Mapping Artistic Assertiveness : Pierre Bruneau’s Mail Art

Pierre Bruneau, mail art, daily life, art world
Pierre Bruneau, Postez l’art (Mail Art), 1997 - 2021. Photo: Pierre Bruneau

A Review of Mail Art. A Retrospective of 24 years of Mail Art by Pierre Bruneau, Maison de la culture Janine-Sutto, from January 28 to April 1, 2021

Since 1997, the production of monthly letters for a small number of subscribers has allowed Pierre Bruneau to create, from wherever he wants, unique works that he sends elsewhere in the world. Without interruption for almost twenty-five years, he has thus maintained a regular rhythm of creation, while ensuring access to a studio thanks to the income from subscriptions. This correspondence develops as a place of experimentation in connection with his artistic approach and practice, his private life and the society in which he evolves.

The exhibition at the Maison de la culture Janine-Sutto presents each year of this correspondence in blocks organized in columns and rows, like a calendar page. A cyclical variation of the lighting plunges the room into darkness at regular intervals. It allows one to capture the phosphorescence, characteristic of his personal work, also explored in his mail art practice. When sanitary measures permitted, the artist occupied an open studio, set up in the center of the exhibition room.

Pierre Bruneau, mail art, daily life, art world, phophorescence
Pierre Bruneau, Postez l’art (Mail Art), 1997 – 2021. Photo: Pierre Bruneau

Less well known, the mail art component of his work records a reflection in phase with the evolution of his aesthetic and establishes a chronology since 1997. There are experiments with phosphorescent pigment, research into moucharabieh, camouflage and barbed wire motifs, images from pornography used for the series Extases (2009-2011), as well as explorations based on the arrangement of windows, or the transformation of spaces through lighting effects. These avenues of reflection around motifs are reflected in exhibitions at the Artothèque de Caen (1997), the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur (1998), the Bishop’s University Art Gallery (2000), the Musée régional de Rimouski (2003), the Galerie Christiane Chassay (2004), and more recently at the Biennale de sculpture de Trois-Rivières (2014), at the Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides (2019), as well as in the present exhibition, all of which are referenced in his epistolary production.

This correspondence also bears witness to the rejuvenating trips to India and Turkey that he has made over the years, as well as to the breakdowns of inspiration, inconclusive hypotheses and failures of conception and realization that are typical of any creation. It also refers to the conditions of artistic practice through studio changes and rearrangements, unsuccessful exhibition projects, grant writing, or the questioning surrounding the development of a website. There are also explicit references to events related to Bruneau’s subsistence work in a CLSC and his retirement as examples of situations that allowed him to counter the financial precariousness and limited access to public funding that many of his fellow artists face.

Pierre Bruneau, mail art, daily life, art world
Pierre Bruneau, Postez l’art (Mail Art), 1997 – 2021. Photo: Pierre Bruneau

In a more intimate register, in keeping with the privileged ties he maintains with his subscribers, a series of sporadic self-portraits provides news of his life, while allusions to family celebrations, birthdays, illnesses and deaths of loved ones attest without modesty to his personal life. The presentation of this entire correspondence is intended, in a way, to open up this community of limited filiations to a more or less identified public and thus to weave a much larger territory of “elective affinities”. In a recent article, Guillaume Adjutor Provost poses this impulse towards the other as the proper of the artistic creation and confers to him, after the philosophers Nietzsche and Sloterdijk, the power to transform itself in a shared love “for an unknown, distant and future life”, in a finality and a destiny other apart from a hegemonic common sense.

Pierre Bruneau, mail art, daily life, art world
Pierre Bruneau, Postez l’art (Mail Art), 1997 – 2021. Photo: Pierre Bruneau

In this spirit, the playful detour of everyday artifacts used in this correspondence by Pierre Bruneau – such as photo novels, lottery tickets, razor blades, etc. – open a breach in their use. – The various current events in this book are presented in the form of a series of photographs and photographs of the world. The various current events mentioned here, such as the current pandemic, the fires and floods in Quebec, the 2015 Bataclan attacks in Paris and those of September 11, 2001 in New York, in addition to the deaths of well-known artists such as David Bowie or Jeanne Moreau, position his practice in a flow of elusive events of diverse scope. Listening to his time, the artist lets his creation in postal art direct him daily to the lacunar potentialities of what surrounds him. In this, the exhibition maps the singular place that art occupies and the role of the artist in this constellation.

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