Lorna Bauer’s “Tool for Idlers”

By Hannah Megally

Lorna Bauer’s “Tools for Idlers” is a humble meditation on place, urbanism and architecture resulting from a research residency in Rio de Janeiro, during which the artist spent much of her time in the home and gardens of Brazilian modernist landscape artist, Roberto Burle Marx. The exhibit largely responds to the collaborations between Burle Marx and botanical illustrator, Margaret Mee, and ties this connection to the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. Her work uses photography and sculpture, namely plaster craft and glass blowing, to explore the relationship between nature, architecture and the urban subject.

Galerie Nicolas-Robert is a petite, t-shaped niche located on one of the more industrial streets of Montreal’s Old Port. The white-walls and cement floors enhanced the tranquility and minimalism of the space, as they mute out external sounds and offers the artworks both space and voice. In this gallery, nine poster-size photos occupy the walls, while 3 small sculpture installations rest on the floor. A brief accompanying text written by Rebecca Lemire outlines the work of Margaret Mee and uses Rio de Janeiro as a converging point between Mee, Burle Marx, and Le Corbusier: “Mee entered the landscape, Marx contained it.” Bauer is not mentioned, but the text, by way of introducing Bauer’s work, concludes with extracts from Le Corbusier’s musings on the lowly nature of photography. Lemire writes, “By drawing, we inch closer to true embodiment. By working with our hands we ‘enter the house of a stranger’ he quipped. The camera on the other hand, is merely “a tool for idlers, who use a machine to do their seeing for them.’”

As if posing a challenge to herself by way of Le Corbusier, Bauer enlists the idleness of the photographer as a mode through which to better understand the nature of the relationship between architecture and the natural world, between the body and the space around it. Where Mee, Marx and Le Corbusier are described as using their art to “enter” their subject matter, transcending the gap between body and space, Bauer’s work pursues an understanding of the limits of human awareness and transcendence. Photography, in contrast to drawing and architecture, necessitates the presence of the photographer, and thus the human body, as an entity separate from their subject matter. While all artists are required to operate their tools, only photographs necessarily bear the presence of the camera, and its operator, in the scene and subject of the art. Bauer’s photography emphasizes this separation further through her heavily reliance upon reflection as both a technique and a symbol in her work.

Photographs taken of the garden from inside the Sítio, Burle Marx’s former residence and home to a vast collection of tropical and subtropical plant species, reveal the vibrant and various plants of the garden, but they equally depict reflections from the glass panes of the interior of the home itself. Glass bulbs, used in all three of her sculpture installations, bear a similar ability to show spectators both through and back. Using the camera lens as a metaphor for the human eye, Bauer’s works seem to argue that humans cannot really look upon their natural surroundings without seeing themselves reflected back. Whether this is to suggest that we can never really “enter” into the natural world in the ways that Mee and Le Corbusier are thought to have, or that we are in fact deeply interconnected with, and so already within, the natural world, seems to be up to interpretation.

This exhibit was on view at Galerie Nicolas Robert from October 20th to November 24th.

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