The late Quebec artist Micheline Beauchemin is best known in these parts for the massive sculptural stage curtain she made in 1969 for what is now Southam Hall in the National Arts Centre. It’s an impressive work of art rarely used or rarely seen. More on that aspect later.
Anyone who loves that NAC curtain — it’s like a multi-coloured, 3-D abstract painting — should take in a new exhibition in Aylmer of other, smaller examples of Beauchemin’s fibre art. The exhibition is at L’Espace-Pierre Debain, the old stone building that used to house a court house in downtown Aylmer. The show, Homage to Micheline Beauchemin, continues until Oct. 13.
Beauchemin loved to experiment. She did not limit herself to the usual wool, cotton, or silk threads to create fibre sculptures. She also used fishing line, metal threads, triangular-shaped plastic lines, and other products, some of exotic foreign provenance, that continue to baffle even the experts. Thus, when you read a label of an artwork in Aylmer, chances are you will be told that the sculpture was made of “unknown fibres.”
The exhibition contains many sculptures that almost look like apparel — cloaks, sweaters purses perhaps. Yet these are not functional objects. They are art objects that gleam and glitter and set the imagination racing.
The Beauchemin exhibition is part of the much larger Triennale internationale des arts textiles en Outaouais, a celebration of textile and fibre art at several venues on both sides of the Ottawa River, including the Mississippi Mills Textile Museum in Almonte, the Shenkman Centre in Orleans, Galerie Montcalm in Hull, Galerie McKenzie Marcotte in Wakefield and the Moon Rain Centre in Val-des-Monts, where artists from various countries have already gathered to create outdoor, site-specific textile and fibre artworks to be exhibited in a rural setting throughout September.
Fans of the Beauchemin curtain are in for a treat. The curtain, which is normally stored high above the main stage, will be lowered so all can see it Sept. 29 as part of Culture Days festivities and, simultaneously, as part of a tour of venues displaying fibre art highlighted in the Triennale internationale. Those wishing to join the day-long bus tour, which will include the Moon Rain Centre, can contact Galerie Montcalm in Hull. That’s where the tour starts. Seating is limited. So reservations are recommended.
Beauchemin was interviewed in 2006 when she received the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts. She lamented then that the NAC rarely displays her curtain. The word from the NAC is that the curtain is too heavy and unwieldy and that it is also so showy that performers on stage feel they are competing with the curtain for attention.
Beauchemin thought those excuses were nonsense. Back in 2006, she urged fans to contact the NAC and plead with the federal institution to use the curtain more. Well, Beauchemin died in 2009 and is no longer with us but that should not stop people from contacting the NAC to ask that a great work of art be taken out of storage for more than a few hours on Sept. 29.