Critics’ Picks

Guillaume Simoneau, Untitled (remains), Takeo city, Saga prefecture, Japan, 2016, archival pigment print,32 x 24".

Guillaume Simoneau, Untitled (remains), Takeo city, Saga prefecture, Japan, 2016, archival pigment print,
32 x 24".

Toronto

Guillaume Simoneau

Stephen Bulger Gallery
1356 Dundas Street West
September 12–October 17, 2020

When Canadian artist Guillaume Simoneau was a young boy, his family took in orphaned crows and his mother photographed her children’s surprisingly tender interactions with the birds. Across the world at about the same time, Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase began obsessively photographing ravens, images he would later compile into a photobook now hailed as among the best ever made.

Simoneau’s exhibition “Murder,” which shares its title with his 2019 book featuring these images, attempts to weave together those disparate avian stories. Traveling to Japan in 2016 and 2017, the artist photographed people and landscapes near where Fukase worked as well as a hunt in which a trained falcon chases down and kills a raven. (Simoneau describes his project as an “homage” to and an “attack” on Fukase.) 

Several subjects recur, including a spider in its web, the falcon, a lone pine held up by a pillar, and birds circling a tower at night. Other scenes unfold across multiple prints. Everywhere you glance, a photograph complicates or undermines what you have just looked at, a destabilizing effect that is accentuated by the density of the installation. The artist’s pairs and groupings bring to mind Paul Graham, whose use of the term “post-documentary” Simoneau has cited approvingly. Graham’s 2007 collection of photos, a shimmer of possibility, ties its melancholic atmosphere to a sense of stasis or helplessness. By contrast, Simoneau’s exhibition couples its somber memory work with movement, even turbulence. The potential energy is right there in the compositions: Various subjects, frontally presented, are pressed uncomfortably close to the viewer; other images feature sharp angles or surfaces that tilt vertiginously.

Some respite comes from the photographs appropriated from Jeanne d’Arc Fournier, Simoneau’s mother. They are printed on Japanese silk, unframed, and interspersed with the artist’s bleakly beautiful images. In a room full of portents and omens, even these tender memories come to seem like shrouds.