Michelle Lavoie, Artifacts
Modern Painters Gallery, Edmonton
April 11 to May 6, 2015
By Agnieszka Matejko
Michelle Lavoie, "Icarus," 2014, archival digital printing and acrylic paint on stretched canvas, 5.5' x 3.5'.
The first thing I hear in the morning is the ding-dong of a little gadget that lies next to my bed. Technology begins my day and encompasses it until nightfall: I check a digital calendar, immerse myself at work on a computer, and, in the evening, plug into music. I am not alone: Most of us swim in an ocean of digital technology. Once only an extension of our limbs, it now embraces our minds and senses.
The profound psychological consequences of such submersion are the subject of the mixed-media paintings in Michelle Lavoie’s exhibition, Artifacts. For example, in Outsider, a life-sized female figure hovers in an ethereal haze of urban smog. Barely dressed, perhaps just woken from sleep, she carries the vulnerability and tenderness of Chagall’s floating couples, yet also the power of Superman. Her hands thrust toward a curious object: perhaps the stripped guts of some technological gadget or even a genetically modified plant. Far below lie the shadowy outlines of a deserted urban landscape.
Michelle Lavoie, "Falling," 2014, archival digital printing and acrylic paint on stretched canvas, 5.5' x 3.5'.
Lavoie’s art is filled with paradox. Her figures are neither heroic nor vanquished; genetically modified objects fascinate like science fiction; the urban jungle enthralls like a surreal dream. This ambiguity reflects the artist’s real-life experience. Lavoie is comfortable with technology. She teaches digital imaging at Edmonton’s MacEwan University, printmaking at the University of Alberta, and designs websites on her own time. Even this series of deceptively traditional paintings could not have happened without a computer.
Michelle Lavoie, "Outside," 2014, archival digital printing and acrylic paint on stretched canvas, 5.5' x 3.5'.
Working in a small basement studio on nearly wall-sized paintings was a challenge. Lavoie took cell-phone photos of work in progress to gain perspective. She designed and manipulated images digitally and used a camera and gel-transfer techniques to obtain eerily realistic figures. Yet, other parts were created with traditional techniques such as linear and aerial perspective done in all manner of drawing materials and good old-fashioned paint.
Michelle Lavoie, "Double," 2014, archival digital printing and acrylic paint on stretched canvas, 5.5' x 3.5'.
A drama plays out in these works. The human body becomes an artifact, the only conscious element in a sea of uncaring contraptions. As the prescient Marshall McLuhan observed in the 1960s, technology not only changes the fabric of society, it amplifies and accelerates sensory processes. It’s a message Lavoie’s art movingly illustrates. The medium is the message – a medium now so pervasive and so addictive, that we no longer make it or control it. Technology now creates us.