The New Gods

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Artists Alejandro Garcia Contreras and Josée Pedneault with The New Gods (Christmas Bows). Photo: Katie Lawson

Typology Projects, a non-profit organization on the third floor of Artscape Youngplace, gives home to Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Featured Exhibition, The New Gods. In the light filled room a collection of large scale photographs, porcelain figurines and small paintings are displayed. They emerged from a collaboration between Montreal based photographer Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, a Mexican artist. What makes these photographs outstanding is their theme. They capture a rather unusual interpretation of the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, a religious tradition leading up to Christ’s death on Good Friday. Garcia Contreras discovered this unique and unholy performance in the isolated village of Carrillo Puerto, a small community in the mountains of southern Mexico consisting mostly of farmers. This bizarre and unconventional way of celebration emerged without any kind of external influence, as the tourism, arts and culture industries are nonexistent in the area.

Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, The New Gods series, 2013, Archival Inkjet Print, 40″ x 30″. Courtesy of Typology Projects

Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, The New Gods (Religious Pair in Blue), 2013, Archival Inkjet Print, 40″ x 30″. Courtesy of Typology Projects

According to Garcia Contreras, this drastic shift from tradition started a few decades ago when one villager decided to present a rather strange costume. In the following years, members of the community would attempt to produce and wear more unique costumes in what developed into an informal competition of sorts. Throughout the passing years, the elaborate and carnivalesque costumes started to reflect the changing social realities as well, from the inclusion of satirical political masks to an exterminator costume to call attention to the rise in mosquito-borne diseases. The two artists asked community members wearing those eclectic costumes to step aside from the festivities, then staged and photographed them.

Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, The New Gods (Newspaper Man), 2013, Archival Inkjet Print, 40″ x 32″. Courtesy of Typology Projects

Garcia Contreras said that besides the performative value of these costumes he is particularly interested in their psychological projection, as they all express elements of the inner self. While creating a bizarre mixture of local and popular culture with religious beliefs, the costumes are simultaneously evoking a dissonance between the traditional and the personal interpretation of Stations of the Cross. They all have an individual touch in representing the designer’s ideas, and they are often absurd or funny. The costumes also show the community’s resourcefulness with the use of humble or recycled materials. A good example for it the one that has been constructed entirely out of last season’s Christmas bows. An object from a recent costume is also displayed in the exhibition – a helmet put together from multi-coloured plastic straws.

Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, The New Gods (Christmas Bows), 2013, Archival Inkjet Print, 40″ x 30″. Courtesy of Typology Projects

Josée Pedneault and Alejandro Garcia Contreras, The New Gods (Green soldier), 2013, Archival Inkjet Print, 40″ x 32″. Courtesy of Typology Projects

The disposability of materials used for the costums is in direct contrast to the permanence and preciousness of the porcelain figurines crafted by Garcia Contreras. They also make references to the church, to patron saint statues or to small devotional objects.

Alejandro Garcia Contreras, Raising the Cross, 2015, Porcelain and Sculpted Glass, 23 x 16 x 16 cm. Courtesy of Typology Projects

Installation view with Alejandro Garcia Contreras, (left to right): Jack Parsons, King of Rockets 2015; Disney’s Greed, 2015; The Thief, 2013, Porcelain and Sculpted Glass, various sizes. Photo: Katie Lawson

The two artists initially met through a residency of Pedneault in Mexico in 2009. As a cross-cultural collaboration, the work benefits from the different contextualization of the event by Pedneault and Garcia Contreras. Without Garcia Contreras Pedneault wouldn’t have the opportunity to witness this remarkable celebration. Similarly, without Pedneault’s photographic capabilities, who shot all the photographs with a medium format camera, Garcia Contreras wouldn’t be able to document this curiosity. The way they emphasize the unusual materials with their lush textures and depict the figures in front of their chosen backgrounds, gives these photographs their artistic strengths. Through Pedneault’s and Garcia Contreras’ work Realism meets Surrealism, producing a stunning exhibition.

Katie Lawson

*Exhibition information: The New Gods by Alejandro Garcia Contreras and Josée Pedneault, May 7 – June 14, 2015, TYPOLOGY Projects, Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street #302, Toronto. Gallery hours: Fri – Sun, 12 – 5 pm or by appointment.

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