Playing, Exploring, Inventing and Building with Local Artist, Monique Motut-Firth

Artist Portrait 2023; Photo credit: Byron Dauncey

Local multidisciplinary artist Monique Motut-Firth has a ‘thing’ for machines. Her latest expression of this ongoing love and fascination can be seen (alongside works by Amy J. Dyck) in the new exhibition Intricate Arrangements: Connotations in College, currently on display in the Gallery at the Act Arts Centre in Maple Ridge until February 25th.

Get to know more about the Motut-Firth’s complex and futuristic ideas, as well as her process of ‘building’ them, via our long-form Q&A below…

Install ‘A Simple Machine for Living’, ACT Gallery 2023; Photo credit: Byron Dauncey

First of all, in ten words or less, please describe the artworks included in Intricate Arrangements: Connotations in College that visitors to the exhibit can expect to see from you.

Wacky and inventive animation and motion machines of the future.

What was your initial inspirational jumping off point for this particular series of works? Was it a single situation, or perhaps a specific image or question…or something else?

I am interested in machine motion in general, and for the largest work in this show [A Simple Machine for Livinglarge scale cut paper composition inspired by @rubegoldberg machines/comics and subsequent exploration in animation and sound design‘] I wanted to build a Rube Goldberg machine – a machine that uses the most complex way of solving a simple problem. To me, it seemed like a good metaphor for life, in a way.

What unexpected or unplanned creative/technical detours did you take along the way, and how does the finished series size up to your initial vision?

As I was building the storyboard for A Simple Machine for Living, I realized that I had to invent new ways of scanning and sewing images together due to the sheer scale of the project. I also realized that I would need to create a unique soundtrack for this animation. This was a challenging new idea and led me to enlist the aid of my two children to help build a soundscape that would be as wacky as the animation itself.

On the Upside, 2022

What first inspired you to venture into art-making (specifically collage/photomontage/animation) and how is your current motivation different? How is it the same?

Initially, I was into textile work and then moved into oil painting. After inheriting a 60-year collection of Canadian catalogues that my grandmother, Polly, had collected, my attention shifted to using paper. Eventually, my practice moved from using images of people to working with the colours and forms found in these images as though they were paint marks. In a way, I am still painting, but I am using someone else’s marks. Sometimes these marks reflect the formal attributes of an image (form, shape, colour) and other times they can reflect the actual image (car, lipstick, flower). I like being able to shift the language of the photograph in different ways – it adds this unpredictable element to the final composition.

Now that you’ve been doing collage, photomontage and animation for a little while, is your process ‘locked-and-loaded’, or are you still exploring new ways of creating, and/or new materials/media? What is something that you are curious about playing or experimenting with in the future, that you haven’t tried before?

I am definitely still exploring ideas in my work. That is really what my work is about: exploring the ideas of implied and applied motion and what the differences are, investigating visual vocabularies at the intersection of movement; considering gravity, machine motion and gameplay. These are all questions that I have yet to answer and I enjoy playing around in the spaces in-between. I am going to consider these recent works a little more before planning my next project.

“I like to ask the images what machine they would like to become. What do our consumer images demand from us? What types of language are they speaking? I am listening to the images and responding.”

Take a breather to briefly reflect on the process of creating the works for Intricate Arrangements. What have you learned about yourself? What would you have done differently? What are you most proud of or excited about sharing with viewers?

My process is a hands-on intuitive process. I listen to music and move through the cut images trying out a number of quick combinations, letting the images guide the overall composition. After some time I begin to see some pattern or idea that interests me and then I begin to tack them down. Ultimately the images are scanned as a whole collage and as individual pieces as well, sometimes. The digital images are then cleaned up and floated on a new background, or animated in some way, considering a question or curiosity that I may have. This one project (A Simple Machine for Living) took me over 10 months to build, and I learned that I could really push myself in animation and sound. Each new sequence was a steep learning curve. I would ask myself, ‘Well, how do I do that?’ And then solve it. I am excited by the results.

Studio paper

Imagine for a minute a machine that doesn’t exist, that you wish did. What is it and what is its purpose?

I think I just built that machine for this show. A Simple Machine for Living, is such a thing. It explores the sense of movement throughout our lives: some easy travels, some difficult inclines; sometimes bumpy, sometimes someone carries us along; occasionally we are transformed. And in the end? It’s the end. I like to ask the images what machine they would like to become. What do our consumer images demand from us? What types of language are they speaking? I am listening to the images and responding.

How is technology and the wealth of creative tools at your disposal helpful to you and how is it “hurtful”? How much of your process – sourcing/finding and arranging images – is reliant on new technologies and how much is spent on the physical hunt, cut-and-pasting, etc (aka the “old fashioned” way?)

We are living in such a unique time, where we have an abundance of paper available, as well as digital images; we truly are an image-obsessed culture. Most of my creative process is inspired from the analogue. I like to ‘find’ images from print collections of magazines and books. The process of laying all the images out is also physical for me, and perhaps that is related to the movement of my own body in space. I use the digital processes more near the end to manipulate the pixels in digital space. This enables me to play with scale and animation as well. Sometimes I work in-between the two modes by re-scanning printed collages. I am always interested in bridging the two worlds together, and it seems to me the most interesting way to play with images, considering our current moment in time and technology.

Layout Process

What is one thing in your artistic process that you insist on doing by hand (or “the hard way”) even if you know that there is an easier/quicker/cheaper option out there that you could use instead? Why?

I actually feel that the digital work is the most difficult. The analogue work is the fun stuff. Spending hours digitally stamping out dust, rips, and hair, and cleaning shadow edges is long and painful for me. I would much rather play in the paper. I feel much more relaxed moving around the studio than stuck sitting at a computer.

These days our eyeballs (and, minds?) are constantly bombarded with images and art – why should people bother getting out and seeing art in-person anymore? In your own words, tell me why brick-and-mortar galleries and physical exhibitions are still important/relevant?

Digital images are liquid – they have no scale, shadow or materiality – everything that you look at through your phone is framed within the same 2D space and therefore devoid of context. My digital work holds a materiality in the texture of the paper and the shadows, which are important to me as an artist. My work is also extremely detailed, and so the little cellphone image does not do the work justice. Being in a gallery offers an immersive experience, where you can place your body (and mind) into the work of an artist. It offers a wider sense of the work as the sights, sounds, and arrangement allow for a slower and more thoughtful read of the work.

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