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Free Associations on the Meaning of Life, Time, and Space.
Curator and text: Antonina Zaru*
Bucine  /  Toscany
May, June, July 2001
Altomonte  /  Calabria
August, September 2001
Perspective is the conscious awareness
of the eternity of time and of the infinity of space.
Cerj Lalonde


Antonina Zaru*

 Rome /  Italy / 2001 

Translated from Italian by Rocco D'Angelo, Ph.D. and Sonia Poulet 




Where Id was, there I must be.

Sigmund Freud  


Art as Philosophy, Painting as Mirror


            Cerj Lalonde is a diligent experimenter who applies a complex assortment of mediums (photography, video, DVD, installation art, painting, digital art, internet art). This is made obvious as one examines his splendid multimedia installations of the nineteen-eighties that persistently summon the primitive-alchemy of a Joseph Beuys, as much as the “black hole” of electronic images by Nam June Paik.

For me however, Cerj Lalonde remains first and foremost an extraordinary painter.


Wasn’t it Lalonde himself who sharply protested in the influential Canadian newspaper Le Devoir, against the incompetence of the mass media to present and evaluate paintings and denouncing the paper’s preference for “sensational” art? - “I must simply say it: there is some sort of conspiracy in favor of either ignorance or dumbness,  a kind of refusal to see or to understand painting. As if all these professionals of the mainstream media were possessed by the dominant ideology of “entertainment”, that one could also qualify as an “unfortunate consciousness”(conscience malheureuse). Regardless of the inherent responsibility of the media for providing information, the mere passion of discovery and that of unveiling, are all annihilated or reduced to self satisfaction or a comforting indifference – a debt-ridden death.”  Wasn't he the one to insist on the fundamental role of painting?: Painting is the “solution” to thwart the critics’ disregard for the importance of art. This solution demands to keep on painting, on and on, against all odds, and to take up the struggle of its diffusion as a great adventure , as an exploration into humanity and its institutions, as a fascinating pursuit of the specific unveiling of the intimate and of the unfathomable that the canvas can offer  The artist is driven by the enthusiastic conviction that painting is “unique and essential for the development of the human being and of his existence in this world”? (Beuys used to say that life, even at a physiological level, was impossible without art).

 The fundamental centrality of philosophical language has always been a clear characteristic of Lalonde’s work. One of the first systematic analysis of the body of his artistic work, highlighting a strong speculative system is owed to Joan Altabe, art critic for the Herald Tribune. Altabe sensed that the artistic language of Lalonde often consisted in the indispensability of fine lines, though his canvases compel above all a “contemplative” glimpse across a certain mystical space recalling the works of Rothko and Newman.


            Even from his first experiments in the field of visual arts, Cerj Lalonde's  indebtedness to such artists as Frank Stella, Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky appeared evident. This can be observed, for instance, in the artist’s use of geometric backgrounds and in his lean application of colorant, as well as in the strong conceptual connotations at the service of canvases whose urgency does not come across as an apparent alien.

We may then wonder if it is a coincidence that Lalonde revealed his practice of painting in these words: “Some of my paintings are very structured and orderly, so that the security and the power of limits permit total freedom for the expression of forms and colors and of all what painting and only painting can do”.


             More than anyone else, it was the critic Leo Rosshandler who, several years ago, identified a coherent philosophical system at the core of Cerj Lalonde’s work that demands a  concentration of a speculative kind. This smack of superior art lacks any artifice of intellectual closure. Lalonde’s splendid formal constructions also carry an exquisite and delicate coloration.  At the same time, Rosshandler also linked his research to that tradition extending from the Russian avant-garde to the post-modern and conceptual era, assigning to Lalonde’s art an autonomous role where abstraction becomes a bond between the deep glance of psychology and a general cast that combines intimacy and mysticism. Could it be an irremediable dichotomy?  Not at all. In Cerj’s work, the aesthetic experience mingles with the ethics that his work integrates, therefore granting a polysemic dimension to his art. The challenge is always that of inducing a “cognitive process” in which the onlookers and the artists with their respective philosophies have equal roles. Lalonde's intellectual orientation rests upon a constant dialectic: classical method and post-modernism. Opposing forces such as: warmth of painting versus chill of the new media, epistemology versus feeling, can illustrate the tension enclosed in his work. However, there is a central and recurrent theme:  the obsession for “seeing”, the concept of vision/sight as discerner of judgment (Critic of the Judgment; Kant).


 In Lalonde’s work, what lies behind what we see is not hidden; the “vision” is just one of the paradoxes which the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan have become attached to. This brings to mind Merleau-Ponty's numerous writings on painting, among which Cezanne's Doubt. According to Lacan, “The interrelation between vision and what one wishes to see is deceptive”.  But vision is precisely that “social process” that unites, through language, all the observers with the symbolic sphere.  This vision is therefore bound to be frustrated, if one considers that “to see” is always the unattainable “desire for the other”. Yet, in Seminaire XI, doesn't Lacan discuss  Le Visible et l'Invisible by Merleau-Ponty and define the vision as being “the reversal of the portrayal”? How could his style be defined? - As a mirror. (In front of Lalonde's paintings, I often have the sensation of facing the mystery of a mirror: smooth surface, epicentricity of a bidimensional plan, a monochromatic plane...)

