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Parts of this article have been translated from French and Spanish
Canadian illustrator Christian Robert de Massy’s first solo exhibition, titled Phorésie, opens today at Whisbone Art Gallery in Montreal.
De Massy is known for recreating heterotopic scenarios where every association is valid, no matter how impossible it may seem. Scenarios that offer the viewer fantastic worlds as beautiful as they are disconcerting.
The futuristic touch of his urban landscapes and a marked nod to ecology have become the greatest hallmarks of this enigmatic artist. A school of Koi fish who orderly circulate between buildings and passers-by, or birds that blend in with paper airplanes under the passive gaze of a cat, will immerse you into a new dimension, with a new tempo marked by the animate beings that coexist with us, the humans.
SciGlam: How does it feel to be in the mind of a master of heterotopies? Do you often let your inner child out?
Christian de Massy: That’s difficult to say; my mind is the only one I know… But, yes, I think that a lot of what I do is indeed a direct translation (or expression) of what I felt as a kid looking at the world.
I am representing what I consider to be a magical aspect of reality, stuff that you could not really perceive in ordinary life.
Something that I really enjoyed drawing when I was a kid were cut sections of stuff. One of the first drawings that I made was a pond cut across—just like scientific illustrations—where you had the cutaway of the pond and you could see the ducks, the fishes, the algae and all the other elements in a magical way, from a perspective you wouldn’t have if you looked at the pond from above or from the inside.
It’s still a bit of that what I am doing. I am representing what I consider to be a magical aspect of reality, stuff that you could not really perceive in ordinary life.
How do you manage to keep your inner child alive in today’s complex world?
The world doesn’t kill the child but the soul, because what it kills is an ageless being. And it is not the world what push us down but the stress, the tension, and the fear we feel.
I have been thinking quite a lot about the impact of fear for the past two years. For example, when we went thought the pandemic, we felt a lot of fear and it really hurt us. Now I think that we shouldn’t have been in so much fear; there are many things we could have done differently that would have made our lives so much easier. We could have deal with it with much more reason and calm.
The world doesn’t kill the child but the soul, because what it kills is an ageless being.
When you are in fear you make bad decisions. Fear makes you react in irrational ways, and it prevents you from being analytical. You can’t reason, you just react. I have experienced this a few times in my life.
The worlds you draw are charming and evocative. How do you come out with such associations? I remember, for example, the girl fishing under the sing that reminds of the narutomaki (Japanese fish cake) or the woman playing with a cat while seating on a sharp brain coral. What a mix of textures!
A mix of textures, interesting… I had not thought about that.
Those associations are not premeditated, there is no a priori decision; when those things are drawn, they just happen. Nothing is very much forced in a way. It is afterwards, once the stuff is done, that you may go and make associations and wonder what the meanings are. But there are no meanings, right? Interpretations are different from a person to the next.
The Koi (Japanese carp), a symbol of love and friendship in Japanese culture, is a repeated motif in your scenes. Another symbol we can see very often is the key, what does it represent?
I would say that it represents the subtle way of overcoming obstacles. I could kick the door down or smash it open with a hammer, but I can use the key and open it smoothly. There is no need to break anything, there are more appropriate manners of doing things.
Throughout your life, what type of doors have you opened and which ones remain to be opened?
I have opened many doors in my life, but I think the most important ones are the doors of the words, the doors of communication with others. I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m still learning to this day.
One of your hallmarks is the ecological discourse. How are you experiencing all these climate change events?
It is an interesting thing. Actually, I am glad that we talk about it.
Ever since I was a kid, I was very much preoccupied about the state of the biosphere and the relationship between humans and the living world and all that stuff in the planet, right?
At home we had a big collection of National Geographic and these ecological journals for children, so I would read those things and sort of being eco-anxious. I would go to bed at night worried about the extinction of elephants, the vanishing of the rainforest, and the corals, that we hear all the time. And so, I studied ecology in university—it was my first career in a sense—and I worked in that domain. But my perception of that question has changed very much over the years.
When you are in fear you make bad decisions. Fear makes you react in irrational ways, and it prevents you from being analytical. You can’t reason, you just react.
I really do think that things are much more complicated; we are kind of addicted to fear. We always create scenarios of fear and that isn’t good because we get the feeling that everything is wrong: “It’s the end of the world,” “everything is over.” But, in fact, life is very strong, and there are many good things happening, beautiful things we do not talk about. We have started building a much more positive way of interaction with the biosphere, and we must continue that path. I am optimistic.
What can you tell us about Phorésie?
Phorésie is a biological term referring a type of interaction between living entities where one travels on another (like barnacles on a whale, for example.) So you can interpret it in many ways…
It’s also the visitors who will travel on the exhibition, you could say. The way we travel sometimes when we interact with art, when you watch a movie, read a book, look at a drawing. You travel in a sense.
You started a career in biology and ecology, so we are not asking you to formulate a question for SciGlam. However, we wonder what is the scientific topic you are most curious about.
I would love to have precise answers on a variety of subjects, but I think what I am most curious about these days is related to the climate of our planet.
So what I would like is to have a way to travel chronologically in science and know if our current set on scientific beliefs will still hold in a thousand years…