By James D. Campbell
In a remarkable group exhibition recently on view at Optica,1 Raymonde April, one of Canada’s finest living photographers, marshalled the talents of an intrepid group of itinerant fellow travellers – and to radiant effect. April formed Outre-vie/Afterlife in 2013. The group comprises thirteen accomplished photographers2 all of whom work from and contribute to the notion of an “afterlife” that is native to the idiom of photographic images.
Taking its cue from a work by the late Quebec poet Marie Uguay, the cabal is devoted to an open-ended dialogical investigation (there is nothing doctrinaire or solipsistic at work here) of what “afterlife” – understood as thematic chrysalis and unique point of fulcrum, using narrative means to achieve mnemonic ends and vice versa – might mean. Members of the group have in tandem exhibited large-scale photographs, video projections, object installations, experimental writing, and sound installations in Quebec and abroad in institutional exhibitions and performative and archival contexts. The work on display at Optica is mostly photographic. April and her coalescent hive mind are all empowered by what Uguay wrote:
Afterlife is when one is not yet in life, when one watches it, when one seeks to enter it. . . . Afterlife is like overseas or beyond the grave. One must pass beyond the rigidity of the obvious, of prejudice, of fears, of habits, pass beyond the obtuse real and enter into a reality at once more painful and more pleasant, into the unknown, the secret, the contradictory, open one’s senses and know. Pass beyond the opacity of silence and invent our existences, our loves, where there is no longer destiny of any kind.3
April herself says, “I imagined forming a group that could collectively map the existence of photographic images – their past and their future. I wanted to create a community that could consider the way images have their own space and their own lives, and how they respond to you when you look at them.”4 That she has brought such a community into existence is clear…
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2 Raymonde April, Jessica Auer, Jacques Bellavance, Velibor Božović, Gwynne Fulton, Katie Jung, Jinyoung Kim, Lise Latreille, Celia Perrin Sidarous, Marie-Christine Simard, Bogdan Stoica, Andrea Szilasi, and Chih-Chien Wang.
3 Marie Uguay, L’outre-vie (Montreal: Éditions du Noroît, 1979), 9.
4 Raymonde April, interview with Gwynne Fulton, in Outre-vie/Afterlife (Quebec City: VU, 2018), 7.