Joani Tremblay is a Montreal-based artist who received an MFA from Concordia University (2017) and was the recipient of the Vladimir J. Elgart Graduate Scholarship and the Quebec Master Research Fellowship, FRQSC. Tremblay’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions notably in Los Angeles (Kantor LA), Stockholm (Pony Sugar), New York City (NADA NY), Tokyo (3331 Arts Chiyoda), Edmonton (Latitude 53), Toronto (Zalucky Contemporary) and in group exhibitions notably in Romania (Bucharest Art Week), Mexico City (Material Art Fair), Los Angeles (00-LA), Denver (Dateline gallery), Montreal (Parisian Laundry) and has a duo exhibition upcoming at Interstate Projects in Brooklyn in 2019. In 2017 and 2018, she was a finalist for the RBC Painting Competition. She has participated in residencies in Los Angeles, Berlin and Tokyo, and has an upcoming residency at The New York Art Residency and Studios Foundation (NARS) in New York in 2020. She is the recipient of numerous grants, the most recent of which is The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation (2018). She is the former Co-founder/ Co-director of Projet Pangée (Montreal) (2015-2018), an artist project space in Montreal.
Through painting and sculpture, Joani Tremblay maps between the abstract and the representational, the virtual and the physical, and the utopian and the real. She investigates the relationship between landscape, its simulations and reproductions, and how it is combined with our own memory of places. It’s a salient topic in an age when nature is pictured in everything from films and photographs to theme park attractions, computer games and advertisements, from pages to screens to physical spaces and back again. This sense of multiple—and yet simultaneously layered—experiences of landscape influences her art, too. She does all her drafting digitally, testing hundreds of possibilities in digital collage before sketching onto the material. The back and forth between representation and abstraction creates a new space where we can go into and reflect, a new psychological landscape of a sort. The artist further emphasizes a sensitivity towards place by installing sculptures, as well as paintings, in her solo exhibitions.
Recent research interests look into the ideas of place; architecture and free labour in architecture in correlation to free labour in the arts; as well as the deconstruction of architecture patriarchal power structures which places man like Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright in position of absolute power.
Recent work includes research at Arcosanti, Arizona, as a site of interest, an experimental micro-city created by architect Paolo Soleri which is visited and lived as a utopia.To have access to living at Arcosanti, one have to first do a workshop of six weeks costing thousands. The site and all architectures were built through this free labour over the years. In the MeToo era, Soleri’s daughter account is a clear-eyed articulation of the reasons why assigning all intellectual power to a solitary genius demanded human sacrifices (her own as well). The school and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West are also of research interest. Both architects were given all intellectual power, seen as solitary genius, ruling the lives and terrains around them within a strong problematic patriarchal structure.
Interview with Joani Tremblay
Questions by Marcus Civin
Can you tell me some of what comes to mind when you think about plants? I just moved to Las Vegas and I want to get a spider plant. I hear they would filter the air in my office and my apartment. And, when I went to see the Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist at the Phoenix Art Museum, I drove into Saguaro National Park. I came up over a hill into a valley covered in Saguaro cacti. They looked like happy hands, funny, prickly spears reaching and solidly in charge of their land. I felt real joy in their presence. I laughed and laughed.
You are so lucky! I dream of moving to the desert! It makes me think about the Joshua trees at the Joshua Tree National Park, I love these fun characters, they are quite otherworldly. I discovered Agnes Pelton in the last years, she is so magical, can't wait until the exhibition comes to New York.
The plants in my work operate on a few levels. I use plants often as shapes or kind of a shorthand to introduce a form, a color or to construct space in the painting, bringing different grounds quickly like Japanese Ukiyo-e's flat perspective. Besides for forms or colors, plants are also sometimes stand-in characters in the work, some cacti are particularly funny to me as well or some other plants have a darker side. Some plants are also recurring forms in different paintings as I do all my drafting digitally, testing hundreds of possibilities in digital collage before sketching onto the material. I have been trying to put this process a bit more at the forefront of the work recently and one of the ways I am trying is to reuse the same collage elements in different paintings.
In a more general sense, my work is about our ideas around place as a whole and the sense of multiple and yet simultaneously layered experiences of landscape we all have. We all have false memories of places we have never been to, may that be the rock formations of Arizona, Niagara Falls or the idea of the California sun washing colors. We are in an age where nature is pictured in everything from films and photographs to theme park attractions, computer games and advertisements, from pages to screens to physical spaces and back again. These simulations and reproductions of diverse landscapes get combined with our own memory of places and create these vaguely familiar places we have never been too, or an odd feeling of knowing somewhere when it is our first time setting foot there.
I recently interviewed the artist Patty Chang, and she talked about her anxiety about the environment. I wonder what you think will happen to the human species, the air, and the water around us, and if you think about this at all when you’re working?
The environment is important in our everyday life and our future, and it is important to me personally, but it was not really at the center of my work, my practice being more about simulations, reproductions and memories and false memories. But I actually was recently asked to think about our particular environment and sea level risings for an upcoming group exhibition at Interstate Projects. It made the work really different for this exhibit, more than I expected, which was really fun to try out.
You live and work in Montreal, but your work has taken you around the world. How do you think specific places, and travel between destinations, have impacted your work?
Heavily. I have been lucky to do research on foot in diverse places that I felt were important in the moment. I fell in love with the American desert and I am always trying to get back there any chance I get. There is something with the vastness, the expansion of the skies, the harsh contradictions of the land, full of life silence and the midday sun that flattens everything compared to the golden hours which gives high relief to every crevice and fold. I am really interested in doing research about specific places and how they are simulated and reproduced in other forms or in other media. I just came back from Arizona and New Mexico and it was interesting to recognize the rock formations as the set of the Indiana Jones slides in Walt Disney.
