Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Artist Anna Jane McIntyre chats with fellow artist Emmanuelle Jacques about her current exhibition titled Création de richesse / Labour of Love. The following excerpt refers to her exhibition currently at Le Magasin, Arprim, Centre D'Essaie en art imprimé from January 25-February 22, 2020. Emmanuelle will be present at Arprim on Thursday, February 20th and on February 29th at 3pm and she'll be hosting a public talk with writer, curator and articule programming coordinator Amber Berson.
The exhibition, which is the culmination of Emmanuelle's investigation into contemporary realities of motherhood from a feminist and libertarian standpoint, features an epic letterpress printed currency depicting local artist-mothers and their thoughts.
Anna Jane McIntyre: How do you like to explain yourself as an artist?
Emmanuelle Jacques: I'm not sure I understand the question. LOL
AJM: This interview series is primarily focused on print media artists linked to Montreal. What is your favourite thing about living in Montreal? Any preferred spots or memories?
EJ: My first professional experience as an artist, in 2006, was a residency at Atelier Graff, a printmaking studio established in the Plateau-Mont-Royal since 1966. I was so excited: I was going to work in the same place as Julie Doucet and Dominique Pétrin! I kept working there after my residency and over the years I met so many artists (including you, Anna!) who became dear colleagues and friends and a huge source of inspiration in my professional life. In 2016, Atelier Graff merged with Le Cabinet, an artist-run centre dedicated to photography, and moved in Hochelaga to form L'imprimerie, centre d'artistes. As co-president of the board, I am very proud to be part of what L'imprimerie has become. It's almost like a second family for me.
Another place I am very fond of is Arprim, centre d'essai en art imprimé, an artist-run gallery dedicated to print-related contemporary art. I was also involved on the board for several years. If you want to see cutting edge print media art in Montreal, it's the place to go!
AJM: Whose work or what inspires you ? Does your inspiration come from life, art, music, literature? Any favourite writers, films, artworks? Who are your influences and where do you think you fit in with the timeline of artists. Whose work do you feel you are following and continuing the same line of inquiry as?
EJ: Usually the art I like has little to do with my own work. But I do find inspiration in other artists on a professional level. I look at the way they lead their careers and that inspires me to put myself to work. I consider many of my fellow artists as role models. As for my sources of inspiration, I mostly find them outside the art world. For my latest project Création de richesse/Labour of Love, I'm interested in economy, motherhood, invisible work, so I read a lot about that kind of things. I was inspired by the work of so many women I felt like I had to set up a little salon with a library and artwork by other artists to share them with people alongside my project. In my previous projects, I was into urbanism, social cartography, local politics, etc. It changes from a project to another.
AJM: Any favourite quotes, thoughts, philosophies of life?
EJ: My current project Création de richesse/Labour of Love draws of lot of inspiration from anarchist anthropologist David Graeber's book Debt: the First 5,000 Years. In this book, he denies the mainstream economic theory claiming that humanity would have invented barter first, then money, to finally come up with credit. According to him, very early in history, credit was at the base of an inextricable network of mutual dependancy between humans, as the impossibility to exactly assess the value of things constantly maintained and perpetuated this network. The arrival of money crystallized the precise value of material and immaterial goods, and by doing so, allowed people to square accounts on the spot while trading. For David Graeber, “squaring accounts means that the two parties have the ability to walk away from each other”. Since then, this network of mutual dependency has become more and more fragile.
AJM: Why do you do what you do? What is your motivation to create? What keeps you going? How has art factored into your life? How are your art practice and life connected?
EJ: I don't know honestly. Sometimes I feel like it's like a curse or a pathology. It's there and I just try to get the best I can out of it. I like so many other things, if I could live without art I think I'd be happy to do something else, like gardening maybe. That would cause me so much less anxiety!
AJM: Do you think there are common traits amongst printmakers and how they are in the world?
EJ: A predilection for repetition: repetitive gestures, repeated motifs, multiples. Collegiality.
An irrepressible (and sometimes really annoying) fascination for technical aspects of artwork. Oh, and also a dubious taste for puns.
AJM: One of my favourite things about printmaking is the amount of invention that is always incorporated into the process. Perhaps it is the norm to combine mediums these days but I find printmaking tends to encourage a multidisciplinary approach. How does multidisciplinarity enter into your work? Do you think about it? What does the mixture of mediums offer you? Does it matter?
EJ: The question of disciplinarity is such an issue in the art world. It seems like it's a must nowadays to label yourself as a multi - or inter, or trans- disciplinary artist. Although I never identified as a printmaker in the traditional sense of the term, I always thought it would be a scam to call myself a multidisciplinary artist, even if I incorporate elements of relational art, urbanism or text, for example, into my work. Just writing those words make me feel like a fraud. When I met researcher Myriam Suchet, who was Titulaire de la Chaire d'études de la France contemporaine of Université de Montréal at the time, she introduced me to her field of research: indisciplinarity. It was such a relief for me to put aside the very concept of discipline altogether. It allows so much more freedom to just not define what disciplines you're working with than caring about the mixture or the creation of bridges between them.
