If you’re looking for an out of the ordinary gallery-going experience, you’ll have to look hard to find Atelier Punkt. At the locked door to 5333 Ave. Casgrain, the advertised address, you will be directed by a small notice to the backdoor entrance on avenue Gaspe. From there, you will make your way through a series of horror movie hallways and stairs in your search for the gallery. Best to carry a compass—or, perhaps be trained in the Jedi force—in order to navigate the concrete maze before you (tip: the gallery is on the second floor to the left of the staircase.) Two small rooms no bigger than my living room make up Punkt, but, the space is used to its full potential.
I’m somewhat apprehensive when I do finally arrive at the strange and intriguing universe of Atelier Punkt for my second visit. I first heard of the space this October and attended the opening night of the installation “Off and On” by the infamous Roadsworth. That night the formidable gallery mistress, Melinda Pap, made more of an impression than what was on the walls. I encountered Pap in the gallery’s back room smoking and lamenting the state of the Montreal art scene, while a crowd of street-art enthusiasts crawled all over the place. Sure, the installation was good, but I guess Roadsworth’s post-street-art-guerilla stuff seemed ‘out of place’ in a gallery. That’s not to say that Punkt is not an ideal space for such art and indeed Pap is trying hard to make it exactly such a place where art and design can come together. It’s just that I’m a purist about his work. I was there in the days when cross walks became zippers over night.
Pap was surprisingly frank with me, an unknown blogger, about her distaste for ‘art wonks’. So it was with some sense of Déjà vu that before Pap entertained my questions again, I listened while she let off steam. A lack of civic appreciation for the kind of design that is being conceived and displayed by the artists affiliated with Punkt is her main beef with this city that makes a fuss about its cultural prowess. She makes no bones that Atelier Punkt is showing the best stuff in Montreal, but isn’t getting the credit it deserves. “This is Art and this is design” she says of the work that is displayed there. This flirtation of the one moniker, ‘artist,’ with the other, ‘designer,’ seems to be what interests Pap and her members most. And what’s on display at Punkt is good, for the most part living up to Pap’s claims of Punkt’s international repute. Whether or not the state of the Montreal art scene is as dire as Pap claims, however, I’ll leave to another day.
Boutique Punkt, on until December 23rd, is a fundraiser for the Atelier and a showcase of member’s work. I fell immediately in love with the paper-cut collages of Annie Descôteaux. She employs a child-like style that at first glance conceals the unnerving subject matter. Descoteaux fashions a carnal feast—an ‘offering’ if you will (I’m stealing here from a title from one of her works displayed on her website in the ‘viande-meat’ section: http://anniedescoteaux.com/viande.php?id=0). In one of the collages, women’s heads are mounted on platters, flanked by steaks. In another, a banquet of reproductive organs and breasts are garnished and presented for the eating. While Pap was talking I couldn’t help but peek over her shoulder at the one of the little girl whose skirt is being tugged off by a pack of wolves. Awoooo! If I’d had the cash, that’s the one that would have come home with me.
Likewise appealing for the eyes if not the sitting are the chairs of Etienne Hotte, a designer with a flair for the asymmetric line. Three chairs from his series, ‘Frédérick’ are shown, one in matte steel, one in reflective steel and the third in red spandex, woven and tied around the frame. Hotte claims on his sleek website that his aspiration is ‘to find poetry in his work’ (http://www.etiennehotte.com/index.php?/info/). What kind of poetry, I wonder, would one find on the odd angle of a Hotte chair? Something with the ever enticing interaction of a strict set of rhythmic rules, and a sense of playfulness, I think. I wasn’t blown away by Hotte’s stuff, but it’s likeable.
