Article by Craig Francis Power

Jacinthe Robillard’s L’etendue de Mes Connaissances (the scope of my knowledge) features a collection of photographs and video portraits wherein her subjects are asked to make an origami crane on camera.

Set against a neutral light and dark grey background, we watch Robillard’s friends and coworkers fold, unfold, and refold paper as they scan off-camera instructions the artist has supplied them. Brows furrow, lips are chewed, eyes narrow in concentration, but rather than addressing failure as you may be prone to think, the work, according to Robillard, seeks to reveal the idiosyncracies that make up her sitters’ individuality. In an age where the camera and the image are ubiquitous, where we feel constantly the need to “perform ourselves”—think reality television, Youtube, Vine, Instagram, the Selfie, et cetera—think: the Panopticon—Robillard creates a setting wherein the audience observes her subjects’ guard coming down as they attempt to concentrate on the task she’s laid out for them.

Earlier experimentation with this work produced mixed results, as Robillard had set up her camera in people’s homes, leading to a not entirely accurate reading of the piece. Neither clinical nor personal, the neutral quality of these photos and videos forces us to focus not so much on the living spaces of her subjects, where a kind of narrative emerges (she told me that in an earlier manifestation of the piece, the audience assumed she addressed class struggle based on how shabby or opulent her subjects’ homes were), but rather on her subjects’ physicality and nothing more.

Watching other people watch the video, I was struck by how quickly a sort of mirroring began to take place. If you’re like me, and you avoid informational panels and curatorial essays until you’ve at least had a good look at the art, you, like the people in Robillard’s portraits, will at first struggle to grasp what’s happening in the work. Just as the sitters’ brows furrow, so do yours. Is Robillard, in the way she forces her audience to observe and decipher, therefore suggesting that the art experience is not only the fruit of learning, of hard work, but is a thing through which, like her subjects, we reveal our “truer” selves? Don’t know, but what I do know is that Robillard has created an elegant and contemplative exhibition more than worthy of your consideration.

Eastern Edge Gallery continues to exhibit (like it has done for the past, like, 30 years) cutting edge work from the province and beyond. You would do well to also check out Joe Fowler’s Object Says in the Rogue Gallery, whose project, now on display, I’ve covered in these pages in the past. Robillard’s installation runs until April 1st in the main space and is not to be missed.