Jean-Yves Vigneau

Artist Statement

My island is not merely a parcel of land surrounded by water; it is the focal point of all my horizons. I was born in the Magdalen Islands on an island so small I could see the sea all around me just by turning my head. With one glance, I could contemplate the whole world. The landscape and culture of islands have shaped my view of the world and have made of me an islomane, a word coined by Lawrence Durrell to describe an individual who, although apparently normal, is afflicted by a sort of mental disturbance and experiences an indescribable intoxication at the mere idea of a small parcel of land surrounded by water. I have cultivated my emotional and aesthetic relationship with the maritime landscape and culture like most islanders who find themselves on the mainland and continue to identify with their island roots.

Over the years I have translated this attachment into a body of work that includes sculptures, installations, drawings, photographs and videos. A few evocative titles: Once upon a time there was a sea, Low Tide, Happy the man who, like Ulysses..., The Wreck of the Angelus. Other works entitled Cod, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Cod Liver, Fish Meal, A Fishy Business and Masts address an inescapable aspect of maritime culture: fishing. The North Atlantic cod moratorium decreed by Canada in 1992 was just another signal forecasting the irrevocable decline of a gathering culture and a lifestyle. Teach a man to fish, and he'll empty the sea.

My most recent works explore other aspects of the maritime landscape. In Noah’s Landing (2007), I revisted the myth of the flood and Noah’s landing with his precious cargo of species threatened with extinction. Archipelago (2008), presented at the Biennale nationale de sculpture contemporaine in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, took the shape of a drawing/navigational table, with a sound track composed of hundreds of titles of books starting with the French word “île” recited as a litany, hammering the space like waves. I created the in situ piece of Nieznana Wyspa (“Unknown Island”, 2008) in the port of Gdynia, Poland, as a reminder of the unknown islands we wrongly think are found only in far-off places beyond perilous seas. Utopiae Insulae Figura (2008-09), inspired by Thomas More’s famous essay about the island of Utopia, was the fruit of a journey between my island, More’s utopian model and a sampling of man-made islands, a new reality that surpasses fiction.

As part of a residence in Wales, spring 2009, I installed a permanent piece along the footpath leading to the camera obscura in Aberystwyth: a large convex mirror perched on a lamp post. Entitled Sentinel, it reminds us that “only a mirror can tell the objective beauty of the sea”. Invited to produce a work in Caraquet, New Brunswick in connection with the Acadian World Congress, I returned to the theme of our declining fishing culture, creating Arrivage, a collection of large crates installed in the water and along the shore bearing the names of fish and their country of origin, now that the stocks have disappeared from our shores.

With the collaboration of the Manif d’art, the Quebec City biennal, I participated in the 2009 edition of the Vento Sul Biennale in Curitiba, Brazil. The Equation for Water (Equação da água) is an abstract representation of water that appears to be scientific and emotionless, like a map or a diagram. But far from being an arid formula, the piece stretches out in the shadow of the bridge like so many lily pads on the lake reflecting the Opera de Arame, in a nod to Monet’s Water Lily Pond.

The impulses that drive me to explore the evocative power of islands and archipelagos led me to the writings of geographer Françoise Péron. The title of one of her articles has inspired the title of my October 2009 exhibition Désirs d'îles (Desiring Islands) presented at the Centre d'exposition Circa. This body of work is yet another expression of my islomane spirit, of the island within me that I haul around like a child pulls a favourite toy.

Through in situ works often inspired by legends and myths, shoals and shipwrecks, it’s always a bit of my own story that finds expression in new landscapes. At the same time, I remain permeable to the places and the people in them, developing new rapports with the maritime world and the culture of islands. New perspectives are born, because when the sea stretches out as far as the eye can see, the mind sets about inventing horizons.