Alain Paiement: Living Chaos

Curated by: Bill Jeffries

Alain Paiement’s photographs of synoptic views of mundane architectural spaces, such as apartments, a bakery and a ‘squat’ are presented here in a form that has not been used in previous exhibitions of these works. The spatial layering of Paiement’s work that has been seen, for instance, in the exhibition at Galerie UQAM curated by Anne-Marie Ninacs in 2002, allowed viewers to see the floors of the bakery building tipped on their sides, as they are here, but arranged so that viewers would walk through the gallery space to experience the reconstituted volume of the layers of the building. Here, in our west gallery, you see an ‘exploded view’ in which the same architectural volume is flattened against the gallery walls, not unlike a map. One is able to scan these works, moving vertically from floor to floor, from the basement to the skylight in the roof of the building, by panning 360°.

In Paiement’s photographs, the conventional view seen by tourists and worshippers gazing up toward the ceiling paintings of Michelangelo or Tiepolo is inverted. Instead of the mythic heavens, Paiement shows us a downward view, looking at the floor from the ceiling. Paiement’s deconstruction of space while making the individual photographs that constitute one of his images, is followed by a reconstruction of the space into a single‘ aerial’ scan. The almost seamless transition from room to room as one’s eye roves over his habitations is not unlike the ‘magic’ of the set on a sit-com – Paiement’s camera sees ‘through’ the walls, but viewed vertically rather than horizontally. The idea of making a photograph of a living space as if its roof had been blown away in a hurricane is, in its form, a kind of architectural modification, not unlike photographs of Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural interventions. In Paiement’s work, however, the result of an illusory ‘cut’ is seen, but not the ‘cut’ itself.

The strategy of working to a set of self-imposed constraints, as Paiement does, has long been one key pillar of the working methods of the writers belonging to the OULIPO Group. The OULIPO is based largely in France and Belgium, where Paiement lived off and on in the 1980s and the 1990s. The OULIPO began with the idea of generating texts that had been subjected to severe constraints, such as using all the other vowels except ‘e’. In Paiement’s photographs he has limited his options by proposing to photograph a world in its entirety as viewed parallel to the force of gravity. Just as aerial photography has no real choice but to look down, Paiement seems to say ‘let’s look closely at the world upon which we walk, sleep and eat, but not as the eye sees it, rather as an all-knowing mind might see it’; rather than looking up at the ceiling to see the gods, he gives us the view of the gods as they might peer down upon us.

This exhibition has been made possible by generous loans of works from the artist, the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, and the Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec. Special thanks also to the artist, Anne-Marie Ninacs, and to Louise Déry & her staff at the Galerie de l'UQAM, Montreal, Quebec.


Alain Paiement, Bill Jeffries and Anne-Marie Ninacs, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Musee National du Quebec, present a talk on Paiement's work and its background on Saturday February 28, 2 pm.

Living Chaos, Gallery Invitation - front
Gallery Invitation - front
Living chaos, Gallery Invitation - back
Gallery Invitation - back