Mechanical Improvisation

People like to ask: “What is Yukon art?” Such a small population generates little by way of trends or movements. Most artists are, to one degree or another, in a class by themselves.

Philippe LeBlond is one such artist.

He takes his engineering background, his experience as a bike mechanic and his commitment to reuse of materials, and brings a mad scientist’s creativity to the mix, creating plug-in sculptures that move.

We talk about rhythm and movement in a painting; LeBlond’s sculptures literally move and create rhythm, both in movement and in their varied sounds.

I don’t know of any other Yukon artist making kinetic art, but his work is also very much Yukon art. Each piece is the result of hours of tinkering, and will likely need tinkering in order to keep working.

For me, the moment I knew I could live in the Yukon was when I looked into my engine, not knowing anything about engines, identified the loose part, and fixed it with a washer. This was a change of thinking from what I was used to in Ontario, where it would make sense to get an expert to fix it.

Fixing things or creating things with the materials on hand, whether you know how to do it or not—I would suggest that this is a Yukon value, and one that LeBlond’s artworks embody.

The opening for LeBlond’s current show at Arts Underground, Bare Creek, was so busy I had to come back to write about the individual works. The show had changed somewhat in the meantime. A couple of pieces weren’t working anymore.

“Concentric”, whose eight arms radiate over a bike chain-driven assembly, has had new brass fringes applied—they tore themselves apart at the opening in a wonderful act of abandon. This edge of chaos is part of what makes LeBlond’s work so delightful.

The brass fringes brush against a dish-shaped piece of found metal, making the light that comes from behind them flicker. Look around to the left to turn it on and off; there’s also a rheostat to adjust the speed.

You should know that you’ll have to find the switch and turn on most of these sculptures, if you head in to check out the show. Don’t be shy; do it.

There are also two interactive pieces, where you can move a satellite dish or an antler around using switches while trying not to drop the two balls cupped inside.

“Bare Creek” conveys a busy mood like “Concentric”. It’s a little house—perhaps a repurposed breadbox?—with metal grid in the “windows”. A fan comes on, blows cassette tape out the chimney suggesting smoke, then turns off.

Lights flash and change. Images attached to a bike chain go by—gold miners, huskies, Trail of ’98ers, etc. It makes a rhythmic sequence of mechanical noises, some of them, I think, just for the noise itself.

“Dawson Dump” has a slower, more meditative mood. It’s based on a heavy glass blender, maybe from the ’50s. You can see wires and soldered mechanical components inside. They drive four kitchen shapes, turning slowly.

They rest against each other and the stalks they’re attached to rest against holes in the lid. Lit from underneath, it feels something like watching a lava lamp.

“Electroreciprocator” combines a little white-edged bicycle wheel, a new steel rod and a solenoid. Its movement is something Freud would enjoy.

Even still, it’s an elegant object, so it wasn’t such a bad thing that I couldn’t get it to move when I went into the gallery.

“Trinity” is also elegant. A new steel circle approximately five feet in diameter contains a track that’s a circle folded into a triangle with a loop at each point.

Two red billiard balls move with the track. When each reaches a horizontal position in the upper left, it runs across to the next loop. It stops every once in awhile in its circuit, but it keeps on going.

I hope LeBlond will, too.

Bare Creek continues at Arts Underground until September 29.

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