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Julie Doucet: Zur Erinnerung an Melek: Woman of words

Woman of words

Portrait of found souls, from Zur Erinnerung an Melek

Local comics celeb Julie Doucet loses her imagery for the sake of words

With a name like Dirty Plotte, it would be hard to forget Julie Doucet ever made comics. But that’s what so many people are pleading. Over the last couple years I’ve gotten promo from Galerie Graff, Galerie Clark, publisher Drawn and Quarterly and now Galerie B-312 stating, emphatically, that Doucet has left comics behind after a decade-long career to concentrate all her energies on "high" art. Now to me, this is a non-statement, the kind of gobbledygook I hear so often in the art world but that interests only those prone to making grand distinctions to start with. That anyone in their 30s can state that they have left something by the wayside, never to return to it, strikes me as a brutish approach to life. And that galleries and publishers choose this as a promotion angle strikes me as an act of desperation.

After seeing Doucet’s current exhibition at B-312, though, I realize my irritation had perhaps more to do with what has been touted as the artist’s replacement career than the abandonment of the previous one.

Zur Erinnerung an Melek: En souvernir de Malek, the exhibition at B-312, presents work that’s a couple of years old, a series of lithographic prints Doucet made at Graff. The series was born when the artist found a bunch of photographs in a Berlin trash, and she paid homage to them by reproducing them, magnified and flipped over, in print portraits resplendent with her signature "gros trait" style. Originally printed in a beautiful book by L’Oie de Cravan, accompanied by abstracted "found" prose by Benoit Chaput, Zur Erinnerung an Melek introduced a reflective, delicate Doucet content to apply her artistic talent to portraying the whimsical poetry of humanity.

Anyone who knew her through her darkly scrawled Plotte zines of yore, or her comics proper, or her New York Diary, would be disappointed by the resurrection. The prints are pretty, yes, Doucet’s stroke is unique, and the whimsy of lost and found emotive power is worthy of artistic extrapolation. But gone is that flavour, the slightly rank darkness, even the beloved self-obsession of her comics self. The ongoing installation she began at Galerie Clark this summer, À l’école de l’amour – which at least in theme promises more edginess – went a long way to confirming the white-bread so-what-ness of Doucet Fine Artist too. I wouldn’t have thought any grouping of phallic-shaped papier-mâchés could ever seem so innocuous.

But just as I was turning to leave B-312 (after enjoying the ocular trickery of Thomas Bégin’s makeshift camera obscura, We’re Looking for You, in the big room at the back), I was invited to sit next to the front desk and peruse the real stuff Doucet is doing lately, which has nothing to do with gallery walls at all.

There, unsuspecting, I sat in the little corner and found the treasure trove, quickly becoming engrossed in the intensity of word play Doucet has been creating in the form of art books. Among them, her Journal, from 2005, which begins simply as a diary with daily entries of moderate but voyeuristic interest, slowly becomes infiltrated with invented words. Steadily, these words – a language all Doucet’s own that appeared at times in her comics, but here reaches new dimensions – multiply and repeat so that by the end of the book, language has been reinvented, à la Dada, bringing into question the relativity of humanity’s shared codes. The book is accompanied by a lexicon, making it possible, if so inclined, for readers to actually comprehend every word of this complex puzzle – a delectable and involving experience. Next to the books you’ll get the treat of some good old plotte-worthy raunchiness too, in the form of a series of collaged dirty poems. My advice to you: Put the headphones at your disposal on, let the words give you wet willies and try to forget anybody ever said anything about artistic categorizations.

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Don’t miss Alexis O’Hara at B-312′s latest musical night tonight for their Jeudis tout ouïe, where music is on the menu one Thursday a month throughout 2006. Alexis gets the word-play party started at 8 p.m. for a measly $5. Enjoy!

Julie Doucet: Zur Erinnerung an Melek
At Galerie B-312 (372 Ste-Catherine, suite 403), only till March 18

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