Alex Beriault’s medal award-winning work combines performance and sculpture in unconventional yet inviting installations to create an often confrontational experience she shares with audiences. Here’s how she describes it:
For my thesis, I produced a body of work entitled The Study Series. Often using myself as a subject of study, these works consisted of two performative installations, a video installation and a photographic series.
My final work, "Head Study," was a durational performance that entailed a kinetic sculpture attached by a harness to my head. The motor of the sculptural apparatus generated slow, repetitious movements that were echoed through the direct connection to my body. "Portrait Study" became a photographic continuation of "Head Study," placing myself into the role of the photographer while taking long exposure portraits of different individuals within the machine.
What inspired you and motivated you to do this project?
One of the books I read for my thesis research included Craig Owens’ The Anti Aesthetic: The Discourse of Others. In it, Owens states that “suddenly it becomes possible that there are just others, that we ourselves are an ‘other’ among others.” I thought this was beautiful.
For the past few years I have been working as a professional art model, and this job as a study also positioned me as a very blatant other. The vulnerable nature of a model’s nakedness usually operates in tandem with a physical proximity: this socially shields the model from the artists, and vice versa. It is this precarious situation between intimacy and distance that I believe to be applicable to all human relationships. I wanted for my work to expose the viewer’s awareness to this, forcing them to re-evaluate their behaviours within the space my performance dominates.
What part of the process of creating this project did you learn the most from?
There were several new processes that I embarked on this year, such as video, photography and mechanics, all of which were heavily equipped with their own unique technical challenges.
That being said, because my work is performative in the final outcome, very significant realizations occurred during my performances, mostly within the moments shared between the viewer and myself. Depending on the situation, these experiences felt collaborative, almost like a choreography between two dancers who were meeting for the first time.
What aspect of this project are you the most proud of?
I experienced the very rewarding opportunity to perform my piece, "Head Study" in my solo thesis exhibition at Katharine Mulherin’s No Foundation Gallery. That was my very first solo show, and I was lucky enough to have it happen at such a wonderful and reputable Toronto gallery. The opening performance night was a big landmark for me in a way that I will never forget.
How did you react to the news that you won a medal for your work?
The news was told to me by my new faculty guardian angel, Wrik Mead. When he gave me the piece of paper acknowledging me as “Dear Medal Winner,” I really couldn’t read past that first statement.
I should note that I made a decisions to finish my undergrad in six years, and my parents were always a little (understandably) apprehensive about this length. After receiving the medal, I immediately phoned them both. Even though it was a joy telling them what happened, admittedly, there was also a very subtle and satisfying undertone of “Ha, I told ya so!”
What’s your fondest memory from your studies at OCAD U, and what will you miss the most?
Finding a new daytime apartment in the form of the Sculpture Thesis Studio.
Nerd nights with Doug Back and Simone Jones dude!
$5 Pitchers weekly between Monday and Sunday nights.
Conversations outside of the main building entrance as a non-smoking smoker.
Those short two-minute walks between point A and point B that mysteriously end up taking half an hour.
The tremendously supportive faculty of the Sculpture & Installation program.
What are you planning to do next?
Upon graduating, I have been working on a new contract gig with the Luminato festival while working an awesome job as an artist’s assistant. It is my intention to continue to make work, apply for residencies and to show, but it would be fantastic in a year or two’s time to work my way towards grad school, either in the United States or in Europe.
You never want to plan things too tightly though, because (if I may end on an optimistic note) things find their own ways of working out. Even in rejection, there can be opportunity.
Find out more about Alex Beriault
Alex Beriault at Cargo Collective