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Extreme Self: Art in the Radical First Person at Galerie SAW Gallery

By Diane Bond on October 4, 2012

Pop Quiz: What do cryogenically frozen heads made of raspberry gelato, video footage of a naked man crawling through broken glass, and veil-and-bikini-clad ribbon-twirler have in common?

All are on view as a part of Galerie SAW Gallery’s exhibition, Extreme Self: Art in the Radical First Person, which opens tonight. The group show, comprised of ten artists working in self-portraiture, is the latest curatorial endeavor by Jason St-Laurent.

“The works in this exhibition represent various human states: psychological, physical,” says St-Laurent. “There is a lot more than meets the eye. These works are in no way traditional self-portraits – it’s self-portraiture on the edge.”

With work from local artists nichola feldman-kiss, Theo Pelmus, and Shahla Bahrami, as well as 2Fik (Montreal), Suzy Lake (Toronto), Paul Wong (Vancouver), Laurie Anderson (New York), Chris Burden (Los Angeles), Antti Laitinen (Helsinki), and Gilbert & George (London), Extreme Self captures aspects of identity as seen through the eyes of the artist.

The idea for the exhibition came to St-Laurent while traveling in Europe a few years ago, where he spent time observing Renaissance portrait painting. “When you talk about self-portraits, the first thing that comes to mind for a lot people is the idea that artists are doing it either for vanity or they’re trying to perfect their skills,” he explains. “When you look at an artist like Rembrandt, for example, his early self-portraiture is really about refining his skills as a painter. As the years progressed, you can see that he’s trying to express something psychological and not necessarily flattering about himself in his self-portraits. They’re darker. He shows all the creases in the face – these are things that he couldn’t do with normal portraiture commissioned by families. But using this opportunity to do something deeper than face value.”

While St-Laurent’s initial concept for the exhibition is rooted in Renaissance painting, the work in Extreme Self is primarily photography, video, and sculpture, dating from the 1970s onwards.

Arabesque by 2Fik.

In Arabesque, one of three works in the exhibition by photographer 2Fik, we encounter Fatima – one of eight characters the artist has developed since 2005. Each personality has his or her own unique history and relationship status, with observable traits and ambitions.

“I call them characters, because it’s not me as a person, it’s an extrapolation of some tiny piece of my personality,” 2Fik explains. “For example, Fatima, who is a veiled Muslim woman, represents my tenderness that I have for the Muslim/Arab culture. While Alice, who is a Franco-Lebanese fashionista, represents my superficial, very visual, stylish view about fashion. So it’s an extrapolation of some part of my personality, but, in a way, I push this all the way, make it bigger.”

2Fik was raised in both France and Morocco, although he calls Montreal home now. He attributes much of his artistic practice to his experience growing up in multiple cultures. “Because of that, I found myself with a way of seeing the world that is different, than if I lived only in Morocco, or France, or Canada,” he says. “What I mean to say is, my look does not necessarily fit my accent, does not automatically fit with what people expect from me (homosexual, ex-Muslim, I’m agnostic now). I have those three cultures mixing up inside of me in quite a balanced way.”

You can read more about Fatima, Alice, and the rest of the gang on 2Fik’s website.

Better yet, come to the exhibition opening tonight and meet the artist himself. The party goes from 8pm until 2am at SAW Gallery (67 Nicholas Street). Extreme Self: Art in the Radical Age runs from October 4 – November 24.