Ed Pien: Under Water
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ABOUT THE SHOW
Ed Pien: Diving into an Imaginary Water World
Thus, these graphic and cut out representations serve as a reminder that marine biodiversity provides a metaphor that, as interculturalism emerges from the depths of the white page swarming with anguished ecosystems, describes a relationship between cultural metissage and, well beyond appearances, collides with our essential "otherness". Trying to understand how the process of enculturation complicates our relationship to space/place and with our surroundings, Pien reveals the identity construct at the centre of the work. He does not summon the Other; he goes to meet it. Rather than keeping it at a distance, he explores various possibilities of engaging in a dialogue rooted in a fantastical visual language that allows him to create a middle ground, a liberating space where each and every one might easily situate him or herself in the world and adapt to the exoticism of the Other. 
Two Worlds, a Cultural Duality
Midway between life on land and underwater, the ability of creatures in mutation to metamorphose informs the graphic work Two Worlds. Profiling the bodies of soft-bodied invertebrates, the work embraces their polymorphous, protean and composite nature. At first disturbing, these beings rapidly become compellingly playful. Evoking Proteus, the god of elusive sea change, and employing aesthetic galanteries, the work seduces the eye.
These drawings of shellfish- and slug-like forms portray a gallery of merman-esque creatures, stirring feelings of fear and fascination, evoking multitudinous images of giant sea dragons, octopus, polyps and squid. Clothed in the phantasmagorical allusions reminiscent of water nymphs — Oceanides, Nereides, and Naiades — who claim lineage to mythical Triton, Leviathan and Ichthyocentaur, this sea life readily dons a seashell, a carapace, a fin or nascent tentacle. By giving birth to a bestiary that catalogues numerous abnormal conformations, is the work attempting to take its place beside the many tracts on congenital deformity like the Liber monstrorum de diversis generibus  [The Book of Monsters of Various Kinds]? One thing is certain, as a synthesis of chimerical and frightening creatures, the work provides a glimpse into an imaginary world filled with horizons both sublimated and fantastic, varied and faraway.
Indeed, allusive and economical in their presentation, these creatures, forming visual enigmas and latent illusions, suggest a panoply of apparitions or spectral "visitations"  that, although hallucinations, are still "threatening". "Pien's art starts at the crossroads between the physical reality of the stroke and the real breadth of the space covered, the place where graphic space and living space interpenetrate and the imaginary begins to take on a tactile consistency, the innate substance of the works, which is to liberate its monsters."  In this way, the works captivatingly plunge us into the space that reveals itself from within, the underwater life. Snatched from nothingness, this life draws itself, writes itself, and plots itself. It is figurative to the extent that its iconography echoes anthropomorphic forms "… patiently formed by adding borrowed traits, assembled according to a corporal grammar that borrows from the animal and the human, from desire, and from the violence of dismemberment, separation and proliferation".
Trapped yet exposed by their environment — the flat, blank whiteness of the page — these creatures awaken a feeling of isolation. Each creature expresses in its own way a singular universe. The only possible way for the creature to enter into a relationship is to be seen as an integral part of a graphic ensemble. Drawing on the neutrality of the virgin medium, the works make use of a limited black and blue colour palette that creates a visually unified "battlefield", clearing defining the cultural duality between the two types of creatures: the blues represent the water world, the black the world on land.
Enmeshed, creatures squabble in the emptiness of the medium; they argue about their differences, voice their fears. Unilaterally sharing the space, they merge so thoroughly that they lose their individual character to merge into a total land/water symbiosis: harmony. Thus magnifying their formal and stylistic lineage, their filial resemblance creates visual links that aim to stage, within the same history, a spectrum of seduction strategies that invite us to come close, to caress them with our eyes, to let ourselves believe and invest in them. Sparking a feeling of closeness and intimacy, they brashly exploit their powers of seduction — banking on their physical deformities — they urge each and every one of us to move, to wander before them so as to fully understand.
Within the Confines of Aquatic Biodiversity
In the same vein, Pien pursues his exploration of the sea depths in a series of paper- cuts: four tableaux or, rather, four encyclopaedic plates to the extent that they are strongly inspired by the Ernst Haeckel's book Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature)  and portray as many medusas and aquatic life forms.
