Lovely bones

Local artist Chantal Rousseau is the sixth and final artist to contribute to the Solo Studio Watch Series at Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Rousseau’s exhibit contrasts animal and human bodies to highlight the predatory nature of popular culture.
Rousseau’s exhibit contrasts animal and human bodies to highlight the predatory nature of popular culture.

We all know cable on a small budget isn’t the greatest. The one stand-by people tend to gravitate towards is the nightly ritual of the sometimes gory, always provocative, super-suspenseful mystery that is Crime Scene Investigation. Whether we settle in with Grissom or Horatio, the show never fails to bring chills to every basic cable customer’s meager few channel offerings each night.

Luckily for Kingston art fans, CSI does more than just cure boredom and solve mysteries for viewers—it inspires.

The work of Montreal-born artist Chantal Rousseau is an ongoing and continuous examination of the enduring and frequently consumed forms of pop culture and media. Rousseau studied at the distinguished École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris, obtained her BFA from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 1997 and her MFA at the University of Guelph in 2005. Her work has since been evolving, negotiating and confronting female bodies through drawings. Her last focus involved combining images of soft porn with bizarre kitsch effects of both animal and human landscapes.

Vice-President of artist-run centre Modern Fuel, she is an active member in the Kingston arts community and has lived here just over a year.

Her latest exhibit And now let us weep for the lovely lovely ladies of CSI is the final installment in Agnes Etherington’s Solo Studio Watch Series. Curated by Jan Allen, the series represents a special 2009 initiative aiming to identify, present and cultivate an understanding of the work of emerging visual and media artists in Kingston.

Showing in the study of Agnes Etherington, And now let us weep for the lovely lovely ladies of CSI is a collection of ink drawings combining images of lifeless women and beasts of prey. Take one part bad break-up, a resultant CSI marathon and a keen awareness for the various portrayals of female victims on the popular show and viewers can get a sense of from where her work stems. As Rousseau described in her talk at Agnes Etherington on Sunday, she depicts the series’ female victims accompanied by eerily staring and ever present animal characters in order to probe the predatory underpinnings of CSI. The juxtaposition between the dead bodies and the animals is affecting.

When entering the Agnes Etherington study, I was confronted with Rousseau’s mixed-media installation of six ink and paper drawings—all united under the title And now let us weep for the lovely lovely ladies of CSI—mounted on the wall accompanied by a corresponding video piece.

At first glance, the piece seems to be served with a shot of deadpan humour. Rousseau’s sensational title contributes to her commentary on CSI, highlighting the ways in which the show creates, feeds and maintains an appetite for sexualized violence shown in both the victims and the sexy female investigators on the show.

The first piece depicts two female victims. One is lying in a natural position on her back with her arm outstretched to her side, her head delicately tilted towards the viewer. The second victim appears to be in a child’s pose, lying with her legs curled underneath her with her face turned from the viewer, her thong exposed. Placed around the bodies are three foxes. One sits at the feet of the first body, the others roam and circle the other subject of the drawing.

Beside them is a slightly more disturbing image. A woman lies horizontally in the frame wearing an evening dress and high-heeled shoes. At both her feet and her head are two stalking wolves. With their mouths open, tongues out, heads down and eyes focused directly on the woman laying between them the predatory impulse and overheated sexual nature of the show is confronted and called to question.

Some of the pieces in the exhibit are harder to swallow than others—while some of the animals seem almost protective of the bodies, others have a definitive tone of standing over their prey. Another piece depicts a bear stepping towards two young female individuals and is made slightly more worrisome by the blackness and vacancy in the bear’s eyes.

The other images are similar in nature presenting images of varyingly female sexualized bodies, although always depicted with presentable clothes and enviable figures, including animals such as owls, wildcats and other predatory birds. The video installation that accompanies the piece is an animated version of an image existing in the monochromatic drawing series. A lifeless body lies in the frame as a white snowy owl hops and jumps up and down her back. The owl blinks, spreads its wings and re-adjusts its body before settling. It calls but no sound is heard. Its expression is complacent, curious, inviting and inquisitive. The owl’s presence seems to implicate the viewer somehow rendering us accountable for what we have seen. The exhibit’s success lies in the images’ intense power of the images to provoke thought for the viewer. Although the owl’s movement never stops during the piece, the girl’s body remains lying down—she is motionless and lifeless.

And now let us weep for the lovely lovely ladies of CSI shows in the study of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Nov. 29. Admission is free for students and $4 for the general public.

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