Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Student Perspectives On Mere Phantoms: 100 Miles Around Us

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
It's not every college campus that is fortunate enough to be sharing the grounds with one of Quebec's leading universities. Bishop's University has many goodies that make going to Champlain College Lennoxville an attractive option for Anglophones and Francophones alike. The Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop's University, for instance, is one such attraction that is "committed to art presentation and discourse, as well as the exploration of diversity of culture" (Foreman, 2015). Thus, for students presently enrolled in my course, Rage Against The Machine: Consumerism Leisure and Popular Culture, it came as no surprise when a field trip was planned to visit artists Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson who worked along side students from Alexander Galt High School in creating Mere Phantoms: 100 Miles Around Us. Thus, students were asked to write a review of the exhibit whilst exploring the concept of space, culture and the body and how we are interwoven with our cultural environments both physically and metaphorically.

Ryan Skinner

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
After visiting the Mere Phantoms exhibit, in the Foreman Art Gallery, I realized that the shadow theatre was not only interesting but also very immersive. I really enjoyed being able to cast and observe the shadows created by the “magic wand”. Also, the notion of using the audience as the performers was very interesting, as it provided a whole new perspective for the audience. Their paper-cutting process that is used to create the setting for the exhibit seemed to be very intricate, as they used the paper outlines to create a whole environment that we can experience and be a part of. The exhibit not only allowed me to experience the exhibit, but feel like I was actually living in it. When I was in the dimly lit room, surrounded by shadows, it created a surreal atmosphere that created a sort of out-of-body experience.

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
While I did not personally create any paper cut-outs, like people have done before at Mere Phantoms workshops, I found the process and theory behind it very interesting; how the small paper structures create immense projections on the wall. Ersam actually explained the logic behind their exhibits in a 2013 interview conducted by Joseph Henry. “We had an interactive shadow installation. The idea with the installations that we do is that in order to view the work, the public has to physically get involved as well. There are a number of mobile lighting units that we use; the public uses those to move around the paper work that we create, to make big shadow projections. Next to the installation is an area where people can come and make paper cut-outs.” (Henry, 2013)  The massive urban landscapes they create are truly outstanding.

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
The exhibit allows us to be one with our environment while we control what is seen and experienced using the flashlight, all while feeling as if we are truly inside the world that we create. The exhibit also sheds light on the urban environment and how hard it can be to escape it. As we are in the room, we are surrounded by a vast cityscape littered with developments, buildings and construction machines. However, the rural side of the exhibition shows a more peaceful and natural environment that brought me a sense of relaxation and unity with the world around me. The fact that secondary 5 students were also a part of the creative process of the exhibit is impressive, as it shows that everybody has their own perspective of the world and environment around them. Overall, I very much enjoyed the exhibit and found it to be a refreshing experience.

Maude Théberge

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
The exhibit, produced by Jaimie Robson and Maya Ersan, is something very particular and unique. I find it interesting how they use the concept of the space in order to be able to illustrate the paper structure on the walls. The use of the white walls gives movement to their art. I felt interwoven in the different paper town, especially since I felt it looked like our own small villages. I noticed how “Cookshire-Eaton” was written on one of the paper building and it made me feel like the authors were carefully understanding from where we come from. Many small villages like we have here in the area. In these villages were different aspect that made me think of summer fairs that are happening in Cookshire, Ayers Cliff and other places in Estrie. Are they taking the time to observe every town where they go before making the paper-cuts? Or are they simply using their imagination all the time? Is it that symbolic of our town because Galt students helped Robson and Ersan to build it? These are questions that I aksed myself while I was observing the exhibit. 

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
According to the information provided by Foreman Art Gallery (2015), Robson and Ersan founded their partnership  in 2008 when they began to develop impressive “paper cut-outs, drawings, video projections and interactive performances”.  I did like the paper cut-outs that I was able to observe in the museum, but I also took the time to listen to the video projection and had difficulty understanding the link between the two creations. The only resemblance that I can seem to notice is that both the video and paper-cuts can be projected on a white wall. But the creations itself are completely different. 

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
The paper-cuts are all in black and white as the paper is white and the shades are more obscure and the video is in color. Also, in the paper town there are no human beings, in the video there are. In addition, I also observe that in the video projection the men are surrounded by nature. In the paper town, several buildings are constructed and therefore there is less signs of nature. In other words, I seem to have found more differences between the two creations than resemblance, but even though I did not find several links between the creation doesn’t mean I did not like it.