Of a great fragility and delicacy, each paper-cut tenuously exposes panels of patterns, each unique, each depicting an exotic interpretation of the ocean depths. Spreading out vertically like a tapestry, these pattern/guipure lace panels do not reveal themselves at once. It is impossible for us to grasp them all at once — as if the whole cannot be seen except within diversity, a diversity that, in addition, distracts from the symmetry of the ensemble in favour of multiple points of view counterbalanced by the impression of equilibrium between the more or less identical patterns that abut, link, and overlap. Creating a balance of power and tension between the various parts of the surface, the patterns submerge order in a swirl of lines that endlessly incite the eye to explore, to discriminate, giving birth to endless configurations that disappear in conjecture amidst so many variations on and nuanced iterations of the same theme.
The opaque denseness of the masses is equalled only by the play of contrasts and the tension operating simultaneously between the cut out foreground and masked backgrounds, circumscribing forms closed in on themselves. It's as if, like so many cookie cutters, the contours enclose profiles from which the eye might reconstitute the very nature of the aquatic creatures and plants. The patterns, composed of linear networks, create splices that might connect them to an integrated continuum. Strenuously refusing to literally rewrite the natural world to which they refer, but rather signing forms they invite you to recognize, the patterns depict a plethora of ceratophyllaceae (hornworts), eriocaulons (pipeworts), algae, anemones, stinging nettles and actiniaria — succinctly summing up what might be seen — conveying the notion of aquatic biodiversity through games of mimicry.
These are Phoenix figures, risen from an act of subtracting from the paper medium and of extracting from the bottomless form, that assert themselves both as silhouettes and dense, aerial contours. Kaleidoscopic, they swarm within an enclosed space, plunging us into a fictional and meticulously detailed story that takes us to that place where the imagination meets a vague idea, an umbral image that, by harkening back to the long ago and far away, drives the cycle of life. While some figures die, others are born or, at least, remain in the background, eager to exist.
Thus these figures establish a nomenclature based as much on the identification of animal and plant forms as on the capacity to make mental associations and gain encyclopaedic knowledge. Also, by flouting the order of proportions and the use of identical patterns distributed equitably on either side of a central symmetrical axis, they yearn to move beyond games of asymmetry that inform the structure of hierarchical charts and ideograms and fuel the replication of false appearances. So, too, these compositions — the patterns an irregular visual pulse that throbs beneath the surface drenched in purplish blue and black — bring into question our ability to commit each pattern to memory. Nacreous and shiny, they resemble the medusa's exumbrella, the squid's mantle. Translucent and luminous, seemingly robed in chromatophores, chameleon-esque changling cells that metamorphose as we move around them, the compositions continue the dialogue towards an Us, the Other now acclimated to its cultural imagination.
 Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel is considered the father of ecology. He was a biologist, philosopher, free thinker and important sketch artist having illustrated many monographs of plates, among them Kunstformen der Natur (Artistic Forms of Nature), depicting marine biology, from radiolaria, to calcareous sponges, medusas and siphonophores. His visual representations demonstrate a great respect for the symmetry of nature evident in single cell microorganisms such as radiolaria.
 Pien has been greatly influenced by the writings of Edward Wadie Saïd. A professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, Saïd is considered the father of post-colonial studies. He is the author of numerous books on the Israeli—Palestinian conflict and the Middle East. He is best known for his book Orientalism (originally published in 1979 by Vintage Books) translated into French by Catherine Malamoud, with a preface by Tzvetan Todorov, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1980, 392 pages.
 An anonymous Latin tract about mythical monsters written between the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century AD.
 An expression I borrowed from Marguerite Yourcenar. She uses it to describe the "presence" of characters within herself that are always with her. "A character we create never dies, no more than the character of deceased friends who have died. When we spend hours and hours with an imaginary creature, or a creature that once lived, it's not just its intelligence that we perceive; emotion and affection also play a role […] It's an almost physical presence, in essence, a "visitation". See: Les yeux ouverts. Entretiens avec Matthieu Galey, Paris, Éditions Librairie générale française, coll. « Le livre de poche », 2010, page 224. [Title of English translation: With Open Eyes. Conversations with Matthieu Galey].
Christophe Domino, "Broadsheets from Hell", in Ed Pien, Deep Waters, Paris, Canadian Cultural Centre, Cultural Services, Embassy of Canada, Esplanade Collection, 2002, page 11.
 Ibid., pages 17-18.
Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel, Art Forms in Nature (1904), New York, Dover, Dover Pictorial Archive Series, 1974, 100 pages.
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For more available works by Ed Pien please click here.
- "Delicate Beauty : Ed Pien at Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain" Art Seen Vt, December, 2012
click here to download the artist's recent C.V. (11/2012)