Philomène Longpré rocks my world: Ooh mama

Ooh mama

Formica Interactive Video System

Philomène Longpré single-handedly reinvests video art with appeal

You may already be familiar with the astounding beauty of the Parisian Laundry, the city’s newest most breathtaking art space, which basks in the natural light that pours into its two stories of windows in west Montreal. What you may not be familiar with, though, is its bunker.

Under the two floors of light, through a door to the far left of the space, you can access the ex-refinery’s bowels. The gallery uses the space for video projections, and rarely have I seen a space better suited – it’s like a womb down there. It’s pitch black, all windowless concrete, and the ceiling ranges from an oppressive six feet high to a cavernous 20 feet.

In that magical space right now lives a young artist who is entirely worthy of the privilege. Montrealer Philomène Longpré works with a singularly original combination of concept and technology, which in the case of Formica Interactive Video System resulted in the projection, onto a freestanding horizontally textured white surface, of a lone human figure all painted and dressed in layers of red, attached from the head to the ceiling by a sort of umbilical cord/hat. The figure is more or less immobile, animated only by muted, eerie environmental sounds, until we move closer to it – then, strikingly, it looks back at us, straight into the eyes, and becomes the victim of an increasing number of red fabric filaments that attach to it from off screen, like a web engulfing the struggling character. As a climactic conclusion, the screen suddenly extends out by two feet each side, horizontally, thus splitting into banners that let strips of light project the lost image onto the wall behind the installation. After a while, depending on where you walk to within the space, the screen regains its original size and the character its original composure.

Longpré anthropomorphizes human relations in Formica. The tyrannical filaments clinging to the figure are symbols of the ties that bind, of the imprisoning responsibilities, sacrifices and pitfalls that come with relating to other human beings. The figure becomes so overwhelmed by them that she literally splits herself – overwhelmed by us, in fact, since we, the viewers, are responsible for unleashing the whole process.

It’s a conceptually brilliant work, not to mention the technological inventiveness of the movable screen and sensor reaction. The amazing space that houses it only adds to the completely freaky experience – the blood-red colour, the creepy sounds, the absolute darkness and the feeling of a discovered genius… my heart was racing.

Formica Interactive Video System
At Parisian Laundry (3550 St-Antoine), to Feb. 24

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Visual Arts