting, photography and digital manipulation to produce works which question the meaning and truth of image-making. In the process they blurred many lines of demarcation in a playful depiction of trees and wood, work and worksite. This blur of connection may be the best result of the happy accident that both women work in non-traditional jobs when they are not working as artists. The stance of la difference could not be more confidently expressed as it is in Tracking Time.
In any dialogue between painter and photographer there must be consideration of the perennial subjects of the demise of painting, which is always dying but never does, and photography which claims that it is art and not art at the same time. Rachel has taken heart from the oeuvre of Gerhard Richter, considered by some critics to be the most important German painter of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. Richter’s influence is evident in her work: use of blurring and scraping of successive layers, abstraction in brilliant and subdued palettes and over-painting of photographs. Julie, although a scientist, avoids two pitfalls into which many a photographer has tumbled, as described by Susan Sontag in the essay “Melancholy Objects” in her book On Photography: approaching subject matter as a scientist or a moralist. Castonguay quite simply holds the image with love and attention. She works in the same vein as Montreal photographer Isabelle Hayeur whose work also involves structures and layers of digital intervention. In Tracking Time Castonguay combines elements that confuse perception. Julie and Rachel used bricolage, an approach which involves trial and error and the use of things which are readily available, such as a construction site. Rachel’s influence upon Julie is this new blurring of medium and vision which combines with her hyper-real photography to make a new fluidity in her work. Julie’s influence upon Rachel is the use of digital techniques which allow more precision and an expanded treatment of the grid.
Tracking Time gives by turns melancholic, thoughtful and exuberant meaning to the past. The collaboration’s tracking of time and consciousness, from summer 2007 to spring 2008 in Nelson and Ymir, British Columbia used the environment’s trees, living and dead, in its images. Rachel Yoder, painter/carpenter or ‘depicter/maker’ of images, and Julie Castonguay, photographer/forester or ‘catcher/taker’ of images collaborated in a project in which social projections of what is art have been interpreted in a most uncommon and provocative manner.