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Unplanned Architectures

Thoughts on Unplanned Architectures
by Martin Gourlie - Regina Urban Ecology

Construction Sight
Suddenly, our urban world looks really, really weird
by Gregory Beatty - Prairie Dog Magazine

Catalogue essay


Bruce Montcombroux , Kyle Beal and Jason Sheppard
mixed media, installation dimensions variable, AKA Gallery, 2011

Collaboration among artists can yield surprising and interesting results, particularly if the artists have different aesthetics or work in different matters and mediums, or in the case of Les Choses Sont Contre Nous - a recent exhibition at AKA Gallery in Saskatoon - was initiated mostly through "virtual activity."

Using a combination of sculpture, interactive kinetic elements, performance, photography and architectural intervention, the exhibition is a humorous and poetic commentary on the way everyday objects confound us in subtle and provocative ways while also engaging the gallery as a space of social and institutional interaction.

Artists Bruce Montcombroux (Saskatoon), Kyle Beal (Montreal) and Jason Sheppard (Denver, Colorado) met at the Vermont Studio Centre in 2009 where all three artists participated in independent residencies. Continuing their new connection virtually, the three decided to reunite and work collaboratively over a span of four days with only a conceptual framework for what they would produce for the exhibition.

The title of the show, Les Choses Sont Contre Nous, sets the tone, and is the pièce de résistance to unravelling the puzzling configuration of artworks. Taken from the slogan for Resistentialism, it means "things are against us." The philosophy is a brilliant spoof of existentialism coined by British humourist Paul Jennings in 1963. It's based on the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards humans.

With this in mind, much of the exhibition confronts us with occurrences that poke fun at the fallibility of objects, the precincts of space and our resistance to accepting that "things" often work against us.

At the entrance of the gallery sits a framed structure that forces the viewer to zigzag through its faux queue. What seems at first like a pointless, forced entry reveals the gallery as a setting used to choreograph the viewing or reading of objects.

The arrangements of approximately 15 works are surrounded by an orange dashed line that runs horizontally around the perimeter of the room (and parts of the frame). I am reminded of a quote from Paul Klee: "a line is a dot that went out for a walk." It's a funny image that animates the space while anchoring itself to other objects like an orange duct tape-covered ball that floats in space at the other end of the gallery.

The odd floating ball (another anchoring or framing device perhaps) is situated between two DIYesque sculptures and a video projection that loops two performances of one artist struggling with the mishaps of using a pencil. The video makes a subtle but funny commentary on the creative struggle of an artist while insinuating itself into the framing devices, punctuated lines and the two orange accented sculptures.

One of these sculptures is a cinder block resting on the floor, on one edge, that is stabilized by a dangling, tangling bungee cord. Although simple in both form and construction, there is something salient about its careful but precarious arrangement. A few feet away, the second of the two sculptures, is a garage door mechanism that is partially suspended and partially resting on the floor. Set up with a sensor, any subtle movement lights it up and sends this disembodied object into a tangent as it stretches and pushes forward and then exhausts swinging backwards. This piece seems to best capture the idea that indeed "things" do have a mind of their own.

However, it's at this point that the more lyrical connections between works and the exhibition as a whole begin to unravel. Running the length of the wall opposite the entrance is a series of found objects including a misbuttoned shirt, a single sock and a red-edged sheet of paper. On their own, the objects would have held up well against the more subtle expressions of the other works, had they not been accompanied by labels that too didactically described the objects' misbehaviours: i.e. "Case of Beer (handle ripped)" or "Toast and Butter (slipped off plate)". But given the short time the artists worked together, and the breadth of territory they explored individually and collaboratively, it's fair to excuse this one mishap in an otherwise subtle and very clever show.

"I am interested in how invention can be interpreted as a physical product or conversely, as a fabricated story." - Bruce Montcombroux

Part of my interest in Bruce Montcombroux's work is personal. Like him, I grew up moving from air force base to base, and also like him I developed an early interest in aircraft. Curiously, his fabrication of things like post-World War II "jet engines" involves First World War-era aircraft construction techniques. That's a clue to his bricolage sensibility. Bruce always makes the construction of his work discernable if not plainly visible to viewers. His use of the word "invention" in his statement above seems to me to be meant more literally than the way most artists use it. I think of him as working in the tradition of artists such as Murray Favro, Jean Pierre Gauthier and maybe Fischli & Weiss - he's that technologically adept.