AJM: The feeling I get when I look at your work is one of a beautiful formal harmony and order. A world that is created through editing, repetition, technical expertise and hard work. Mistakes are not apparent. At the same time I feel always that your work is asking some tough questions and questioning cultural traditions. What role does chaos, structure, perfection and beauty play in your work? How do your interpret the human touch in your compositions?
EJ: I usually try to follow a structured pattern in my work but I feel like chaos quickly steps into the process. I guess I need to establish some rules to give myself a direction but there is always a breaking point where I get tired of it and loosen up. Otherwise I grow bored. Honestly, I think all I want is to make beautiful things but I feel awkward about it. This is probably why I always create overarching systems around it to justify myself. But systems are so oppressive. I'm not disciplined enough to comply with them. In fact, I'm just faking it. If you look closer, you'll notice all the mistakes anyways. You just don't see them overall.
As for the tough questions you're talking about, my work has become more political over the last couple years. I just don't like to be too bold about it, so I let those thoughts emerge by themselves from that structure I set up to begin with. In 2017, I did a relational cartography project in a community centre on l'Île-des-Soeurs. The project consisted in creating, on site, a subjective map of the neighbourhood that gathered stories told by citizens passing by as I was working. It passes for an innocent endeavour, but mapping charming little memories can quickly get political. What starts with nostalgic anecdotes about animal sights, for example, often evolves in discussions about the destruction of the environment. At some point, I was chatting with a blue collar and we started talking about the contrast between million-dollar houses on the island and the working-class areas on the “mainland”, as they call it. He told me something like: “To be rich like that, you need to rob and kill people. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.” I was flabbergasted. People get way more radical than you'd think when you don't mention you're into politics.
As with my current project Creation de richesse/Labour of Love, it's riddled with political content, but it came up very subtly in my conversations with women as we casually discussed over tea and cookies about our experience of maternity in the art world. It's a very sensitive subject but I think tough questions are more easily addressed with gentleness.
AJM: What are your current and upcoming projects we should know about?
EJ: In 2018 I did an artist residency at articule, to start a project called Création de richesse/Labour of Love. I continued the project in 2019 in residency at L'imprimerie, centre d'artistes. During both residencies, I created a meeting space where portrait sittings were an excuse to engage in conversations with artists who are also mothers to talk about their experience, their ambitions, the obstacles they face, and to imagine solutions to improve our creative conditions. The intimate and sensitive subject of maternity raises political issues, that I address in this project through a feminist and anarchist perspective: economic exchanges, power relations, work organisation, DIY culture, freedom seeking, resistance to oppression.
With this project, I appropriate the commemorative role of money, in a symbolic charge linking economic power and feminist struggles, and I turn it on its head to articulate a critique of this long-established trading system. How are mothers participating in the creation of wealth? And the artists? What is the value of unpaid work? Can one make their own space in the current economic model? And in the art milieu? What are the alternative models? Time has come to reconsider value in terms other than economical, and all the chances are that it will happen through feminist struggles. Women, and especially mothers, have been shoved into a parallel economy for so long that it forced us to develop the skills and knowledge that will be required to smash capitalism.
During the residency at L'imprimerie, I used the portraits and quotes from the discussions to design a currency. It turned out as a 108-pages artist book, printed on a Vandercook press at a 350 print-run and bundled with elastics to look like a wad of money.
The book was launched this January at Arprim's Magasin, followed by a micro-exhibition/residency. This will be an opportunity to explore ways to disseminate art at the fringes of the market economy. This way, I imagine ways to build a social network where art and trade would be ways to take care of each other. The public will be invited to meet me at the Magasin to discuss those issues in exchange for a copy of my book.
The idea of printing money is an old printmaker's (and anarchist) phantasm, but it is also an excuse to have fun going back to classical portrait drawings, make outdated-looking guilloché patterns using a spirograph, meet people and address issues I've been concerned with for many years.
Having fun making art seems like an evidence but it is not that easy. There is an enormous pressure in the art world to make work that is consistent and coherent within your art practice, with a recognizable signature. The art world has become so institutionalized and submitted to an economical logic that values productivity above everything, to a point that really hinders creativity. When you have a family to support, you don't have time anymore for “non-productive” work like research. It is hard to find that delicate balance between working for an income and finding the freedom you need for creation. I try to keep fun in mind these days.
AJM: Do you have any artist survival tips'? Or advice for printmakers/artists who are just starting out? What do you do to remain inspired? Do you have any observations or advice for navigating the art world life?
EJ: Work in a collective studio. Volunteer in an artist-run centre. It shouldn't have to be like that, but you have to work relentlessly. And don't get discouraged.
AJM: Where is the best place to find you online?
EJ: I'm a bit anachronic so emmanuellej.wordpress.com
AJM: Any inspiring websites or resources we should know about?
EJ: These days I follow a Facebook page called Mothers in Arts. I found a lot of interesting reads for my project there. They also have a website: www.mothersinarts.com