Manic Miracles

Denis Rousseau: Le plaisir - Le désir - Le discours
at the Galerie Christiane Chassay, 1993

reviewed by Jack Ruttan for the Montreal Mirror

 Imagine perusing a piece of art, forming some conventional opinion about it, and then having that work of art stick its tongue out at you. It's just about what the work of Denis Rousseau does, in his installation Le plaisir - Le désir - Le discours. [Pleasure - Desire - Speech]

 Maddeningly non-objective photographs surround a viewer walking into the gallery. They are all suggestive images -- of landscapes, birds, artificial limbs, but not interesting as individual pictures. They have been taken from video screens, close enough to just about break up into individual dots. There are three floor sculptures and two wall sculptures, all based on a tree form that could be a number of other things - a tongue, a sword, a phallus. The large sculptures are spiky but colourful and geometric. They are slightly more kinky versions of the new art seen downtown in corporate lobbies and fountains.

 Now comes the shocking part. Without warning these sculptures spring into bizarre mechanical life. They wiggle obscenely, flail themselves with rubber whips, or open to display big sharp teeth. One machine starts when the other is finished, each creating a tremendous clatter. The noise coming from a different corner of the gallery is irresistable, and the viewer is jerked back and forth around the space like Pavlov's dog.

 What is it all about? It's about the film The Little Shop of Horrors and its flesh-eating plant. It's also about those Easter eggs that spin with a little lever, which open up and reveal something inside. Mainly, it's about the Garden of Eden. The photographs roughly outline the story of creation from the Bible, with images of light, landscape, and the beasts of the field and air. The sculptures are "trees" with various names, and the viewers themselves are Adam and Eve. There is even a flaming sword complete with tongues of fire that are real tongues cast in clear plastic. These light up and waggle at you, expelling you from the garden.

 Rousseau's continuing subject in his art has been the kitschy aspects of religion, how the church winds up expressing ideas in terms of plastic saints and glow-in-the-dark Jesus figures. His present show makes the gallery into something like the inside of a church. There, images of miracles in pictures and statues reinforce the idea of God's power -- and what really matters -- the power of those running the church. Miracles are proof of power. Rousseau gives us miracles in his sculptures, in their amazing transformations, but his miracles are consciously fake. They are achieved with grindings of gears and electric motors. This way, he teaches us to be skeptical about the other miracles we are shown. Not only in the church, but maybe also in governments which claim to eliminate evil with bombs, and soda pop companies saying their product will improve your personality. He shows us that the forbidden fruit is really just a lit-up photo of an apple, while heaven is really a rotating blue spring purchased from an auto parts supply.

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