“Savant Sociologist” Dominique Blain Tackles Political Conflict

French-Canadian sculptor, photographer, and installation artist Dominique Blain creates art infused with politics, beauty, and social criticism, acting as what the critic James D. Campbell termed “a savant of a sociologist.” Blain shows a new suite of work at Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery this January in “BLACKOUT.” As with her previous work, here Blain presents works created with photographs from her personal archives, using them as source material for artworks about the destruction of personal and cultural artifacts by war, theft, and other social conflicts.

The exhibition’s predominating artwork is Mirabilia (2014), an installation of sculptures commissioned by the Musée des beaux-arts Montréal in 2011. The piece is comprised of 38 cut glass and marble boxes, illuminated by LED lights. Each box has the silhouetted form of an artifact, monument, or artwork that has destroyed, displaced, or disappeared. They include Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas (which were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001) and a Haida mask made by indigenous AmerIndians (seized by the Canadian government when it sought to eradicate much of tribal cultural practices). According to Blain, “Some of the works that are enclosed in those glass boxes have disappeared forever, but some others can be found … And they carry with them so much history.” The Buddhas also reappear in a video triptych and in a large-scale photograph, called Bamiyan (2013), which depicts a woman in a burqa, enlarged in the photocollage to stand in the statues’ stead.

“People often ask why I, a white, North American woman from Montreal, get involved, when I have no experience of war,” says Blain. “The question surprises me because I’m in a position to take a stand.” In a particularly notable juxtaposition, Blain has mounted a large c-print titled Family Portrait (2013), a blurry picture of unidentifiable bureaucrats, with an image of scattered and piled portraits of children, the victims of war and poverty whose lives are managed but rarely seen by powerful people. The invisibility and inscrutability of those who are and are not disenfranchised is here reversed or emphasized, depending on one’s relationship to power.

In all of her work, Blain examines this relationship to power through art. The depiction of things that are absent, overlooked, or amorphous is vital to both political change and to art. Blain is committed to both.

—Stephen Dillon

BLACKOUT” is on view at Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, Jan. 6–31, 2015.

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