Justin Wonnacott, Pictures of Art – Laurent Vernet, An Oblique Gaze at Artworks in Public Spaces

[Winter 2018]
Justin Wonnacott, Stephen Brathwaite The Builders (Les Constructeurs) (détail/detail), 1989 verre, granit et acier / glass, granite and steel, salle Andrew S. Haydon, chambre du Conseil municipal / Andrew S. Haydon Hall City Council Chambers, Ottawa épreuve au jet d’encre / inkjet print photo 2004

Justin Wonnacott, Stephen Brathwaite The Builders (Les Constructeurs) (détail/detail), 1989 verre, granit et acier / glass, granite and steel, salle Andrew S. Haydon, chambre du Conseil municipal / Andrew S. Haydon Hall City Council Chambers, Ottawa épreuve au jet d’encre / inkjet print photo 2004

By Laurent Vernet

[Excerpt]
“Obsession”: that’s the word that photographer Justin Wonnacott uses to explain his ambitious project Pictures of Art (Images d’art).1 The subject of this series, which numbers 350 images to date, is the artworks found in public spaces and sites (monuments, works of public art and works integrated with architecture, graffiti) in the National Capital Region. The corpus of some eighty photographs presented in summer 2017 at the Gatineau-region artist-run centre AXENÉO7, as part of the event À perte de vue, is thus only an excerpt, especially as there is no indication that Wonnacott’s project will be completed anytime soon. Included in the event’s program, which also featured impressive monumental installations created mainly for the soccer pitches of La Fonderie – a municipal building whose playing fields are closed during the hottest months of the year –, Wonnacott’s presentation posed the questions of scale and landscape differently. Arranged one after another, the photographs were notable in this context for their small format, which also contrasted with the scale of the objects they showed. It should be noted that the final form of the project, according to one of Wonnacott’s self-imposed working constraints, will be a book, which implies a personal, even intimate relationship. Extracted from their usual environment, from the places that people visit daily, monuments and works of public art became images unto themselves under the gaze of Wonnacott, who admits that his photographs do not always show them in their best light.

For this project, Wonnacott became a flâneur, taking strolls through the region and casting a fresh, curious, and surprised gaze at his environment. Although he perceived himself as an “art user” and not an expert,2 the questions that underlay his approach resembled those of a sociologist of art: “What is [the artwork] for? Who paid for it? Will it last? Should it last? Why does it look like that? What histories inform the artwork? . . . and above all . . . What is the politics of this work?” The strength of his images lies in the fact that their viewers are encouraged to ask precisely these questions about the functions and uses of artworks in public spaces…

1 Unless otherwise noted, the artist’s ideas quoted or evoked here are drawn from his introduction to the exhibition Pictures of Art, axeneo7.com/fr/imagesdart-justin-wonnacott/.
2 See justinwonnacott.photography/bob.

 
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