Manuel Mathieu at Plug In ICA, Winnipeg
By Chukwudubem Ukaigwe
World Discovered Under Other Skies is Winnipeg’s introductory encounter with Haitian-Canadian artist Manuel Mathieu’s compounded practice. Currently showing at Plug In ICA, the exhibition is curated by Amin Alsaden and organized by The Power Plant in Toronto, where it first appeared in the fall of 2020. On stepping into the gallery, one gets caught up in a vital prayer: light in overdose bounces on surfaces, dances through crevices, and then bends like athletes. Barricades of colour waves tumble, leaving echoes of paint brushes. Lines zoom through, drips of paint drag, scratches, restless fragrances, screamed silences, negotiated distances. In this abstraction of calculated chaos is an anthropomorphic sublime; sentient forms break free from beautiful sepulchres. Mathieu’s canvases are heavy; some rip open with deaths.
This artist, a skilled ventriloquist, speaks through an array of materials. His acrylic paintings are laced with dust, paper tape, charcoal smudges, etchings, silicone, and chalk. Sometimes burnt fabric, surreptitious murders, and drunk celebrations. Mathieu peels open the scabs of history; fountains erupt, watering our vineyards of memory. Colour and forms briefly sweet as grapes, quickly ferment into sour realizations. Such burials, such excavations. Maps and maps of wasteland fertile with injury and rhetorical violences are graphed. They emerge sick with heroism. Included in this exhibition are amorphous ceramic tiles placed on a low and wide plinth. Their curvatures and surfaces are drawn up with colourful glazes. They vibrate in conversation amongst one another.
World Discovered Under Other Skies is a fervent study of Haitian history and its global implications. The artist’s home country is the cradle of colonial emancipation. It is also the blueprint for state sovereignty in a lot of subsequent independent nations. Haiti is a strategic window for looking at our erotic climax of capitalist-imperialist catastrophes, as its historical victories have mingled over time with neocolonial cultural and political dictatorships. Hence, his paintings act as activated alters where the artist is a shamanic figure. We viewers have come here to be initiated into this seismic correlation of historical events, mixed with the artist’s ongoing research on temporalities and composition. There is no beginning or end to this ritual. The artist perhaps suggests experimentation? Perhaps he teases the paradoxical? I mean forgetting and remembering; I’m talking of the seductive grotesque of massacres. Perhaps we need water? Yes, let us wallow in our colonial pestilences, our ruptured galaxies. Come, let us sink in our elemental aquatic. This exhibition is an invitation to explore worlds within worlds.
Stretching through the painting Zapruder/313 (2016) is a depiction of John F. Kennedy’s carcass, freshly assassinated. He lays supine to our wanting unwantings, to our intercontinental greed. Fragments of brain matter spread, disheveled. The diptych consisting of paintings Study on a Disappearance 1 (2020) and Study on a Disappearance 2 (2020) speaks to government silencing by means of abduction. Although both paintings contend as contradictions, the former painting is redolent of Wangechi Mutu’s fantastical forms: colours break through each other malformed, orifices and black holes assume dynamic stances. The later painting is a loosely rendered interior contraption, braced over with burnt fabric. That we do not know what lies beyond this textile blockade heightens the absurdity of his permutations. Both paintings stand alone as strong; yet they elope as a diptych to transcend meanings.
World Discovered Under Other Skies transcribes ephemera, evaporating moments of racing thoughts, tender buoyancies, residues. Viewers enter wombs like caskets, into casket as wombs – wombs as drowning, symbolic births, symbolic deaths.
Chukwudubem Ukaigwe is a Nigerian-born song, dispersed by a transient Atlantic breeze, currently passing through Canada. He consciously uses a variety of mediums to relay a plurality of ideas at any given time. He approaches his art practice as a conversation, or a portal into one, and in some instances, as an interpretation of this ongoing exchange. He operates as an interdisciplinary artist, curator, writer, and cultural worker, and is a founding member of Patterns Collective.