Patrick Bernatchez


Patrick Bernatchez
Chrysalides Trilogy, 2006-2013
16mm colour film transferred to digital support

> Highlander Building facade, above Travelwise, across from TNRD Building <

Patrick Bernatchez’s artistic practice is one of developing groups of works in projects realized over long periods of time, analogous to a work in progress. It draws upon varied traditions and aesthetics including mannerism, baroque, pop culture, horror movies, science fiction, even fantasy and the supernatural. This eclectic approach delves into our notions of collective and individual identity in a world increasingly shaped by capitalist culture, particularly as reflected in social pathologies and types of obsessive-compulsive behaviour such as hyper-consumption. The films in the Chrysalides Trilogy explore and depict themes of vanity, decline and alienation, revealing a disconcerting, timeless portrait.

The Chrysalides cycle is a dreamlike exploration being played out against a background of the world’s end where everything seems to converge and spin away in a vortex, projecting us into an indefinite and disconcerting space-time. Bernatchez’s work is in a sense a “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, an entangling of decay and rebirth. The trilogy’s works, I Feel Cold Today, Chrysalide, and 13, are each intended to stand alone as a complete work as well as being an integral element of the trilogy. In all three of the films, nature, as an indomitable force represented by water, snow and light, reasserts its power over the world of work, the latter formally emblemetized as a commercial/industrial building. The common thread to the films, and of his work in general, is the relationship between time’s immutability and the ephemerality of biological phenomena which, of course, includes ourselves. The project in its entirety includes two other film works as well as Chrysalide Empereur─a variation of Chrysalide─ and Whole Fashion Plaza, a concluding work presented as a synthesis of the four previous films.

The genesis of the film cycle is the Fashion Plaza building itself. This structure, an icon of the post-industrial era (also the location of the artist’s studio), is both the subject of and the stage for the trilogy’s narratives. With workers, artists, and musicians continually milling in and about the building, Patrick Bernatchez considers it as a microcosm of society, a site in constant mutation. He attempts to capture its essence and scrutinize its function as a symbol of postmodern society. The scenes he presents, at once seductive and terrifying, lead us beyond the bounding parameters of reality to an elsewhere more akin to dreams and the imagination where lyricism and incongruity meet.

I Feel Cold Today, 2007

The film opens with a paced motion through ominous, dark blue shadows underneath rectangular forms that could be hanging down or floating, but that prove to be the ceiling decor of an building’s foyer where an empty elevator awaits. On an upper floor, a snowstorm whose measured, rising intensity portends inevitability, gradually invades and overtakes an empty office. Objects are strewn about, abandoned and obsolete: a bottle of alcohol, an ashtray, a telephone, magazines, a book, an empty safety deposit box. Haunting, suspenseful music amalgamating passages of Fauré’s Requiem and The Planets by Holst, intensifies the sense of a natural disaster or the end of the world. A veritable journey within the immaculate whiteness of a storm promising to rage for eternity, the snow has come to cover over the world and plunge it into a deep sleep. This could be considered as showing that we are living out an absurd existence in a captive environment, very much along the lines of the proposition Desmond Morris put forward in his book The Human Zoo. l Feel Cold Today proposes a progressive freezing over of the world of work while it awaits a rebirth.

Chrysalide, 2008

Chrysalide takes place in an underground parking garage where a black, luxury sedan sits parked, still and central. Mystery and ambiguity prevail in this dark, enclosed, crypt-like space, making use of the sense of suspense and drama commonly associated with film aesthetics. Ambient light, low and subdued, draws our attention to the car’s interior where a man in a white shirt sits, eats and smokes a cigarette impassively while  immersed up to his shoulders in water. The vehicle gradually fills up until he is completely submerged. The camera movement is circular, a slow tracking shot around the car: hypnotic, mesmerizing, obsessive. The whirling rotations become more and more urgent and proximate, acting as a sort of oppressor and instilling in the viewer the feeling of being surrounded by its force, sucked in and swallowed up by it. Similarly, the music steadily rises, overwhelming the spectator.

Chrysalide occupies a key position, not only in the trilogy, but in the entire Chrysalides project. The anonymous, somewhat impassive, figure in the car is somewhat like what the nucleus is to the atom – the trigger. He symbolizes the chaos and turmoil that lies within us all. Once fully submerged, he returns to a fetal state. In this return to the embryonic state, he represents the epicentre of a causal process, while the car imprisoning him becomes a site of possible transformation.

13, 2009

A snowstorm is coming on. We then see that the snow is blowing into empty offices. A travelling sequence shot commences, starting from the top of the 12th floor elevator shaft and moving gradually down through the floors and their interstitial vent spaces to end in the basement garage of the Fashion Plaza. The floor-by-floor descent cuts from one to the next, showing workers (mostly from the back); large, impersonal spaces (textile, sewing, and carpentry workshops); warehouse spaces; a photo studio; a building security post; a rock band in their practice studio; stuffed animals and a pianist playing a few notes from Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. A pervasive oddness and suspense accrues out of elements in counterpoint: a ringing telephone going unanswered, an unattended cigarette burning, a security guard sitting motionless as drops of water leak from the ceiling around and onto him. The snowstorm at the beginning, and the car in the underground parking at the end recall the previous films, and the trilogy is completed with the disclosure that all of the occurrences in I Feel Cold Today, Chrysalide, and 13 take place in the very same location.

At the film’s end, the car explodes from the water’s immense pressure. Released, it streams across the floor, foreshadowing a flood or warning of an imminent threat of extinction. We can interpret the narrative he has constructed as being one of isolation, loss, destruction and annihilation, yet we must consider that the very opposite could apply: for the glass shattering under stress, like a dam at the moment it is breached, is also a symbol of tremendous liberation.