Gilles Deleuze speaks of “style” as the fundamental requirement for philosophy. Art has a style of its own. Therefore, as Lalonde knows so well, the indispensable requirement of art is philosophy.



To See and to Be Seen


        Cerj Lalonde’s work is largly influenced by the conceptual and spatial practices of the art of this past century, - it is an extraordinary body of works that embraces Kassimir Malevich and Marcel Duchamp, all the way to Barnet Newman’s and Frank Stella’s and the neo-conceptual experiments (I am thinking about Barnet Newman's Achilles, 1952, and about a more conventional one, The Name, 1949, both at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. They reveal, with ink and coarse brush strokes, the inextinguishable interaction between the painter's body, his movement and the philosophical approach underline the art piece . To do so, as the philosopher Norman Bryson and others have demonstrated, the importance of  “deictic markers” had to be diminished in Western painting). However, the imaginary foundations of Lalonde’s artistic work are to be found in Malevitch’s painting of a fundamental type and of medium dimensions, Four black and four red of 1915, kept in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Malevitch proclaimed an ontological matrix through the genuine linguistic approach of painting (in the title of this work, the coincidence between “words” and “content” is defensibly pragmatic) before Kandinsky emancipated his work from a sense of inferiority by using musical analogies (i.e., “Improvisation”, “Compositions.” …these are titles of some pieces he achieved in the 1910’s) 


        In the history of Western painting, one of the most important linguistic events was undoubtedly the invention of perspective. Cerj Lalonde has recently written that Perspective is the conscious awareness of the eternity of time and of the infinity of space. According to Merleau-Ponty, the “classical perspective” is far from offering an exact solution, for it is only one way amongst others that “humanity has invented to project the perceived world in front of himself and not a copy of that world”. It would be a fallacious attempt if the intent was to fuse the representation and what is represented - but then again, it is only a method. It is a grid through which one reads the world because the discovery “of eternity and infinity” actually lies within the limit of what is represented.

             From this viewpoint, the temptations for “mimesis” are abjured, but then what becomes the role of the artist? Could it be that of simply presenting the limits of the world and those of men? Can his role be anything other than the priest of the finite?


        Lalonde claimed that “talking about the identity of the artist is playing with a myth”. He then referred to the preface of The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoievsky) in which Freud asserts that “the problem of the artist cannot be analyzed”. However, this perspective does not exclude a return to certain idealistic stands. Barnett Newman’s belief that “the first man was an artist” helps us understand Lalonde’s conviction that identity is mainly a matter of personality (with all its complex genealogical characteristics). Lalonde is far more interested in the critique of art as an object and practice within the industrially advanced countries than in the ontological definition drawn from the paradisiacal and romantic vision of the creator/artist’s “hubris”.


        In Lalonde's works the division between artist and spectator is sealed by the viewer’s “participation” in the aesthetic event. This notion of participation works not only as an exchange process (the artist lays out a great part of his work on this two-way relationship), but as an essential common background, which in the Renaissance painting, for instance, was characterized by the convention of perspective.


        When Lalonde remembers that Marilyn Ferguson said: “every being is an artist”, it reminds me of the underlying influence of George Maciunas and of the avant-garde of '58. The artistic approach of Cerj is not so much that of rebellion, but rather that of philosophical analysis.  His art veers towards cosmogony (the aesthetic as theory of style) and could even falter if it was strictly reflecting the Freudian assertion of the “non-analyzability” of creation (a process that renders futile the antique and therapeutic precept of “Know thyself!” which also is one justification for making art).

        In short, art is the YES of everyone, but the Everyman of Lalonde is the “homo philosophicus” (like the “being” in the quotation by Ferguson who delineates a unique destiny  through the horizon; in other words, a destiny of infinite finiteness), a concept dramatically remote from what is implied by Giuseppe Chiari’s ambiguous quotation: “Art is easy”. For Lalonde, if art is a pleasure, it is also a struggle because it is a process confronting opposites. Above all, it is the “process of knowing”.

        When writing about one of Guido Molinari’s paintings, Lalonde stated that the painting appeared to him as being spiritual, and he then specified what he meant by spiritual: As if sucked by a black hole my eye was suddenly caught by this mesmerizing large blue painting … three shades of deep blue, verging towards the monochromatic, three tones, three hues, three sequences working as an undulation, a breeze of infinity. A painting that makes us breathe again.  It is spiritual as in “spiritus”, a breath (respiration), a body breathing life, a breath of the “Being”.  Three shades of blue to stop time, to perceive millenniums, to meditate while facing eternity.  