Everyone I know always complains they work too much, but I don’t think I do. I love working. It occurs to me that I learned this when I learned to paint in college. I couldn’t imagine doing anything but paint. I would eat while the gesso was drying, paint nights, weekends, holidays. We had beautiful studios. I felt so lucky. And all of the possible permutations possible (brush size, hues and shades, cover or uncover). Can you describe your work regimen (or not-work regimen)?
Your description sounds very familiar, I just work all the time. I am a morning person, thus I usually wake up early and try to use the morning to make decisions. It's when I have the most will. Then I usually mix colors for a long while before starting painting. I drink a lot of green tea/ginseng based drink to stay awake and paint until late. In the morning when making decisions, I usually listen to silence or ambient or classical music. Then when I am started, I listen to a lot of podcasts or radio to not let my head be in the way of the paint. It also helps me to be focused and to not Google every idea that pops into my head. When I co-directed Projet Pangée it was fun to get out and go help artists and be at the gallery chatting about art to the passer by. Since then I try to keep on doing this in other ways, through a painter's group we started or a beer with women artists, or teaching, different ways to participate in the community.
I work at UNLV with a couple of phenomenal painters, Tim Bavington and Sean Slattery, who are discovering with their students what it means to paint now, these days, and imagining what it might mean in the next century. To my surprise and delight, figure drawing and still-life painting persist in the proclivities and enterprises of the students, even when they have access to Photoshop, eye trackers, and laser printers. Why do you think representational painting has meaning for you as a way of working?
To me painting is really about the material, the butteriness of oil paint, the magic of blending and of making that perfect dark burgundy. I work between representation and abstraction, tangling here and there between the two. To me they bring different associations to place and our sense of place in different levels of elusiveness.
I wonder about relationships too. How your paintings relate to one another, to the spaces where you exhibit them, and then your work also moves to abstract sculptures. How does this happen for you? What is it like moving between canvases, spaces, and between multiple ways of working?
For me, sculpture emphasizes a sensitivity towards place and makes the viewer feel his body in the space of the gallery. The sculptures usually come at the end of the exhibition preparation. I think about the sculptures while painting, often stopping sketching some ideas in my sketchbook. As my sculptures move a lot quicker than the paintings, it is really a pleasure with sculptures to be able to switch tempo and to play with different materials thinking through an idea. It also often helps me see the ideas in the paintings in different ways.
I read you presented on a panel David Balzer moderated about emerging art markets. How did that go? What did you talk about? What did you learn?
It was a conversation on collecting, from the lens of supporting the work of emerging artists and it brought together artists who have founded young galleries: myself and Davida Nemeroff of Night Gallery. We discussed strategies that we developed to challenge conventional models of gallery systems as well as our experiences as artists who have also worked directly with the art market. It was interesting to me because Davida has a different experience then mine, being situated in a totally different market in LA than Montreal.
In addition to working independently, you also contributed to Projet Pangée, supporting other artists. How do your relationships with other artists feed you?
With my friend and fellow artist Julie Côté, we co-founded and co-directed the artist-run gallery Projet Pangée. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I had in the arts. After around three years I had to leave due to time I needed to devote to my practice, but Julie is still running the gallery wonderfully with the help of other artists-curators. Supporting other artists which we admire gave us the chance to get to know them personally and to develop relationships and friendships that are really important to us. Helping them in achieving their vision, and bringing their different voices to Montreal was very rewarding. It also enabled us to be directly part of the art world in so many different ways and to know the in and outs from different view points. I think artist-run galleries, projects or community-driven spaces can build important power and take that power to make their community's voices heard, being invited to different boards where decisions are made and being invited to discussions with important actors that can make changes in different ways. We worked with artists from different cities, mainly Toronto, Vancouver, New York and Montreal as well as doing art fairs notably in Mexico City and New York. Thus it enabled us to really expand our community. And I think the fun of the arts—beside being alone in your studio—is creating community.
What are you working on now?
I am working on an upcoming group exhibition at Asya Geisberg in New York curated by Katrina Slavik in July focusing on synthetic flora and landscapes, remixing the natural world through a plastic, airbrushed, or brightly colored lenses. I am also working on the group exhibition Red Sky at Morning which will be exhibited at Interstate Projects in Brooklyn in July and curated by Danica Pinteric and Garrett Lockhart. This group exhibition will be orbiting around the impending environmental and social changes that will arise in the near future as the impact of Climate Change becomes more palpable. The work in the exhibition is a speculative conversation between myself and artists Marlon Kroll and Catherine Telford Keogh about how these impacts, like sea level rise and increasingly disastrous weather, might influence culture, more specifically, the urban environment. I am also busy in the studio working on a solo exhibition of paintings and sculptures which will open in September in Toronto at Zalucky Contemporary. For the latter, I am investigating Arcosanti, an experimental micro-city seeking the radical reorganization of the built environment situated in Arizona. I visited this site thinking about notions of place, architecture and utopia, but I quickly discovered failures in the proposed utopia, as well as the problematic patriarchal power structures in place. Arcosanti was built through years of free labor, provided by workshop participants under the apprenticeship model. Free labor can be seen as an extreme form of power enabling only certain classes and thus inhibiting social mobility. I became interested in the patriarchal power structures within architecture, elevating certain men to the position of Genius, and how this title gives them absolute power over others’ lives.
What do you think is next for you?
I am hoping to continue producing more and more in the studio and to continue to be part of the art community in different interesting ways. I am also trying to be more in New York as well and to go visit the desert often. We will see where that leads us!
Thanks so much for talking with us!
To find out more about Joani and her work, check out her website.