Simon Michaud

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
When you enter in the art gallery, you can clearly see that it is separated in four different parts: “The Urban Town”, “The Rustic Town”, “The Mountain” and “The Cemetery”. In the first separation, “The Urban Town”, you can clearly see beautiful architectures, shops, even a rollercoaster and a Ferris wheel. I see this part of the exhibition as being associated to children, where they can entertain themselves, see impressive towers and architecture and appreciate the goods of a McDonalds and a Dairy Queen. The second part was “The Rustic Town”. Mere Phantoms and the students built what seems to be a little farm with animals and a church. This scene, for me, represents adulthood where the farm represents work, and the church represents the beliefs and values that are developed and defined as you grow older.

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
In “The Mountain”, I looked through the nature they created and it gave me a feeling of peace and relaxation. Through this wild life, I saw what could referred to as the old days, or retirement, when people stop working to relax and enjoy the rest of their life. Finally, in “The Cemetery”, I associate it with death and where we all go after spending time in all of the three previous parts of the exhibition. So by taking a step back, 100 Miles Around Us obviously represented the cycle of life for me, from childhood to death, through work and relaxation. Thus, it illustrates the thought of Norbert Elias, who said that we create a social distance between childhood and adulthood because you could clearly see where the children would be, what they would enjoy and do (i.e., entertain themselves and have fun), which contrast with the adults, who would work, and with the retirees who relax and live in a certain peace. Even if there are many good reasons why these three parts are separated, the differentiation between adults and children is clearly visible in this exhibit.

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
But the exhibit also expresses something deeper and harder to see. By looking at the whole shadow of the four parts of this artwork, the result is quite chaotic and do not show something clear, defined or symmetrical: it just shows a mixed up town with farms, rollercoasters, a mountain, a tower and a cemetery. This scene metaphorically illustrates how we live physically in a world that is quite chaotic and unorganized in relation to age distinction, and even if all these parts are mixed together, they do not blend and remain separated.

Photo © Maya Ersan & Jaimie Robson
In other words, this exhibition is a big metaphor showing that four different worlds live in one large territory, but even if they share this one space and cohabit in it, they are separated by an imaginary line associated to age. Furthermore, if you take the rollercoaster and put it into the mountain, the people looking at the exhibition would make no sense of the artwork and would probably consider it as weird, but if you put a little kid, living the same life of old people and actually enjoying what they like, this would be considered as wrong and this children would rapidly be separated from the elderly and returned with other children. So by illustrating the four parts of life, this exhibit clearly shows us the distance between the different phases of aging and how these parts of life will never truly be one even if they are all happening in the same environment.

In conclusion, the beautiful artwork of Mere Phantoms and the students of Alexander Galt Regional High School show in a original way how we grow in our world through the different parts of our lives and how these phases of living cannot be united because of both imaginary and physical borders.

Mere Phantoms: 100 Miles Around Us can be viewed at the 
Foreman Art Gallery until December 12, 2015. 


Foreman Art Gallery. (2015). Exhibitions - Foreman Art Gallery. Bishop University.

Henry, J. (2013). Montreal's Mere Phantoms Report On the Istanbul Biennial.

Robson, J., Ersan, M. (2015). Alexandre Galt Residency. Mere Phantoms.

About The Authors

Maude Théberge, Ryan Skinner and Simon Michaud are presently studying at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. Student Perspectives On Mere Phantoms: 100 Miles Around Us was written as part of a class project for Rage Against The Machine: Consumerism, Leisure & Popular Culture in the Department of Humanities.

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Mario,

    Thank you for this fantastic feedback! We will proudly compile your students' reviews in the Wicked Academic, in our press book. I encourage you to keep an eye on our programming and to come see us again in the coming semesters.

    * I take the opportunity to point out that Mere Phantoms will be here with us next Thursday (October 22), to conduct a paper cutout workshop in the gallery, and to integrate works by participants into the exhibition. All are welcome! The event will take place from 1:00 to 4:00pm, and we ask that people rsvp at artlab@ubishops.ca (to help us in organizing the event).


    Gentiane Bélanger