I've known Bruce and his work for some time because he was an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba where I teach. Back then he was a skilled painter, but his computer skills were so good that I thought he might settle on making "computer art": that did not happen. His resistance to computer art reminded me that, like a few other painting students I've had over the years (including if you can believe it, at least two young burnt-out former computer game designers) Bruce makes art to get away from computing, even if way back when many of his works incorporated downloaded web images (which admittedly is computer art of a sort). Which got me thinking that perhaps his sculpture should be thought of as a kind of pre-computer hacking, a hacking into "ancient" modernist-era technologies.

Cliff Eyland is a Nova Scotian artist who lives in Winnipeg. He is married to a Newfoundlander (by the way).

Reconstruction, September 8 - December 19, 2009 - Kenderdine /College Art Galleries, Saskatoon SK
Curated by Kent Archer

Reconstruction explores the possible interpretations of invention and fabrication. Bruce Montcombroux looks at how ideas can be materialized into tangible objects, while simultaneously evoking more ephemeral notions of fiction or deception.

Reconstruction sources news stories, current events, conflicts and the flux of relationships. The narrative potential is about second-hand information, memory fragments, or types of mnemonics whose original reference has been lost or obscured. In a do-it-yourself, home-built version of high technology, the mechanical and the body are pushed together in an uneasy relationship. In this sense, Reconstruction deals with multiplicity and how we rationalize or create narratives to help understand our position within an ideologically and technologically complex world.

Bruce Montcombroux would like to thank the Saskatchewan Arts Board for their generous support, and a special thank you to Andreas Buchwaldt and Emily Corbett for all their assistance.

Planet S Magazine, Volume 8 Issue 3

Love And War
by Bart Gazolla

College Building Gallery, U of S
Runs to December 19

I was once told by a gallery director that I was the most “subjective” reviewer she knew: what was meant as an insult I took as a compliment, as the very idea of “reviewing” is, in its essence, subjective. Hell, if you’re arrogant enough to think you have something other people need to hear, let’s not mince words about whether or not you believe your opinion matters.

The reason I bring this up is that it’s a factor in my interaction with Bruce Montcombroux’s excellent exhibition in the College Building Gallery (lower level), titled Reconstruction.

This is easily the best exhibit of contemporary sculpture that I’ve seen since... well, that I can remember. The works in Reconstruction are smart and well-executed — sometimes ridiculous, sometimes disturbing, but all a welcome change from much of the sculpture we’re normally subjected to in this city.

I’ve had a soft spot for Bruce’s work, ever since his contribution to the U of S Art Department’s sessionals exhibition last year, when he installed a pillar — just like the other two in the gallery, often the bane of artists installing in the space — that I must admit I didn’t notice until the end.

The works are scattered through the gallery, but play off each other: “Dear John Honey Baby I’m Long Gone” is sperm-like, with a shiny, softly luminescent head large enough to crawl into, and a black rubbery “tail” that extends through nearly half the gallery. “I’m all out of love, but let me slip into something more comfortable,” located in the display case outside the gallery proper (like other works in Reconstruction), feels to me like the military industrial complex finally exposing its dirty, perverted, sexual motivations or fixations.

(This, perhaps, is where the aforementioned relativity comes into play, as maybe I’ve just been reading too much about Eisenhower, and the rise of the MIC — or how the advent of the bomb changed so many things, and how that coincided with America’s rise as a world power, with all the implicit masculinity and sexuality of that “simpler time”.)

This leads nicely to “Don’t Do Me Like That,” which, in the modified nature of the objects presented, very much references a bomber jet — disassembled but still recognizable (and now Tom Petty will echo in your head, in the gallery space). The middle of the gallery is dominated by a work which is both funny and unsettling, has a sense of history that is both sardonic and irreverent — and has the longest title I have ever read. Again, playing with references to missiles and military signifiers (but also standing on moose antlers painted a golden colour), this reddish and gold priapus balances delicately, but like any missile it’s meant to be pointed at somebody.

The title reinforces that assertion: “Rideau Cruise: Golden rack moose hunting while wondering if you can eat an Eskimo roll and where is the last Avro all the while Peter Greyson was painting the only “good copy of the charter” red because of tests out of Cold Lake then figured it better stop at that.....”

