ART REVIEW: MARILOU CHAGNAUD'S SHIFTING SPACES
AT MEGALO IS RESERVED AND CLEVER
Sasha Grishin, 2021
Marilou Chagnaud is a French artist who trained in Aix-en-Provence in France, then in Montreal in Canada. In 2016 she established her studio in Canberra. Chagnaud's art follows in the traditions of minimalism and geometric abstraction and is pervaded by a cool reserve and sense of elegance. There are no excesses in her work and both form and colour are reduced to a minimum so that nothing is allowed to detract from the precision of her design. Conceptually it is clever, reserved and, on occasion, the arrangement of engaged areas and blank surfaces produces an op art-like effect.
Minimalism gained traction in the West in the late 1950s and the 1960s, at about the same time as there was a growing awareness of the work of the Russian Suprematists and Constructivists working in the opening decades of the 20th century. Once all reference to the outside world had been removed, the minimalist artists could play with a single or repeated geometric form to create a composition that was completely self-referential. Aesthetically it was argued that minimalist art aspired to a very purified form of beauty with an emphasis on order, simplicity and harmony. It was also in a way a highly depersonalised form of art, in strong contrast to the angst-ridden personality driven abstract expressionism that was popular with artists of the previous generation.With minimalism, the physical presence of the artist became invisible and the objects created by artists such as Agnes Martin and Frank Stella existed with no tangible reference to anything outside of them.
In her present body of work, Chagnaud takes a starting point in the so-called Truchet tiles - described by the remarkable 18th-century French cleric and scientist Sébastien Truchet.
Truchet, an obsessive personality by all accounts, was inspired by the decorative patterns on ceramic tiles that he had observed along the canals in France, especially by the square tiles split by a diagonal line into two triangles. He noted that if you placed these tiles in different orientations, as part of square tiling, a huge number of different geometric patterns could be formed. The crucial element was that the decorative patterns were not rotationally symmetric leading to optically engaging patterns. Truchet tiles have generally appealed to mathematically minded people and those who love the work of MC Escher, so it is fascinating to see these geometric patterns being interpreted by a minimalist artist.
In this exhibition, Chagnaud primarily works with screen prints, some of quite monumental proportions of over a metre and a half in length. The scale and the crisp geometric shapes create for the prints a commanding presence. When she works on a smaller scale and goes beyond printing simply in black, the op art qualities of the shapes spring to life. Chagnaud's site-specific installation allows the patterned half-square painted tiles to form a dynamic composition that is disrupted by a built wooden frame (commenting on the design) and placed at right angles to the painted wall and thus thrusting into the viewer's space.This three-dimensional element, the only one in the whole exhibition, in a strange way forces us to reassess the mesmerising design on the wall. The design reminds one of Truchet's original tile, where it is split along the diagonal into two triangles forming four possible orientations.
There is tranquillity in this exhibition, a stylish elegance and a deeply contemplative atmosphere.
It is a place to contemplate Truchet's Mémoire sur les combinaisons (A thesis on combinations).