By Paul Gessell
Back in 2008 when I first met Ottawa artist Genevieve Thauvette, I wrote a column naming her as the most interesting discovery of the year, based largely on her debut exhibition of photographic self-portraits at the Dale Smith Gallery.
Thauvette was soon making headlines by winning a gold medal for artistic photography at the cultural competition at The Francophone Games in Beirut and from her devilishly dark staged photos of The Dionne Quintuplets, with Thauvette simultaneously appearing as all five girls. Prints from that series can be found in some of the best art collections in the area, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Then Thauvette moved to Toronto and dropped out of sight. So did Dale Smith Gallery. So Gallery St-Laurent+Hill corralled Thauvette and became her dealer. Her first show there is called Les Filles du Roy and is set to run Sept. 18 t0 26, overlapping with both the citywide photography extravaganza Festival X and the city’s first ever Nuit Blanche Sept. 22.
“Les Filles du Roy” is the name given to the 800 women Louis XIV sent between 1663 and 1673 to New France so all the sexually frustrated male habitants, voyageurs, and courriers du bois could find wives, procreate, and increase the sparse population.
Sex has been an integral part of politics in Quebec ever since. Think of Revenge of the Cradle, the policy of the Roman Catholic church to encourage serial sex in the marriage bed so the population would increase and crowd out les anglais.
Now this brings us to the mischievous image we see here of Thauvette’s work that will be in her Festival X-Nuit Blanche exhibition. The beauties pictured, King’s Daughters every one, are all saucy shots of Thauvette.
And then there is the banner saying “La mort d’un bucheron” or, in English, “The Death of a Lumberjack.” That will surely ring a bell for Quebecois film buffs. A Gilles Carle movie by the same name was made in 1973 about a young rural woman who heads to Montreal to find her lost father and ends up singing, exploited and topless, in a country and western bar. That film was something of a naughty updating of the quintessential Quebecois story of Maria Chapdelaine, a backwoods woman trying to decide which of three suitors to choose.
La mort d’un bucheron “has an important place in Quebecois film history in that it’s an example of the ‘maple syrup porn’ genre of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Quebec,” says Thauvette. “You are probably more than aware of the province’s culturally stifled environment until about that point. There wasn’t really a film industry. The church controlled what foreign produced films could be introduced. Near the end of the’60s, if I’m not mistaken, government money was made available for film producers to try and create a home-grown product.” The result was a series of sexually explicit films. Some were huge box office hits. “La mort d’un bucheron is part of that genre (very strange film!).”
French-Canadians “have always found their freedom in sexuality,” says Thauvette. “La révolution tranquille, yes, is a prime example. But it has always been a sexual culture as a means of subverting oppressive religious forces.”
Many of today’s Quebecois are descended from Les Filles du Roy. Thauvette says it is “very likely” she is one of those descendants.
So, there you have it: An explanation about a very crafty piece of art. I can hardly wait to see the rest of the show.