True, it’s unwieldy — but also telling. We all know the Avro reference, and the mythology of Canada’s supposedly stifled might it represents. In the ‘80s Greyson went to Ottawa’s National Archives and poured red paint over the Constitution, which got the art student 89 days in jail. He said that since he was “displeased with the federal government’s decision to allow U.S. cruise missile testing in Canada, Greyson had wanted to ‘graphically illustrate to Canadians’ how wrong the government was.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Rounding out the title is a reference to Cold Lake — which of course is entirely dependent on the Canadian Forces base there, a crucial NATO site.

Montcombroux’s works move from amusing to a culture of aggression. Reconstruction is also a vague term — like any word we use a lot, it possesses fluid, often contradictory meanings. We’re not pointing weapons at Russia anymore, but we’re still pointing weapons — and with Bush Jr. set to come to Saskatoon, it’s interesting to note how many neo-cons speak of Iraq not in terms of oil, but in terms of “father issues”: can we get more Freudian than that?

Exhibition Catalogue: No Overnight Camping - Irene Loughlin

Ontario - Stephanie Vegh
Hamilton Artists Inc. - February 26, 2013

No Overnight Camping at Hamilton Artists Inc. brings together two Saskatoon-based artists, Dagmara Genda and Bruce Montcombroux, who share in a seamless adaptation of found materials as subtle players in their overwhelmingly accomplished creations. From Genda's virtuoso drawings to Montcombroux's floating sculptural worlds, both artists forage in the realm of the manufactured to strike out new definitions of wilderness.

Bruce Montcombroux, The New Babylon Satellites: I-V, mixed media, plastic model parts, 3D printing.

Like makeshift vessels enacting their escape from these maelstroms, Bruce Montcombroux's The New Babylon Satellites: I-V hover in suspension from the gallery ceiling and bristle with plastic filaments evocative of nautical rigging. The ramshackle habitats built on the moss of these prismatic meteors are suggestive of bare survival despite their giddy colours and precious proportions. Whether sanctuaries or playgrounds, Montcombroux's sculptures together with Genda's drawings are impeccably controlled expressions of the uncontrollable consequences of human forays into the wild.

GeNext@AGR - Art Gallery of Regina
January 26 - March 9, 2011


Part of World Routes: Love, Saskatchewan (July 23-25, 2010), Harbourfront Centre will present a group of visual arts installations – COMBINE and TACK – that will bring a new perspective to the cultural production from this province.

COMBINE situates the works of 17 artists throughout York Quay Centre. The title conjoins two iconic references – the image of the mighty prairie farming machine and the assemblages first created by Robert Rauschenberg – a hint to where the artists are from and what they are up to. Participating artists were selected for their mutual understanding of how the amalgamation of disparate objects and images can create new stories and meanings. Curated by Patrick Macaulay.

Leah Sandals, National Post · Saturday, Jul. 17, 2010

The Harbourfront arts hub is a little less than aesthetically pleasing right now, with a huge area fenced off for redevelopment. While future results (greenery above, parking below) might be pretty, the current construction-zone motif is not. Fortunately, there's pleasing stuff to see indoors.

COMBINE AT YORK QUAY GALLERY - 235 Queens' Quay W., to Sept. 19

The current art Zeitgeist tends to favour works and artists who abandon specific times and places for international art histories and trends. This de facto standard of placelessness makes a show like Combine, which focuses on 18 artists from Saskatchewan, all the more intriguing. The sheer scale of some of these artworks, like Alison Norlen's terrific, wall-sized drawing of an old rollercoaster, evokes the vast amounts of space available on the prairies, both in the studio and under the sky. Bruce Montcombroux's playful sculptural redos of a houseboat and a skidoo, along with Clint Neufeld's pristine ceramic reproductions of massive, greasy machine engines, aren't afraid of taking up space or referencing rural life either. (Neufeld overplays his juxtapositions, but still impresses.) Amalie Atkins' silent-film-like videos set sweet, hipster-fairytale narratives against striking long-grass coulees, while Stacia Verigin magically crafts miniature forests out of mere sawdust. Also, Joi T. Arcand plays up prairie politics, transforming English signage in SK cityscapes into Plains Cree versions. Of course, there's a lot more than geographic determinism at work here -- to imply otherwise would be dangerous. All these producers do reflect more global streams of creative practice. But it's still damn fun to figure where wheat pools and bunny hugs (look it up, Hogtowner!) might also land in the mix.

