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‘Mother Rock!’ shakes the anthropocentric boat

Montreal art gallery Art Mûr has been home to Québécois artist Patrick Bérubé’s solo immersive installation, Mother Rock!, since March 5. As the clock ticks on our ability to prevent climate change’s most catastrophic consequences, Bérubé invites visitors on a tour of the relationship between humans and the natural world throughout history. In mediums ranging from prints to sculptures to historical and contemporary artifacts, he enlists contrast and nostalgia to convey that, as Trevor Kiernander writes in the exhibit description, “We are past, present, and future in our own timeless trilogy.”

Upon entry to the exhibit, visitors are immediately greeted with a reminder of how alienated Westerners are from their natural resources. A faux rabbit pelt rests on the ground, accompanied by a scattering of coffee beans in a nearby corner of the exhibition space, emulating its droppings. Many of us consume animal products in our daily lives, but are typically disconnected from the labour that goes into obtaining these products. Witnessing a rabbit’s remnants and an imitation of its waste inside a building is a jarring sight—the bright white walls and hardwood flooring form a space for humankind that feels invaded by the marked presence of an animal. A walk-through of the exhibit reveals more rabbit hides, corners sprinkled with coffee-bean “droppings,” and a stray feather—all objects that many might consider “dirty.” By placing animal remains in these off-putting locations, Bérubé points out that, for many of us, the natural environment exists in a separate space, delimited and contained. When nature enters our quotidian experience unexpectedly, it often becomes rubbish, trash, and filth. 

Patrick Bérubé continues to draw attention to these anthropocentric values in what is perhaps the most eye-catching part of the exhibit: A partially enclosed room with golden yellow walls and a matching yellow bookcase. As one enters the room, they are greeted by an eclectic display of objects and a Georges Bataille quote tucked away on the bookshelf: “le soleil rayonne et notre soleil est froid” [the sun shines and our sun is cold]. Perhaps the glowing room represents the sun. Just as the sun is the centre of our solar system, Bérubé’s display represents the self-centeredness of Westerners living in the Anthropocene. A branch of cotton evokes the racism and environmental exploitation that characterizes historical and contemporary forms of monocrop agriculture, a business modeled upon profit through exploitation. An image of the Trinity Test alludes to U.S. nuclear tests, many of which occurred near Indigenous reservations, to emphasize the intertwined fields of Western science, military violence, and environmental racism. Meanwhile, an array of pornographic calendars and magazines imbricates patriarchy, the male gaze, and the Western commodification of pleasure within these problematic treatments of both marginalized peoples and the natural environment. Together, these artifacts form an aesthetic timeline, as Bérubé presents a genealogy of our current environmental predicament and emphasizes the need for alternative approaches.

Bérubé’s print and sculptural pieces deplore contemporary environmental practices. A sculpture containing a fog machine powered by the water from plastic NAYA bottles demonstrates how man-made attempts to replicate nature ultimately harm it instead. Although we can create fog on-demand, single-use plastics pollute our waterways. Similarly, Bérubé juxtaposes a close-up image of elephant skin next to a black-and-white, likely machine-made pattern of jagged shapes layered atop one another. The contrast between the pattern’s formulaic consistency and the organic originality of the skin emphasizes the irreplicable beauty of natural life, beauty that will be lost if textile commodities such as elephant leather continue to promote poaching of elephants. 

Throughout Mother Rock!, Patrick Bérubé presents the Anthropocene’s past and present, inviting viewers to look toward the future. Through his aesthetically eclectic yet thematically consistent presentation of the human-nature divide, Bérubé invites us to question how we perceive, and subsequently treat, the world around us.

Mother Rock! continues at Gallery Art Mûr until April 23, with free access from Tuesday to Saturday. Gallery Art Mûr can be found at 5826 Rue St-Hubert.

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