        Even in his speculative phase, Lalonde has frequently revealed his fascination for Piero Della Francesca and the paintings from the Renaissance period. As we have already mentioned, what stimulates him is the abstraction of the perspective, perspective as an abstraction.  In classical painting, the rules of perspective (practice of objectivation as opposed to the theory of subjectivity of the Gestalt) staged an image that implied movement. What should be highlighted in Lalonde’s work is not so much the “action of painting” (in that sense his ideology is closer to Mondrian’s than that of Pollock), but rather the “action of thinking” defining the link between the artist, who has the power to represent, and the represented.

       As one walks through what the artist calls “environments”, his work then becomes a gradual experience, a collective experience. The artist creates spaces he calls “infinite perspective”, in which the staging, through the use of a Zen matrix, generates a sense of eternity of time and infinity of space. This type of construction provides “pretexts” and “contexts” more than full-fledged texts.  This type of art is characterized by its lightness in the sense that silence prevails over presence.

        Quoting Francois Cheng, Alec Erjavec notices that the vacuum within a painting “ is not an inert presence, but is brushed by a breeze uniting the visible world (painted space) and the invisible one”.        


       Lalonde is recognized as a multimedia artist, even if he claims his art also includes the practice of painting, - which he considers as unique and essential(cf: the rather funny passage in which he defines his work, mimicking the slightly sensational prose used by contemporary critics:  “neo-abstract and conceptual, post-modern or contemporary, post-neo-constructivist or organic-neo-structuralist, in other words, simply painting”…). This claim does not only indicate a favorable means of expression , but also provides a specific philosophical frame aiming at “communicating a vision” as one of his series of works points out. The word “vision” is semantically rich (in French as in English) and refers either to mechanical processes of the eye and of the processes of the brain, or of the concept of man’s existence in the world (“être-au-monde”). The “vision” is considered as an “object” (related to the Gestalt) but also as the active “subject” of the artistic setting. For Lalonde, the question lies within this doubt: what if the artistic vision was the true “subject”?

        It is no accident that one of the most conceptual and programmatic works of Lalonde is the photographic installation “Seeing” (or “Criticism of the Judgment”) in which a room, completely painted black accommodates a myriad of eyes on the walls, peering at us like eavesdropping monitors. How could I put it? If art is made to be looked at, we must not forget that genuine art is born from the interaction between the spectator and the work of art . Aware of the importance of this interaction, Lalonde presents us with a complex work that is to be watched, but which should be look upon, from a Lacanian viewpoint, as - “the work of art watches us”.

        This conceptual photographic installation (“Seeing”), exhibited in one of the room of the Museum of the Castello di Lupinari, has been fully studied in a series of meetings and lectures arranged by Professor Suzanne Leclair at Concordia University of Montreal. She immediately apprehended the interactive forces at work in this work, for instance, the relationship between space and representation and she perceived the deepest artistic message underlying his art carried by the dialectic opposing emptiness to fullness, light to darkness, the action of “seeing” and the state of “being seen”.

        However, some doubts remain when observing Lalonde’s work: who really communicates the Vision? The artist? The spectator? Or the work itself?


            The status of  the “subject” is one of the fundamental dilemmas in keeping with the theory of contemporary art and was dealt with by Freud, by Jacques Lacan as well as by Merleau-Ponty according to whom, vision occupies an ontological centrum. This conception is opposed to that of Heidegger for whom poetry is the language of the “subject”/being. However, the “logical use of  vision” (Byron) is that of “envisioning the represented” in “relation with our inner truth” (Erjavec) and not in relation with a mimetic representation of the real. Erjavec also reminds us Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of painting as the major road to reach our inner “being”. Indeed, philosophy is aspiration for “Being” as well as it is a means to know one's own limits.


            If hunger for perfection had been overcome by the love of perfection, we would not find ourselves speechless before the exquisite paintings of Piero Dell Francesca. We would we be able to speak out our astonishment, express our emotions. We would know how to, but we don’t because we are not poets. Luckily not every body is. Those who are poets belong to this group of dreamers who  persist in being astonished by the lightness provided by perfection, by the poetic process leading to perfection. Cerj Lalonde is one of them, one of these dreamers who envision with enchantment the truth enclosed in everything and he is dedicating his life to this “vision”.


To conclude our analysis, Cerj Lalonde’s artwork “watches” the world from an inner perspective, the perspective of the dizzying limits of human kind and of man’s irrepressible drive towards transcendence. By doing so, he turns himself into the protector of our own vision of things; he becomes the watch warden inside us all.



*  Antonina Zaru

Antonina Zaru is an Italian curator and an art critic who has organized several exhibitions and retrospectives (from Miro and Magritte to Richard Serra and Nam June Paik)  in Museums around the world (New York, Washington, Tokyo, Basel, Austria, Spain, Korea, Rome, Milan, Venice). For many years, she organized the major exhibitions of Nam June Paik (Kunsthalle at Basel, Kinshasa?? at Zurich, Statdrische Kunsthalle at Düsseldorf, Museum of the Twentieth Century in Vienna, Symposium international in Korea, Palazzo delle Esposizioni di Roma, German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale).  She is a regulator contributor on art for several art journals and catalogues.






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