By Alexis Desgagnés
André Barrette likely never wanted his art in the spotlight. That is why, outside of the community of artist-run centres in Quebec City, relatively little is known about his discreet but important contribution to Quebec photography landscape in recent decades. Yet, from his obvious affection for cultural manifestations that we naturally associate with a working-class register – hunting, sports, and fast food, for example – Barrette has built a coherent body of work, with a radical yet sensitive aesthetic, most recently displayed in Fin de Siglo,1 a self-published book quietly launched in January somewhere on Quebec City’s Côte d’Abraham. Without reviewing Barrette’s entire career from Matane, where he studied, to this book, I would like to say a few words about some of his preceding series, and then talk about his view of Cuba.
In the corpus Les rituels, parcours de chasse (1999), Barrette’s interest in “popular” culture was already evident; it is a culture innate to the actions, gestures, tastes, and practices of the masses, including in the visual space – as opposed to preconceptions, works, habits, and institutions of the elites – although, in the era of industrialization of culture, this distinction would have to be nuanced.2 More evocative than documentary in tone, Barrette’s photographs portray hunting as a ritual of communion with nature: poetic, silent tracking, the suspense between the call to and the wait for the animal that is invisible, both in the woods and in the images. Not the luminous, drunken beast of the movie. Instead, the quest is blurred, off-screen: before the lens, as before the arrow that one draws back, as one awaits the prey, the landscape is everywhere. Then, finally, the beast appears – as Sylvain Campeau has noted,3 Barrette sees a correspondence between this immemorial food-producing activity and the practice of photography: in La présence, the final image in this series, the artist’s shadow appears against a tangle of weeds.
Barrette’s work has been through many incarnations over the years. In ALL U CAN EAT (2002–13), he draws on the popular imagination more explicitly by diverting into his photographs the words on aerial advertising banners pulled by airplanes above beaches on the American east coast. As an artist rather than a tourist, Barrette photographed the banners during his summer travels through the United States….
2 “The oligarch thus does not disappear into the general public, even if he shares the same crap, from the cultural point of view. Although he makes a poor reproduction of the courtyard to which he aspires, the financier, press magnate, and administrator of the Total oil company, is satisfied with this simulacrum that absorbs him – him and his. And it is as full as it is big – that is, for him, mass-marketable. This is the stamp of his power: showing himself capable of dragging a whole community into the effects of his bad taste and placing them, without no possible resistance, under the name ‘culture.’” Alain Deneault, La médiocratie (Montreal: Lux Éditeur, 2015), 161 (our translation).
3 Sylvain Campeau, “L’objet de la traque,” Vie des Arts, no. 175 (2000): 66.
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