/ARCHIVE — 2014
/chantal tardiff — field studies
/My work is a collection of colourful, cartoon-like shapes, curious machines, and familiar forms depicted in unfamiliar ways. Through my public, interactive pieces, I attempt to draw attention to things that are overlooked in our environment, reinterpreting our shared space through the framework of childhood games and the freedom of innocence. My art comes to life when an audience interacts and physically engages with it. It transforms spaces temporarily, leaving a token of my presence to delight and surprise those who encounter it.
/CHANTAL TARDIFF is a multi-tasking artist and industrial design student based out of Montréal, QC. She delights in making things in unconventional sizes. Her work revolves around public intervention, installation, sculpture, performance and drawing. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art + Design.
Montreal-based artist Chantal Tardiff’s exhibition invites visitors to engage in optic, haptic, kinetic, and ludic interactions to sociable ends. Considering that Tardiff was trained at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, it seems appropriate to invoke the Maritime salutation and call to arms that so often accompanies the consumption of alcohol in Halifax: “sociable!” Tardiff’s work is often a call to play, as reviewing two of her earlier projects reveals. For the performance Parade Crasher (2009), the artist wore a hemispheric costume resembling a giant knitted red toque. With this ungainly garment, she nudged her way to the edge of the crowd in front of Halifax’s Holiday Parade of Lights and eventually stepped in line with the passing floats and holiday emissaries, perambulating to the confusion and delight of spectators. In this case, the artist is at play. Tardiff’s piece Talking Cones (2006) is an outdoor publicly installed piece that uses metal tubing and conical ear/mouthpieces to aurally bridge the distance between two park benches. With this work, the audience is invited to communicate and to play with one another.
I might term her practice in general, and the sculptures in this exhibition in particular, as having a “playful aesthetic;” yet to do so, first I would need to question what qualities that would involve: are there particular colors, shapes, and movements that are playful? Not necessarily. In On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, German philosopher Friedrich Schiller proposes that aesthetic pursuits are the most sophisticated type of play that humans can engage in.1 Aesthetic creations of all kinds, we could say, are inherently playful. And yet we know that there are particularly tooled devices and objects intended to spur and engender such play. Namely: toys. But there are toys with saturated colors, muted colors, and toys with exaggerated scales (the miniscule figurine and the sprawling model). There are toys that suggest comfort, and toys that suggest danger and risk.
German literary critic Walter Benjamin theorizes that toys are “more appealing […] in the ordinary sense of the term, the further they are from genuine playthings; the more they are based on imitation, the further they lead us from real, living play.”2 Benjamin refers to that situation so perplexing to many adults: that children are frequently more interested in playing with the cardboard boxes and packaging that envelopes toys than the toy itself. What a drab, banal, monochrome thing is that simple and somehow devastatingly compelling box! We know this type of box and its aesthetic qualities. Its scale, ideally, should be larger than its user’s body so that it can be entered, made a kind of architecture or surrogate, so that the user can be dwarfed or even mastered by the box. Or, it should be smaller than its user so that the box in turn can be made slave to the player, so that it can become the thing that is pushed and manipulated. To play, we might conclude, is to be manipulated by something or someone, or to manipulate something or someone, toward the objective of feeling pleasure.
This archetypal grayish cube, the cardboard box, is an appealing play-object because it is open to multiple uses and interpretations. It could be used to perform a vast array of actions. To corrupt and reverse a phrase of Richard Serra’s on his notion of the nature of art, “any use is misuse,” but with the ultimate toy, “there is no use that is misuse.”
Tardiff’s objects are appealing to play with for similar reasons. Her artworks do not clearly suggest any single use, or any single way to play, and they are therefore open to multiple uses. For many people, this ambiguity will likely figure into the appeal of this exhibition, but for the cautious visitor who believes that “any use is misuse,” this ambiguity will have the unintended effect of preventing rather than enabling play.
Stringing these approaches (by Benjamin, Schiller, and my own revision of Serra) together, we could consider that the aesthetic objects and situations that we call “art” encourage the most complex forms of play when they are not obviously within the restricted category of toys (and perhaps even when they are not obviously artworks), but nonetheless have the potential to be employed like that best-of-toys, the cardboard box, toward multiple purposes and outcomes. When I feel that I am the master of an artwork, as a child is master of a cardboard box, or an even more thrilling possibility, when I am mastered by an artwork, I experience a most potent and pleasurable form of play. Although I generally resist the binary of master/slave, since most inter-human relations are much more nuanced than this, in this case it seems one apt model to explain the relationship between a toy and a player.
Tardiff’s website calls her “artist-flight attendant to the stars” referring to her parallel career as an airline steward, but also suggesting that she is an artist who attends to her audiences through the provision of multi-sensory experiences. In recent years, several authors, curators, and artists have proposed different models by which art can fruitfully engage and attend to its publics. Nicolas Bourriaud’s proposed category of relational aesthetics suggests that artists of the 1990s increasingly endeavored to instigate (often harmonious) social relations by presenting architectural, aesthetic, and spatial scenarios.3 Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces adds to this discussion by arguing that artists should involve the public in the planning and formation of their projects through a process he refers to as dialogical.4 For these two authors, it is clear that sociability is a necessary element in the execution of many contemporary art practices. Field Studies offers an opportunity to further think through the endgames proposed by these two authors. First, Tardiff’s artworks do encourage forms of social relation through a gathering around and playing with, and although Tardiff’s objects are not formulated in consultation with their intended audience, they have the potential to be dialogical – though perhaps in a different sense than Kester uses the term. Through playfully manipulating these three-dimensional forms, Tardiff’s audience becomes involved in a physical and kinetic form of dialogue with the artist and with other visitors. With a cry of “sociable!” the artist invites her public to play – and to communicate – with one another and with these strange, ambiguous toys.
1Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, ed. and trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982).
/MARK CLINTBERG is an artist and art historian based in Montreal. He earned his Ph.D. in Art History at Concordia University in 2013 with his thesis The Artist’s Restaurant. Journals and periodicals that have published his writing include The Senses & Society, Canadian Art, The Art Newspaper, and Border Crossings.