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The Site

This site contains a vast collection of visual and text documents from Sylvie Cotton’s personal archives. It is a way of publicly sharing, without hierarchizing the projects or making judgments about an image’s reproduction quality. The assembled material represents several years of solitary production in studio and at residencies, while it also documents a body of relational performance projects created for festivals and other events. The viewer is as likely, therefore, to find traces of performance work as drawings made while traveling, outlines as self-portraits, studio views as sound tracks, portraits of previously unknown people with whom the artist shared a walk as contemplative observations on a working artist’s life.

Given such a polymorphous and generous body of work to represent, graphic and editorial choices required an extremely sober and precise framework be put in place, and that two search tools provided: a poetic search and a logical search.

The visitor enters the site through the doorway of the poetic search. Its aim is to generate random classifications and, as a consequence, novel and free combinations among the projects. This classification is based on a text bank set up by the artist and from which the system draws words through combination and recurrence and then cross-references with the listed projects. The list of words expires each time a new selection is made using the poetic search. This approach was favored for its affinity with Sylvie Cotton’s artistic practice which is based on ideas of abandon, trust, spontaneity, interaction, movement and coincidence.

The logical search tool allows, in its turn, to search and find data using more conventional methods of indexation and classification: title, date, year, place, collaborator. Each category brings up images and text descriptions documenting a piece. As some time-based projects involve a great deal of visual documentation, one may see the full image bank by clicking on “View All.”

All descriptive texts for a project use the “I” voice. This approach was guided by the kind of experiences Sylvie Cotton’s art deals with: it is an art based on a relationship to beings and phenomena, a road through experience, and – even — one through the tissue of existence itself in order to reveal self as an experiencer.

Notwithstanding this, the narrations cleave to a factual tone, rather than an emotional one, in order to leave the work open to the story another person, the accomplice, the participant, or simply the visitor, might wish – or be able — to project onto it. This taking of sides also seeks to respect the intimacy these sorts of projects establishes between the artist and the people who joined her in them, an intimacy that is sometimes easy, and sometimes more troubled.

The conception and graphic design of the site is a creation of “studio 1f” and the technical construction is by “nbourbaki”. The digitalization of the images was handled by Corine Lemieux and Martin Dufrasne. The paper archives were created with the help of Mylène Bilodeau. Feench revision was made by Magalie Bouthillier and translation to english was provided by Peter Dubé.

Sylvie Cotton would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts for its financial assistance with this first, French-language stage, of the uploading of her archives.

When photographic credits are not provided, the shots are by the artist herself.

Short bio

Sylvie Cotton is an interdisciplinary artist based in Montreal, Quebec. Her work began in 1997 and is tied to performance, art action, drawing and writing-based practices, although installation forms are also regularly used to put together exhibitions. Her work turns around the creation of situations that establish a relationship with another, or an infiltration of another person’s personal world. The work is generally created in situ in public or private spaces and the results are subsequently presented in galleries and festivals, or are deployed outside in other sorts of public spaces (streets, elevators, parks and restaurants, for example. Residencies are also used as a medium for creative performative activity. Sylvie Cotton is also a writer and curator. She has organized events, directed publications and been a member of many visual arts working groups and committees. She has presented performance work and installations in Quebec, the United States, Finland, Estonia, Spain and Japan.

Using performative formulae, most often intimate ones (one-to-one performances), Sylvie Cotton’s artistic practice explores presence and the body as materials, as well as their potential for meeting, exchange and hybridity. Her performance research is based on ideas of abandonment and unveiling, and seeks to investigate mutual confidence, which is either allowed to arise or rendered difficult by the specific context of her created situations. In both cases, the experience is the work itself and its result in nothing other than the interior and exterior processes it engenders in the lived moment.
Drawing, writing, the notebook and the installation then carry a subsequent generation of works arising from the art actions. The artist’s book is also a format through which she translates and transmits the fruits of her performance work, undertaken with numerous people each year and without which her work would have no meaning. Sylvie Cotton lives and works in her Montreal studio, but also does so in every space to which she is brought in presenting her projects. The studio is primarily an inner one. The means, disciplines or techniques are accessory to the choice of content. This is why, while some vehicles are favoured or arise naturally in the work (conversation, notebook, writing, drawing) the final forms are diverse (installation, book, performance, song).
Her work is developed principally on the basis of the individual project and always along two main axes: by creating a self-referential situation – either before, or for, another person (performance, drawing, photo, installation), or by establishing an interaction with another person (creating a situation or art action projects). Since 2003, the two have tended to become intertwined or fused which effectively creates a new posture through which the artist, symbolically, blends into or incorporates the other person, takes on some of his or her histories, or marks of his or her identity or desires. For example, using drawing to reproduce on her own skin, the individual’s tattoos or beauty marks. Or, by drinking the water in which all the spectators at a festival have washed their hands, or by calling to chat with all the women she can find with the same first name. Finally, by organizing walks with strangers ranging in length from a couple of hours to a couple of days, or undertaken under specific conditions: with eyes covered, hand-in-hand, or in silence. These situations allow her to practice everything she loves: a meeting, a conversation, a drawing, a trace.
As to photography, drawing and writing: these media allow a reformulation of the solitary experiences of observing natural phenomena or those shared with people in these modes of participatory work, for example. The resulting objects are autonomous and emerge in the form of works on paper, assemblages or notebooks. Their content is conceptual and forged by memory, association or metonymy.
Sylvie Cotton’s practice frequently implies an unsoundable dimension tied to time or experience. For example, exhibiting all her contacts and relationships (Suppléance, La Centrale, 2002,) making an inventory of all the objects in her home (Le Consoloir, 1995,) drawing all the parts of her body (Un Espace à neuf, Joyce Yahouda, 2003,) drawing up the list of everybody she’s met in the course of her life (Être est dans l’autre, TRAFIC, 2005,) listing all the people to have influenced her (On est tous la même personne, 2006,) making a count of all the marks or freckles on someone (Ton corps mon atelier, 2004.)
In this way every situation becomes transformable into a creative act and consequently, every creative act is profoundly transformative. The practice of existence as a creative practice, this is what is proposed by Sylvie Cotton’s research and work. A form of art in which the primary material is presence and the welcoming of that presence, whatever and however it may be. This is why, to sum up, the artist takes up ideas before taking up form, and holds that this way of doing things should be embraced as a kind of quality and a kind of wealth, rather than a weakness or an absence. Every practice has its own internal coherence, its own internal ecology.