This text is published alongside Michelle Allard’s Extruded Expanded exhibition.
Spedeology 101 and the Static Ornament
by Crystal Mowry
Take a walk through a Big Box construction store. Those stratified heights of MDF, plywood, and polystyrene will tower over you. Its not far-fetched to imagine an avalanche, to feel simultaneously threatened and insulated by homebuilding materials.
In Michelle Allard’s Extruded Expanded the gallery is re-invented as a cave. An expanse of extruded polystyrene foam columns, tipped like italicised stalagmites, covers a section of the floor. The columns vary in length, giving the appearance of a massive crystalline carpet. A lighting ballast is suspended overhead, providing light that attempts to mimic daylight. In another area, strata of blue-beaded foam descend from the ceiling like an inverted topography. Although these ‘controlled acts of distortion’ come close to geological mimicry, this is far from Plato’s cave. We know the near-mimicry of these objects is not to be mistaken for its hidden, albeit real-world, counterpart. As in previous works by Allard, such as Mantle and Florophila, materials are the objects, and materiality is inextricably bound to context. We think of the insulation foam as material that absorbs the invisible- sound, heat, cold, and wind- yet its function is tested in this change of context. Like the stalagmites and stalactites it resembles, Extruded Expanded hovers over the domains of ornament and tool, the intended function of material is visually trumped, but not entirely eliminated, by apparent excess.
“I have always been intrigued by constructed space – its hidden recesses, visible surfaces and facades, and functional systems that meander between the two, containing an element of uncertainty or mystery.”
Any clear distinctions of external and internal, or real and represented, are further complicated by the presence of the artificial daylight fixture. Allard is conscious of the theatricality of light and the impact that manufactured light has on contemporary life, specifically our sense of productivity. Strategic or altogether absent lighting has a way of turning the familiar into the esoteric. In dim light, one must rely on the familiarity of the most basic of shapes to understand their position in relation to their surroundings.
In the gallery as cave, the material we comfortably associate with architectural innards- insulation foam- infiltrates the space in obsessive and excessive growths. By shifting the expected physical context, Allard has asked us to reconsider whether or not it is necessary to distinguish between the real and the represented. Extruded Expanded sits comfortably, on the threshold between both worlds, leaving us to ponder the safety of objects as we leave the cave.
CRYSTAL MOWRY is an artist and professional nomad, currently dividing her time between Guelph and Toronto. She completed her undergraduate studies at OCAD (AOCAD, 2000) and graduate studies at NSCAD (MFA, 2002). When not exploring fictional cartography, Mowry is the programming associate at YYZ. Her work examines wonder, scale, and knowledge in fictitous versions of tourist-destination landscapes.
MICHELLE ALLARD, is originally from Vancouver B.C. (B. 1973), and has been living in Toronto since 1994. When not making art she is a jill-of-all-trades with work in wood fabrication, interior repair, and seasonal landscaping. Recently she produced a new body of work while in residence at Aceartinc. in Winnipeg (April 8 – 30, 2004), exploring the wonders of mactac, foam core, and foam mattressing.