Visual Arts Program

Friday, March 14, 2014 — Friday, May 2, 2014

Chantal Rousseau

Harbingers of Doom

Chantal Rousseau - <em>Harbingers of Doom</em>
Chantal Rousseau - <em>Harbingers of Doom</em>
Chantal Rousseau - <em>Harbingers of Doom</em>
Chantal Rousseau - <em>Harbingers of Doom</em>

Opening Friday, March 14, 2014, 8 to 11 p.m.
Artist's Talk Friday, March 14, 8 p.m.
Exhibition continues through May 2.

Behind the ongoing gif work of Chantal Rousseau resides a drawing and painting practice. Electronically realized, her gifs are clearly hand-rendered, rather than cobbled together from other more technological means. It might seem like a subtle distinction but less so when one considers the work within the broad terrain of other electronically-based aphorisms such as emoticons, memes, and screen savers. The pencil and ink drawings that create the source imagery for the work create their own iconoclastic space, a quixotic atmosphere that makes it much more curious and indeterminate to wonder why that skull is shooting lightning bolts from its eyes or why that bikini-clad gal is fondling and squeezing that fish.

Typically a quick and dirty format, gifs more commonly advertise their motives more bluntly—an easy sight gag or a bit of celebrity-directed mockery, perhaps—while Rousseau's work uses the same deft visual device in a more ambitious and expansive manner. Sex and death emanate through the works, usually in ways that undermine their seriousness while still providing considerable pause for thought. But if sex and death are abundant in these gifs, so are birds. Whimsical birds whose gentle, affecting movements are set against the works that are more startling and humorous. But the birds are not a simple nod to nature. There are no simple nods to nature here—in Rousseau's one landscape work, a canoe glides silently across—and swiftly into—a the still surface of a lake.

Nature is not exactly sentimentalized here, despite its first impression. A predatory owl hopping on top of a female corpse has a somewhat hilarious aspect. For a few seconds. Then it becomes unerringly disturbing. The casual, unconcerned aggressor bouncing with gentle glee atop its victim. There is more than sufficient space within that image to be deeply disturbed.

And therein lies the compelling detail within these simple-seeming pieces. They are all quite humorous at first, but in the short course of time (time that is contracted by their shortened gif-length, then repeated), they suggest darker undercurrents. It is not a form we expect to be disturbing or filled with anxiety, we expect humor. The internet has taught us to expect hilarity from short-form animations. Yet Rousseau manages to unsettle both the form and our expectations, leaving us in an ambiguous state where we're no longer quite sure what emotion to feel.

Chantal Rousseau's artistic practice includes painting, drawing, animation, animated gifs and installations. She is a member of the Agitated Plover Salon, an artist collective who created and run the "Unapologetically Expedient" series of short duration exhibitions in non-traditional venues. Shows in 2013 included a duplex and a garage, and in 2014 the group will invade the old Kingston City Hall jail and a limestone basement, amoung other sites. Rousseau was featured in, an online pavilion curated by Lorna Mills for The Wrong - New Digital Art Biennale (, which ran from November 1-December 31, 2013. In 2013, she also participated in Allumage, with site-specific installations of animated gifs in 5 storefront locations in downtown Kingston, a project curated by Michael Davidge for Artignite arts festival presented by the City of Kingston.

Rousseau has exhibited at artist run centres and galleries including: Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston ON (2012 and 2008), Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston ON (2009), Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Owen Sound ON (2009), York Quay Centre at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON (2009), Forest City Gallery, London ON (2008), Artspace, Peterborough ON (2007), The Tree Museum, Muskoka ON (2007), The New Gallery, Calgary AB (2006), Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris France (2005) and Rodman Hall, St. Catherines ON (2005). She was a member of Persona Volare, a group of 11 artists who showed together nationally and internationally from 2000 to 2009. Rousseau completed an MFA at the University of Guelph in 2005. She currently resides in Kingston, Ontario.