Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quebec, America & Death to Cinema: Q&A with Martin Beauregard

With the Venice Film Fest just opened and TIFF right around the corner, the media is cinema-crazy.

Martin Beauregard is too, kinda, but in a way that wants to pay attention to the end of movies, as well as the men who make and star in them—and even the empires that glorify them. Beauregard hopes these kinds of ideas come across in his massive, cinema-screen-sized images installed as "Drive-End," his current solo exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal.

Last month, Beauregard was kind enough to take some time to chat with me about his striking work, which has also been exhibited in quite a different context on prairie billboards. Our condensed exchange was published in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q I've read that this work relates to your grandfather. How so?

A I asked my grandfather to participate in making these photographs--that's him dressed up as a cowboy. My asking him was linked to other works I've made. In 2003, I made a film based on the funeral of my father, who died that year. In that earlier work, I tried to turn the funerary rite into a kind of photographic game. So this work follows on that one. Some might think of this old man as being on the way to death, but the same could also be said of Spaghetti Westerns, or cinema in general. Representations of Americanization, and the ambiguous decline of that national empire, are also of interest to me.

Q All that sounds pretty heavy. What did you grandfather think of the whole thing?

A I think he thought of it as playing a persona. He seemed happy to do it, but he did it with a lot of irony. He knew that it would be not just a representation of himself, but also something more theatrical.

Q A lot of people will see these images and think of old drive-in movie experiences --experiences that are, as you suggest, almost extinct. Do you have any drive-in memories of your own?

A I actually never went to a drive-in. But I took this picture in Val d'Or, Que., where I grew up, so it conjures my childhood. More importantly, the drive-in is a kind of American cultural symbol--one that's becoming a bit of a ruin. So I'm less concerned with nostalgia and more concerned with how the drive-in evokes the death of a culture. I'm also interested in how drive-ins and Western movies are instances of U.S. culture spreading to, and being strangely preserved in, the Quebec countryside.

On a related note, I visited the MBAM last weekend and was struck by how much work they have purchased by "younger" Canadian artists—in addition to a massive painting by Dorian Fitzgerald (which I knew had been purchased), I saw acquisitions of Andre Ethier and Rick Leong. I also see on their recent acquisitions page purchase of work by Mario Doucette and BGL. Maybe it's just me, but I wonder how big the MBAM's acquisitions budget is compared to other institutions. I guess I feel like I don't see as much of that kind of activity for younger artists at the AGO... but that's said with zero research, folks! All about the unsubstantiated feeling! All about the wondering! Anyway, it's great to see that support for "newer" Canadian artists on proud display.

(Image from Martin Beauregard's Drive End from Paved Arts)

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