Caroline Monnet‘s solo show at Arsenal Gallery was coincidentally timed with NYC’s month long focus on architecture, Archtober. Worksite is the title of the Montreal based artist’s exhibition that included new work created in the twelve months prior.
Worksite explores altering common building materials to create two and three dimensional artworks the reflect Monnet’s heritage and past. Her ancestry is a mix of Anishinaabe, part of the original indigenous people of the Great Lakes region, and French. The forms and patterns she develops draws inspiration from the geometric patterns used in textiles and crafts by her distant ancestors. A more recent influence on her work comes from her parents who were avid house renovators.
There are many angles to extract meaning from Monnet’s work, I particularly like the use and elevation of materials meant to be hidden within a building’s structure. Monnet transforms insulation, house wrap, oriented strand board and sandpaper sheets into works with dense pattern and texture.
Viewing the exhibition as a designer, shows the possibilities of really thinking about how a material could be transformed to be more aesthetically appealing. Does every surface need to be covered in precious stone or expensive hardwood? Monnet’s approach shows an alternate path towards beauty and visual interest by pushing the potential of typically ignored materials.
Photos and Text: Dave Pinter
Additional Description: Arsenal Gallery
Arsenal Contemporary Art New York is pleased to present WORKSITE, a solo exhibition of new work by Montreal based artist Caroline Monnet. Curated by Greg A. Hill, former Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada, this is Monnet’s first solo exhibition in the United States.
Over the past decade, Caroline Monnet has developed a multifaceted and expansive practice that combines art, film, architecture and furniture design. She employs forms that are deeply rooted in her rich Anishinaabe and French heritage to articulate hybrid expressions of an Indigenous worldview and its methodologies. Her work offers a fresh and unique perspective on the broader heritage of material culture.
The works featured in this exhibition were predominantly created over the last year and center around Monnet’s ongoing exploration of modern home construction materials. Through family house renovation projects experienced in childhood, Monnet developed a fascination for the transformative process of construction. This familiarity bred an affinity for building materials that only grew over time—the unfinished walls, fiberglass insulation, tar paper, and even the presence of spiders. The familiarity with and fondness for these materials catalyzed a profound deconstructive exploration of the realm of domestic construction.
Seen in aggregate, Monnet’s practice evinces a compulsion to be continuously making, continuously building, manifested as a lively aesthetic practice and a strong work ethic. She sustains, moreover, an unwavering commitment to her craft as a way of being that transcends mere productivity. Hill likens Monnet’s spirit to that of the diligent beaver. As Hill reminds us, “for the beaver it is also a matter of survival, if it doesn’t always gnaw, its incisors will grow in an arc that will eventually pierce its throat.”
Monnet’s work also articulates a critique of the construction industry, and its detrimental environmental impact, by leveraging the physical qualities of materials and imbuing them with new meanings. For example, she uses gypsum board, or drywall, an omnipresent material in house building. If exposed to high humidity over extended periods, however, it can be host to dangerous mold. The artist uses this board as a substrate in some of her work, creating intricate symmetrical patterns by growing black mold in a highly controlled manner. The resulting juxtaposition toys sardonically with an otherwise insidious substance that is often present in the subpar housing of too many Indigenous communities.
With these recent works, Caroline Monnet draws from the modern built environment, as well as from her blended heritage, to invest pedestrian construction materials with new meanings, and to create artworks with the ability to tell their own stories.