Toy Soldiers
Forest City Gallery, London ON, March 13 - May 1st, 2009
Bruce Montcombroux, Toni Hafkenscheid, Todd Tremeer

In our time, despite the proliferation of violence fewer and fewer images of conflict surface. Playing with media is one of the aims of 'Toy Soldiers', an exhibition built on representations of power, conflict, and war. 'Toy Soldiers' addresses the spectacle and its complicity with organized violence, scrutinizing the excercise of power while mapping it like a procedure. With Toni Hafkenscheid, Bruce Montcombroux, and Todd Tremeer.

Toni Hafkenscheid, Bruce Montcombroux, and Todd Tremeer at Forest City Gallery - posted by Sky Glabush - April 15th, 2009.

An interesting, yet somewhat forcibly assembled show, Toy Soldier, is now on at Forrest City Gallery. The show presents the work of Toni Hafkenscheid, Bruce Montcombroux, and Todd Tremeer, all of whom deal with picturing the condensed and abbreviated nature of the miniature. The exhibition grapples with the ways in which images have the unwitting capacity to reduce experience into something that can be digested, poured over, and manipulated.
Bruce Montcombroux draws images of abandoned cars and planes that have been repurposed through a kind of post-apocalyptic construction into living pods and survivalist spaces of that relatively familiar sort. He also makes models that offer up an imagined picture of the future as a warning or oblique criticism of the present. His miniatures are more wrought and physical than those who rely upon models that can be purchased from a catalogue, but like T&T and others, the work is heavily indebted to Kim Adams.

Artist talk, March 19, 2009 - AKA Gallery, Saskatoon SK

Artist Catalog, Bruce Montcombroux
Copyright © 2008, Headbones Gallery
This catalog was created for the exhibition titled “Work’n It” at Headbones Gallery, The Drawers, Toronto, Canada, January 10 - February 14, 2008
Commentary by Julie Oakes
Copyright © 2008, Julie Oakes
Artwork Copyright © 2005-2007, Bruce Montcombroux
Rich Fog Micro Publishing, printed in Toronto,

This is a boy’s world, derived from Meccano sets, Tinkertoys, model airplanes and forts built from dilapidated snow fences. The constructions, depicted and actual (Montcombroux also builds dioramas), have a higgledy-piggledy engineering that retain a touch of the hand in the modeled areas or the recorded pressure as the line veers from thin to thick, drifting through the space of the page. The coloring holds a hint of the illustrational, as does the delineation as if we are reviewing a manual replete with directions and visual instructions. But it is impossible to get away from the mad cap aura of the constructions, the sense that an insane inventor has decided to build his way out of the necessity of employing proper methods, heeding codes and stress levels, to reign free in a kingdom of his own making. There seems to be more of a miniature tool kit than a box of pencils and brushes behind the work. That the elaborate towers, flying machines and hybrid automobiles could not possibly work might be a double freedom on his inventive agenda. The gap that exists between expectation and accomplishment is banished, the stress of struggling to keep up dissipates and creativity rules.

In a society that, despite the onslaught of manufactured goods, is still intrigued and admires workmanship and detail, the amount of time these drawings require for completion, the amount of work evident in the pieces causes admiration. It speaks from the outset of man’s labour and the meeting of his efforts with the dreams of completion that fuelled them. Not to mention talent, another immeasurable aspect of the making of an artwork – Montcombroux evidently has a natural draftsman’s hand. This form of homespun knowledge is metaphorically inserted into his drawings with his use of wood, a natural building material on the airplanes, for instance, an airplane usually built of materials that reflects the epitome of scientific structural strength and durability.

In a world overrun with acumen, where the opportunity to excel is often dictated by years of training, especially in engineering professions, ideas may be aborted by the fear of their birth being a sheer impossibility. Montcombroux has adopted an open control policy by denying the concept of a failed lifeline. He proliferates the dubious, weird and wacky offspring of his genius. He expands through a new and unfettered production of parts, mechanical cells, or buds. He is determined to increase in number, to multiply in his rickety bed of sticks, and with his inverted diagrams giving private instruction, he climbs a ladder rung by rung - as he erects it. Adding to and taking away from the strictures of industrial materials usage, Bruce Montcombroux creates the ultimate widget, only to supercede his final step with the onset of his next new idea.

Modal Auxiliary, August 21-30, 2007, Gordon Snelgrove Gallery, Saskatoon SK