Visual art has the ability to capture moments in time. In “Les Temps Inachevés” (French for ‘unfinished times’) — on display at The Power Plant Gallery — artist Patrick Bernatchez tackles the notion of time with ironically surreal artwork. The contemporary exhibit unites two separate projects, “Chrysalides” and “Lost in Time,” and explores the parameters and power of time through a fusion of photography, light, and sound installations, along with live sculptures and short films.
Stepping into the exhibit hall, where natural sunlight mixes with sharp fluorescence to intensify the monochrome décor, “Lost in Time” is the first exhibit I encounter. A photographic light installation introduces two masked characters suspended in a snowy scene. The piece presents the idea of being trapped in time.
Everything about the exhibit’s space gives you the sense that you’re participating in a distinctly ‘contemporary’ experience. The pieces are cryptic and minimalist, spaced widely apart, and evoke a sense of emptiness. The theme is communicated to us only through the sound of a ticking clock bouncing off every corner of the room.
A rookie in the modern art scene would likely feel intimidated by the abstract nature of, for instance, spools of thread revolving around a speaker. I quickly find myself struggling to derive meaning, and in doing so, finding that the ticking overhead of a clock becomes increasingly pronounced and increasingly aggravating. Having given up on finding meaning, I lose myself in the rhythmic palpitation of the spools of thread coming from the speaker it is wrapped around. I realized much later that I stopped noticing the buzzing clock. Despite the emphasis on time, the artwork created a hypnotic effect.
The lack of publicity around the event seems to have deterred the crowds, adding a sense of exclusivity and intimacy to the exhibit. It feels as though the artwork is speaking to you and you alone — giving you its undivided attention.
The array of black and white photos scattered throughout the exhibit without an evident pattern feel like they were left for you to stumble upon. They belong to “Fashion Plaza Nights,” a subproject in “Chrysalides” inspired by the declining textile factories within the plaza. The Montreal-based artist recorded the changing rhythm of these factories, most notably the “activité nocturne” (or, nocturnal activity).
A bench and a set of headphones allow you to take a break from the visuals and listen to a catalogue of soothing music. Classical pieces by Bach and Debussy are reworked with a blend of original music to create a fusion of alternating sounds and meters reflecting Bernatchez’s impressions of the plaza’s transformation. The subtle shifts in the music’s pulse reflect the building’s gradual changes while quickening rhythms seem to echo more severe transformations.
The Power Plant gallery compliments “Chrysalides” themes of age, disintegration, and transformation. From the outside, the gallery’s structure is industrial — a brick bulk with a jutting tower. Until 1980, the building served as a completely functional power plant before being converted into a space to display art, evocative of the story behind “Fashion Plaza Nights.”
Although each artifact leaves you mystified and impressed, one piece will render you awe-struck. 14 years in the making, “BW” is a simple black wristwatch. Yet, under a single spotlight, it emits an exceedingly ominous presence. The wristwatch sits alone in a room, reminiscent of an altar. As you approach it, you notice that any standard markings of minutes or hours are absent, and the single, lingering hand is programmed to take an entire millennium to complete. The piece forces you to think of time’s infinite existence, and your undeniable disappearance by the time the hand has fully revolved.
If art should immerse you in a timeless moment, Bernatchez’s project does more. It stretches time, to the point where the outside world feels like a whole other universe after stepping out of the gallery. I find myself on the frost-ridden Harbourfront, a haze of ice and snow making the lake an infinite white. Suddenly, I’m pulled back into Lost in Time, the real-life scene before me resounding its vivid colours and lingering message.