Galerie Trois Points
September 7 – October 5, 2013
Seized in natural settings like sundry fireflies caught in amber, Hotte’s many familial subjects demonstrate a tiered and trans-referential intimacy and, as we sat on a bench in front of them, their gravity effortlessly drew us in and, well, the truth is, we joined their dance. This photographic meditation on the meaning of family – nuclear, single-parent, extended – was radiant and engaging in its way.
Indeed, Toutes les familles heureuses se ressemblent transported us into the heart of family understood as anchor, refuge, emplacement, home. In videography and photography, this artist explores notions of kinship, clan, embodiment and family relationships with a loving, well-honed and altogether meditative eye.
In the main room, a mesmerizing array of ten video works on a diagonal wall offered individual family portraits. Members of families Hotte knows, including her own mother and grandmother, father and niece, partner and son, and those of friends, literally revolve around together on a circular moving plate that remains unseen, as though in a close dance embrace. Think of an orrery in which the subjects revolve around one another inside a close-packed familial solar system. And yet, while this is videography unquestionably at its best, there remains no doubt that Hotte is, above all, a gifted photographer, as single prints of the same or similar scenes demonstrated elsewhere in the gallery.
Hotte named each video after a family member in it, starting with the oldest: her grandmother Florence and mother Monique. They hold one another tightly in extravagant fur coats as they turn within the landscape like a binary point of a fulcrum. Similarly, Hotte’s son Kolya is seen held aloft on his father Martin’s shoulders, both bare-chested and braving the elements.
Here, Hotte makes her point that, even in the midst of Nature, place is a pre-eminent ontological structure grounding human experience in the family unit. As the philosopher Edward S. Casey once argued: “place, by virtue of its unencompassability by anything other than itself, is at once the limit and the condition of all that exists…Place serves as the condition of all existing things…To be is to be in place”. Casey argues that place is the centremost ontological structure of being-in-the world partly because of our existence as embodied beings. We are “bound by body to be in place”.
Perhaps the most comprehensive and relevant example is provided by M.L. Million who examined, in a phenomenological framework, the experience of five rural Canadian families who were forced to evacuate their ranches because of the construction of a reservoir dam in southern Alberta. Million’s goal was to specify the sundry lived-qualities of what she called ‘involuntary displacement’ – the families’ forced relocation and resettlement. Million examined the idea of ‘rebuilding place’. Her seminal exploration of the foundations of place experience for her chosen group ably specified the lived stages in the process of losing place and relocating.
Now, the displacement in Hotte’s videos – the binary pairs posed within a natural landscape with no evidence of habitation for humans, presumably but not demonstrably hostile or inimical – is also one of wilful emplacement, her point being, perhaps, that family abides and endures in any context if cohesive and strong.
The video duration of each vignette is between one-minute-and-30-seconds and 12-minutes-and-30-seconds and so, as we watched, sundry screens went dark as their duration was reached, leading the optic ineluctably toward neighbouring vignettes.
The second room contained a group portrait populated by seemingly spectral presences. As we moved behind the wall on which it was mounted, we saw a small ghostlike 3D tree, an eloquent icon of the natural landscape. Painting the tree grisaille also lent it a spectral presence, as though it had been seized upon and frozen like flotsam and jetsam in the seas of time. The family portrait, which seemed at first painted, was in fact a photographic image. Taken with an 8×10 camera using a paper negative, the photo’s textural and tactile graphic qualities were palpable. With the long exposure and the paper negative, the subjects seem to meld together and this enhanced the phantasmatic effect. Some faces (particularly of the children) are blurred, as though shifting in and out of focus, caught in temporal flux. The family portrait could as easily date from the 19th Century as it does from today. The image slips out of the reference frame, and the artist deepened and widened her loving meditation on family representation and the temporal. These two elements – tree and family portrait – were a fitting and moving flip side to the videos.
All these works are deeply contemplative, and the videos and installation pieces are inextricably dovetailed. The subjects are compressed in intimacy by the sheer gravity of the natural landscapes they are posed within. Hotte places us on the threshold of images that effortlessly hold us there. At first, we are held at a distance, at a immensurable remove, but it is not long before this family story is grafted like another aorta on our heart.
Hotte is not dilating only upon her own family but on something more universal and enduring. This young artist’s first solo exhibition was a revelation, as it betrayed maturity and humanity intra-familia. The phantasmatic clarity and intimacy of the triadic whole in this exhibition was hugely compelling, and frankly bodes well for Hotte’s future offerings.
James D. Campbell is a writer and curator based in Montreal who contributes regularly to Magenta Magazine among other publications.