Sylvie Bélanger: firstname.lastname@example.org
Works in the exhibition
Rendering the invisible visible. How can we see the unseen?
The contemporary gallery space could be considered as architecture’s ultimate blank page. The ‘white cube’ aesthetic, populated through modernism and still the primary domain for contemporary art presentation today, reigns mainly due to its apparent functionality and featurelessness. It can offer a somewhat hermetic environment aside from our visually bombarded reality, ripe with physical and virtual distractions, and yet, it doesn’t necessarily allow for full focus to rest upon the art that it hosts. In Brian O’Doherty’s seminal essay ‘Inside the White Cube’ (1976) he observed that the sanctification and overpoweringly purist context of the art gallery had in fact lead to “a point where we see not the art but the space first” . While Simon Sheikh, revisiting O’Doherty’s text in 2009, noted that the white cube had become (and remains) “an aesthetic object in and of itself” . In Sylvie Bélanger’s site-specific exhibition email@example.com the visual hierarchies of art versus its architectural context are negated. Instead, through her experimental, photographic installation, the two become almost indistinguishable, seemingly allowing for both to be experienced as one.
firstname.lastname@example.org continues Bélanger’s long trajectory of conceptually and philosophically investigating ‘visibility’ - deconstructing our relationships to architecture, surveillance culture and pervading imaging technologies in order to more deeply probe questions of ‘time/space experience’ and of our own presence and perception of it. This may sound a little difficult to grasp, and it is - such slippery, ill-defined subjects are not easily cut into digestible black and white. The notions, and Bélanger’s interpretations of them exist in a grey hinterland, neither prescribing what you should see, nor fully disclosing what you are seeing, but allowing for individual interpretation.
This spectrum, from black to white, from visible to invisible is especially analogous to the process of photography, in this case Bélanger’s medium of choice. A photographic image, whether coaxed out through analogue chemical process or predetermined by digital image sensors, rests on its positioning between visibility and invisibility – too much light exposure and the image will recede into glaring whiteness, not enough and it will remain sunken in murky black. This negotiation of visibility is further referred to by Sheikh in terms of the art space, suggesting that the white cube’s emergence as recognisable 'content' is “enabled primarily through its attempted disappearance.”
So, within email@example.com we have photography as a medium and the gallery space as an architectural entity both resting upon a spectrum of visibility and invisibility, but what of Bélanger’s installation itself? She seeks to draw attention to the most ‘unseen’ elements of the gallery - the walls themselves - but does this through disguising them completely, plastering them, floor to ceiling with wallpaper-style, scale photographic prints taken of the gallery space on the 15 July, 2015 at 10.30am. The timestamp of this event is reproduced as the exhibition’s numerical title, suggesting that although photography is the physical facilitator of representation here, it is time which acts as Bélanger’s subject and even material of choice. Visually there is nothing of the actual reality of the surface of the gallery walls in their presented state, instead they are clad with photographic imagery from another time, season and date altogether. The location is the same but it wears the past like a second skin.
Through firstname.lastname@example.org Bélanger is absolutely toying with our expectations of contemporary art, of photography, of the gallery experience. The installation discreetly challenges our assumptions of time and place; the barely-there subtleties of light changes or impossible shadows offer minute giveaways to the exhibition’s condition of replicating a past moment - a chink in the armor of its trompe l’oeil. Through Bélanger’s installation we are at once in the gallery space but we are also transported ‘ailleurs’, elsewhere, trapped somewhere between email@example.com and the now, suspended between the actual and the virtual, the real and the image, the past and the present.
– Text by Rebecca Travis
 Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Expanded Edition, p.14
 Simon Sheikh, Positively White Cube Revisited - http://www.e-flux.com/journal/positively-white-cube-revisited/
Sylvie Bélanger gratefully acknowledges the exceptional contribution and involvement of Dimitri Levanoff / Image Foundry. She also thanks Angelo Pedari and Brian Davis without whom the installation of the work would not be possible.