John Armstrong

Colette Laliberté
"Conundrum," Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto

In the 1990s, Colette Laliberté made tenebrous, monochromatic paintings based on blurred photographs taken from the windows of moving vehicles. In her exhibition “Conundrum,” she extends her interest in representing movement and speed by metaphorically and somewhat humorously mapping out our fixation upon instantaneous, far-reaching communication. Her most immediate references are the complicated graphics that illustrate the complexity of the Internet. But her characterization of this ever-expanding reality is far from virtual and quite a shift from her previous, more austere work.

Graph-paper tape coupled with its antagonist, corrector tape (the kind you use to fix typing errors), spans the surface of large, slightly crinkled sheets of paper to connect with various schematic structures. Her taped-on lines of communication are broken, interrupted by vortexes of scribbles or lost in discontinuous, spatially receding grids. Erasure and revision abound: in the partial rubbing-out of the underlying pencil sketches, in glued-on paper patches and in semi-transparent washes of white gouache. Rich, splayed colour samples spring out of nowhere, and all is at times lost in dark, closely valued colour planes.

Laliberté quotes constructivism (a movement that celebrated the corrective power of design) and adopts the tools of a designer, both in her use of line and plane and in her choice of media: gouache, pencil, graph tape. Good design is, after all, meant to be all about effective communication. There is great playfulness and invention in this work, but also a nagging and poignant sense of disruption, of messages gone awry, of a plan not fully realized.

The schemas of her paintings on paper are ambitiously transformed in a corollary installation in an adjacent gallery. A wall painting in gouache and graph tape travels around the room and across two windows. This piece is much less hesitant than the paintings on paper, exuding the sort of breezy confidence that is natural to the flat-colour, hard-edged painting technique that the work employs. The mural creates an arc across three walls. In a dance of interdependence, images of three obliquely-viewed monochrome paintings (perhaps a reference to Laliberté’s previous work) appear to float into the wall and room along with a tilted graph-tape drawing of the shape of the window, a window shutter and a Slinky toy. The resulting formal harmony is the very thing her paintings on paper purposely refuse to undertake. Instead, the wall painting subtly takes aim at the concrete reality of the gallery space.

Canadian Art, Spring 2006