Though not officially on display, if you linger long enough you might also be able to get a tour of Pap’s own chair designs: a feather chair, and a portable, aerodynamic “picnic seat” for the city dwelling bottom, both of which I coveted. For the show, she’s made a wicked red dress entirely from meticulously folded pieces of fabric, mirroring Hotte’s ‘oragami’ mood. According to Pap, the Quebec actress, author and theatre director Marie Brassard has her eye on it for an upcoming performance. I also leafed through Pap’s art books of prints in the back room, which proves she is an artist of many talents. Pap’s blog is worth poring over too: http://atelierpunkt.tumblr.com/. She has a particular penchant for Japanese designers.
Other gems of the show include the slide carousel of “truths of modern life” by Marc-Antoine K. Planeuf and Jean-Francois Proulx; graphic designer Karine Cosset’s photos of ‘found detritus’ (I can never get enough of that); and the lamps of Alexandre Berthiaume, whose other luminous designs, to be found on the website, http://www.alexandreberthiaume.com/, are endowed to my delight with such names as ‘chicken-ass’ and ‘drunk.’ The lamps on display at Punkt might have been called “that black plastic thing I accidentally melted on the stove, and then turned into a lamp”. Or perhaps he might have come up with something snappier than that. I didn’t ask.
Also worth checking out is the work on show by Julianna Espana Keller. Three photographs of an inverted head of a woman are true to Keller’s typically creepy style of portraiture. Each portrait offers the viewer a different perspective on the bust of the woman, the final of the triptych resembling a kind of astrological map of the corporeal. They suggest death, and resurrection. What else can I say but that her work is ‘edgy’; like for example the piece she created for RAW or Operation Rapid American Withdrawal 1970 – 2005, an extensive multimedia art event that was exhibited in the Ice Box Project Space at Crane Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA from September 2nd – September 25th, 2005. The photo-realistic offering to that show bore the title, if people were forced to eat what they killed, there would be no more wars. Let me just say that this piece makes Descoteaux’s ‘meat-heads’ look ever more like child’s play. Take a look for yourself: http://cargocollective.com/julianaespanakeller#40270/OPERATION-R-A-W. A self-described “passionate mile-ender”, Keller appears to be a wide wanderer and a multi-tasker. She’s presented her installations, photography and performance work internationally, is a part-time Faculty member of the Painting and Drawing Department of the Studio Arts Program of Concordia University, leads the Digital Photography Program at The Visual Arts Centre in Westmount, is represented in Montreal by Galerie Art Mûr, and a member of all kinds of art collectives. In other words, she’s the kind of artist it’s hard not to know about and yet this is the first I’ve heard of her. I’m glad to now be in the know.
Before heading out into the blizzard of a Montreal evening I asked Pap about the name of the Atelier. I wondered if the name makes some reference to what the photographic theorist Roland Barthes called the punctum. The punctum is defined as the wounding, personally touching detail in a photograph, which connects the viewer personally with the object or person within it. Most famously, the word is associated with the photograph of a young man, Lewis Payne, who tried to assassinate American Secretary of State W. H. Sward in 1865 as part of a Lincoln assassination conspiracy. The photographer Alexander Gardner photographed Payne in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged. The ‘knowledge that this man is about to die’ is the punctum: that ‘thing’ in the photo that affects us deeply. Is that concept the origin of the gallery’s name? Not so, Pap says. “Punkt is what my mother always said when she finished a sentence. Punkt! Point final.” So it is that Pap carries on what seems to be a family tradition of saying it like it is, making a strong point and not caring what anyone thinks about it.
As I mentioned, the Boutique is a fundraiser, and there is some reasonably priced stuff for sale. You might have a friend who’d appreciate a plaster-cast Quebec license plate, for example. Or, if you’re the fun loving type, there are some designer skipping ropes to be had. I don’t know why, if Pap’s lament is true, that Montreal is not in love with Punkt. It’s got it all: an obscure location, a talented set of members, and a mission to critically engage with the role of designers and artists in the city. The group show coming up in January, opening on January 14th, Pap describes as “interpretations of Black.” I’m intrigued, and will certainly make a point of going, as should you.