New York

Claude Simard

Dominating Claude Simard’s installation, a string of letters cascaded down one wall of the exhibition space. Cut from cotton, stuffed, stitched, and strung like fish on a line, they were hung in so many layers that it was difficult to decipher the individual names they spelled. This overwhelming cacophony was meant to evoke a particular place—a small French Canadian village called Larouche, from which this New York–based artist hails—through the names of its denizens. Simard also portrayed his hometown in photographs of its inhabitants in moments of leisure and of local landmarks, such as the one depicted in Furniture Store (all works 1995).

Filling out the image of this provincial town, where day-to-day life revolves around Catholicism, hunting, the lumber industry, and a fetish for appliances, Simard’s installation included a suite of wooden sculptures: a giant, wooden pistol freshly turned from the lathe; statues of a stove; a washer and dryer painted an industrial green; and an empty white confessional. In a departure from this mode, there was also a crafty trophy, For Rolande, made out of pom-poms, antlers, and socks.

These objects, together with the photographs, explore the function of the memento, which sits simultaneously in the past and in the present. Like memory, Simard’s sculptures either exaggerate or leave out details, just as his snapshots seem less like faithful records of the past—of who was there or what really happened—than fragments from a half-remembered dream. Instead of offering solid evidence, the photographs seem to push the artist to ever more elaborate constructions in his attempt to recapture the past. Take, for example, that bizarre trophy, a reward for some forgotten achievement that could only be the product of someone’s imagination. Simard’s efforts at recollection are genuine enough to pull the viewer into his world.

The spectacular falls, entitled Passé Composé, that presided over the eponymous installation lie at the heart of Simard’s project. Literally, passé composé means a past composed: it speaks of invention, of a past reconstructed, in the words of St. Exupéry’s Little Prince, “as best I could remember.” Here, Simard takes a long and affectionate look at familiar places and names, however distant.

Ingrid Schaffner