The theme of the 3rd Montréal Biennial is "Life is Life! Pleasures, Passions, Emotions"

"Life is life!" said in a resigned tone reveals a Stoic attitude. But the same words in an optimistic tone suggest, on a day-to-day basis, a hedonist. We are here torn between stoicism and hedonism, acceptance and change, reason and emotion.

Edgar Morin says, "Reason and emotion are inseparable. I have always worked on subjects that readily enthralled me. When I write an important work, I am like a blast furnace, I need strong burning love. Life's poetic quality is provided by emotionality, by everything we live with emotion, exhilaration, pleasure. I love feasting the five senses! But each one entails a risk. Take sight for example, the risk is hallucination. What's important is to control the messages of our senses. I place more trust in my ability for self-examination, this virtue practiced by Montaigne, which is still underestimated."

On another level, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, described by many as a Stoic, once exclaimed, "Reason over Passion!" To which artist Joyce Wieland retorted, "Passion over Reason!" in a famous work now at the National Gallery of Canada.

Knowing the joys and woes of the human condition, we must beware not to revel in hopes lest we are too often disappointed. But without pleasures, without passions or emotions, what reason would we have to live? Should one always restrain oneself to avoid excesses?

For this biennial, we have given emphasis to individual expressions, to artists whose work talks about life, life lived privately and life shared with society. The artists unveil their relations with others and their social commitments. They confess their pleasures, their passions, their emotions. While not entirely autobiographical nor of the private diary variety, the works are nonetheless directly related to their authors. They bear the marks of specific moments in their existence. They display signs pregnant with meaning. For these artists, life cannot be reduced to a consumer good. It is a bittersweet reality. Through the works, the private meets up with the public in an intimate gesture.

Stoicism generally, and more often than not, mixes with hedonism: on the one hand, it is fatalist, wilful acceptance and courage that assert themselves; on the other hand, it is the immense need to find one's satisfaction in the five senses at the source of intellectual pleasures. Herbert Marcuse, paraphrasing Hegel, concluded, "Behind the aesthetic form, we find the harmony of sensuousness and reason."

Along this theme proposed to the artists comes a media that has become topical in contemporary art: drawing. It can be simple or composite, in ink, charcoal or graphite; the drawing can be done on tiny sheets of paper or fill a whole wall; it can take the form of a three-dimensional installation or a transfer on videotape.

These past few years, drawing has undergone a transformation: it has moved beyond the artist's sketchbook, it has gained fullness and volume, it mixes with painting, it becomes sculpture. Often reduced to basic, "poor" means, it moves closer, as far as the artists' spirit and attitude are concerned, to the Arte Povera works of the Sixties. Today the artist finds in the practice of drawing an autonomous and independent tool compared to the ambitious, costly means of the film and video productions-installations of late.

From a theme based on the individual and a media that allows him the solitary exercise of production, we have expressive works gathered here.

In an exemplary way, Betty Goodwin stands out by the emotion the silent, torn bodies inhabiting her works convey. These are beings in transition, emerging from the earth, floating between waters, linked to each other in opposite positions, not quite knowing what unites them. A heavy silence is within them.

With other artists, narration occupies a major place - characters and objects build relationships telling tales that are sometimes harsh, sometimes humorous. These works spring from everyday life, recall a scene lived or observed, here altered by a wild imagination or a secret fantasy.

Not all the artists favoured the drawing media for this exhibition. However, some do not hesitate to say they see painting and photography in the same spirit as drawing. This said, they share the common theme of the Biennale de Montrèal.

Claude Gosselin
Commissioner of the 3rd Biennale de Montrèal



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