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Interview: Véronique Chagnon Côté's Heterotopia

Interview: Véronique Chagnon Côté's Heterotopia

Lives and works in Montréal, Québec, Canada

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I have always had a fondness for manual tasks, time-consuming and devoted work, exploration, and curiosity. Studying in art field was a spontaneous decision. At a tender age, I wanted to learn a lot of different crafts, from ecology to architecture, horticulture or even construction. I remember having doubted my ability to become an artist throughout my time-consuming bachelor's degree. It was a series of professors who, through their approval and support, gave me the confidence to pursue my painting practice. I remember one painting from a baccalaureate class that created a trigger and enabled me to understand how painting opens infinite possibilities when combined with ideas. From that time onward, I never stopped being obsessed by this activity.

The Breakthrough, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood pannel, 22 x 17 inches, 2021

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I grew up in the countryside and suburbs of Montreal, a city rich in creativity where I currently live and work. I have always been torn between studying Arts and Architecture. At a very young age, I had a fascination for house and building drawings, but also for the functioning of perspective and the illusion of depth. I followed a standard path from high school to a Master of Arts degree. At each new stage of my studies, I hesitated to change my program for architecture. My master's degree at Concordia University allowed me to do an exchange with the prestigious McGill University School of Architecture and it is really at this occasion that my interest for architectural questions became intertwined with my painting work. Architecture is a difficult medium to achieve. To build his own vision in reality, the architect must accumulate years of practice. Painting is very different, because it allows us to evade questions of utility and the laws of construction. In my own way, I become an architect through painting. Since I realize those possibilities, the perception of actual and pictorial space has been at the heart of my artistic practice.

Studio view from work in progress

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I have always been interested in the notion of space and how our body experiences places and nature. At the beginning of my practice, my thoughts turned to the contradictions of space, such as the possibility of constructing and deconstructing painting or even closed / open spaces, interior / exterior at the same time. Then, through my research, I came across the writings of Michel Foucault and his famous concept of heterotopia. He proposes the notion of other spaces which can overlap several spaces of different natures and temporalities in the same place. From then on, painting has become for me a heterotopia which allows to build on the canvas dreamed, desired spaces which mix paradoxical concepts. This is what makes it so fascinating. Thus, in my recent paintings, I use my lived experience of nature and architecture to construct pictorial stagings that propose spatial contradictions. Several strategies are combined on the surface: the creation of false sites, the overlapping of multiple spaces, references to the history of perspective, the reversal of points of view, and reference to various architectural eras.

Work in progress. Title of the painting : The lost landscape (from Palazzo Tè)

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I am very inspired by the women painters who surround me and who are increasingly present in the world of contemporary art. There is a vibrant energy around the women painters' rhetoric as much among young women painters like Vivane Greven, Louise Giovanelli, Theodora Allen, Janet Werner, or from a more recent past such as Agnes Pelton or Miyoko Ito, whose immense quality of work is being rediscovered.

On the other hand, I am also deeply moved by Italian Renaissance painters like Botticelli or Mantegna and have a particular affection for representations of gardens and architecture throughout the history of art in general.

The Window and The Folded Plant, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood pannel, 22 x 17 inches (each), 2020

Studio view in general from juin 2021

Where do you find inspiration?

Much of my inspiration lies in my more academic readings where a few sentences from an author can mix with other ideas and thus create a new pictorial idea. Painting has this quality of allowing us to represent the impossible, the paradoxical and the amalgamation of concepts. The search for these “interstices” is at the heart of my inspiration. Also, I would say that my inspiration is also very often within my paintings. Each canvas shows me the next step and leads me to imagine the following painting. When I'm in the middle of a creative period, it's really exhilarating how my creativity is activated. Each idea, image or pictorial attempt is conducive to triggering a flood of ideas for the rest of my works. Finally, my experience of nature, territory and architecture are triggers of ideas. I observe the structures of a flower, a flourish on a building or a view of a landscape. 

Inspiration from books

The Capital, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood pannel, 22 x 17 inches, 2020

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

Recently, I allowed myself to leave the traditional frame of the pictorial rectangular window specific to painting by imagining a series of new shapes canvas. The piece The Shell is truly the pivotal work of this change.

The Arch, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood pannel, 22 x 17 inches, 2020

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

These forms appeared to me intuitively. I wanted to interact more directly with the surface of the walls of the Petites Pièces exhibition, presented at Projet Casa in Montreal. This exhibition hall is special, since it is a patrimonial house and the walls are covered with moldings and architectural decorations. Shaped like a shell, a branch or a flower, these shapes canvas interact with this exceptional place. They create a sort of passage between my architectural paintings and the actual architecture of the place, further activating the surface of the wall. Since then, I continue to create new forms that accompany my paintings and several are in production in the studio.

Exposition view (The Hidden Flower) at Projet Casa in 2020

Exposition view (from right to left : The Arch, The Capital, The Shell) at Projet Casa in 2020

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Take the time, slow down, avoid putting pressure on yourself and stay true to yourself in a world that moves faster and faster, where the abundance of images overwhelms us. I think this is one of the lessons that I continually strive to relearn and apply in my life, both in the practice of painting and in the day-to-day management of my life as an artist. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time, because while wanting to be withdrawn from this acceleration in life, I also want to be part of it and understand it.

Inspiration from a dry Thistle

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I have several projects in front of me. I continue to work on my current series representing interior architectures and also on a multitude of canvas shapes that accompany them. I also have collaborative projects with wonderful women artists who will bring feminist visions of architecture to the fore. I am therefore interested in the currently very lively movement of the feminist reinterpretation of the history of art, while exploring questions of the body, affects and perceptions of space. Finally, I am very excited to start teaching at the University of Quebec in Montreal in the coming weeks as a professor of painting practice.

The Thistle and The Door, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood panel, 34 x 22 inches, 2021

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

My advice would definitely be to stop bothering with the feeling of impostor! All the artists around me flirt with this feeling, more or less strong, which makes us doubt, which slows us down and lowers our confidence. It must absolutely be got rid of. Art is for everyone, accessible to everyone!

The Shell, acrylic and acrylic transfert on wood panel, 13 x 28,55 inches, 2020

About the Artist

Based in Montréal, Québec, Canada

Véronique Chagnon Côté (b.1986) lives and works in Montreal. She holds an MFA in Studio Arts from Concordia University (2016) and she is recently a full-time teacher at University of Québec in Montréal. These works were featured in solo exhibitions at Projet Casa and FOFA gallery in Montreal (2020), at Zalucky Contemporary in Toronto (2016). She was the recipient of the Elizabeth Greendshields Foundation (2020). Her work was published in the Fall 2020 issue of the American journal Friend of the Artist. Her work is found both in numerous private and public collections.

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