Amélie Ducommun’s Unfolding Memories opened at Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, BC on June tenth and was exhibited through July eighth. I happened upon the gallery as I was making my way around the Vancouver gallery scene with my friend and fellow painter Danielle Roberts. We were making a B-Line for Catriona Jeffries and stopped into Winsor gallery on the way. Ducommun’s work plastered the gallery walls. The works are on paper and on canvas and are rendered in mixed media, a term and description that does not strike me as necessary here, since the media would seem to be little more than paint with the possibility of printmaking techniques or stenciling coming into play. There are at least two photos on the artist’s website that would suggest a background or participation in printmaking, I spied a serigraphic press, and a table top etching press. Printmaking or not the media does not seem so terribly mixed as to deny the viewer some sort of insight into what’s going on as far as material is concerned. A description of method and media offers greater richness in my opinion, whereas the absence of such a roll call does not for me increase mystery.
Most of the paintings are titled Sensitive Water Mapping followed by a number. Some of the numbers included in the exhibition were #1, #124, #159, and #126. I am skeptical of them. I am also skeptical of Sensitive Water Mapping. If I take that naming literally I have a very hard time gleaning any sensitivity whatsoever. This is not to say that I do not enjoy large abstract works. I would not say that works of a similar looseness and scale do not strike me; in fact, they often do. All of the work exhibited in Unfolding Memories was of large to medium size ( 51.18” X 76.8” for instance, or 51.18” X 38.18”), and yet I did not feel enveloped or confronted by any of the work. The white, gessoey expanses of negative space, interspersed with printerly mark, blank canvas and wanton drip and splotch seemed to create a rather constant static. I felt as if there was a language happening, and it seemed unmistakably Ducommun’s but it did not strike me as very much the product of critical process, inquiry, or investigation of the memory and landscapes that Ducommun claims as her subject. Her website explains:
“The origin of her work lies mainly in a questioning of memory, perception of landscape and the interrelationship of natural elements. Each light of a country, a place offering it a special harmony. She must search for that light at each location, discover, apprehend. It is in this sense that she loves to travel, to find her first impression of things…She finds the first sensation, the feeling that the landscape she met expressed a truth. She has this need in their work to arrive at a neutral place, or virgin where everything needs to be feel for the first time…Her works over the last ten years has focused on water and aquatic landscapes and began in France in front of the grand spectacle of marine landscapes of the Atlantic coast, later in the more intimate, rivers and mountain in France and Spain. The memory of water is left by the more or less ephemeral footprints in other elements.
Earth, rock, wind, are the memories of these flows.”
It would seem from the above statement that first impression is important while place is also important but only as it is first perceived in what occurs to me as an infantile manner. The use of the term “virgin,” although only maybe the product of a rough translation, also seems naïve or possibly dangerous to me. I suppose to consider every new knowing as virginal could be an incredibly positive way to go about living one’s life. Everything would be amazing. I also think that such enthusiasm and genuine behavior of reaction would require mental facility beyond the capability of any human I am currently acquainted with. I also think that affirmativity is a politically progressive option when it is applied in tandem with critical perspective. In Ducommun’s work I read a dearth of heterogeneity, and an abundance of the opposite. While I do feel like accomplishing 150 or more of these large paintings is in and of itself an accomplishment, I feel like there is very little to be said for progression in the work. Whereas a tonal consistency is something I long for in artwork, I also pine for satori, epiphany, and “Aha!” moments. I find this work to be atonal. It is also frustrating because had I not read about the work I never would have known by the experience of seeing it in the gallery that it was about water or a geographically specific locale.
Despite my opinions, Decommun’s exhibition record since 2014 is staggering. Perhaps I’m missing the point.
 Amélie Ducommun, “Biography,” Amélie Ducommun Artist, biography, accessed August 03, 2017, https://www.amelieducommun.com/blank.