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Tammer El-Sheikh
Ingrid Bachmann at Art Mur
November 28, 2017

Haunted objects, images, and sounds are held together by the theme of anger in one of the exhibitions currently on display at Art Mûr. Ingrid Bachmann’s works run the gamut from kinetic sculptures to disconcertingly still ones, screen prints, gouache paintings on paper, and video. The Montreal-based artist casts anger as a force that’s not cathartically spent in the work, but alluded to as both threat and potential. She hints at two senses of her exhibition’s title: Angry Work. The works encode anger in fiery imagery, monstrous scale, or threatening twitches, and anger itself is proposed as a kind of “work” in and beyond the exhibition – for coalition building, for social justice, and for rights struggles. In a contemporary art scene that can seem exhaustingly affirmative, Bachmann’s works are unafraid to harsh all manner of mellows.

Ingrid Bachmann, Pinocchio’s Dilemma (Tongues), 2007

Under the din of polite vernissage conversation little mechanical sounds emanate from a couple of the pieces in the exhibition. The Angry Machine, fenced-in on three sides at the back of the gallery, whirrs every few minutes as a red projectile is drawn into its guts. Gallery goers hurry in front of the machine on its unguarded side to avoid a lashing that is never delivered. The installation Pinocchio’s Dilemma is a gauntlet with comparable threats. We pass between facing walls on which the artist has installed at head-height a row of lapping mechanical tongues and a metal bar that emerges from and shrinks back into a hole. Lean in close to hear the concealed motors of these devices and you risk lickings and injury. Critic Nancy Webb notes in the exhibition pamphlet that the polished metal nose refers to the tragic, pre-Disney character of Pinocchio who was to be hung from a tree for his fibs, and the tongues are the only works of Bachmann’s that people have tried to lick. Seductions and threats appear here in equal measure.

Bachmann likens the exhibition’s machine-whispers to “noises in the attic” in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Bertha Mason (Mrs. Rochester), a half-English, half-Jamaican “madwoman” is hidden away in the attic of aristocrat and plantation owner Edward Rochester’s home. Mason’s angry stirring and the history of exploitation and abuse it represents threaten Mr. Rochester’s plans to live happily ever after with Jane Eyre. This story of repression and the haunting it causes is taken up in the show’s images of silencing – in a screen print of sealed lips, and in bronze casts of tongues on plinths and blocks, lit with blue lights from below, or bound in red fabric. The figure of the trapped Creole Mrs. Rochester, like many of Bachmann’s works, represents seduction and threat – the seduction of righteous indignation and the threat of challenges to stolen experiences of happiness.

Ingrid Bachmann, The Angry Machine (RED), 2017

A video titled Smile and a pair of fourteen-foot-long metal knitting needles capture this dual sense of anger as weapon and righteous work. In the video, we follow the close-up view of a toothy smile framed by bright-red lips as it imperceptibly twists into angry, clenched teeth. And the needles are Swiftian giants that suggest the heroism and devaluation of traditionally domestic labour. Angry things in the exhibition are sometimes gendered female, sometimes male, but mostly neutral, and neutered. The Angry Machine threatens but never causes harm, the bound or eerily lit bronze tongues are isolated from the mouth, and the exhibition’s images of mouths are expressive but denied the power of speech. Anger circulates in the space as a theme and a bonding force between viewers and the works. It is an anger that is to be activated rather than judged – a functional anger displaced onto body parts and machines but never named.

Ingrid Bachmann: Angry Work continues until December 20.
Art Mûr:
The gallery is accessible.

Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.



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