The threat of extinction haunts Imaginary Being, a show at Montreal's 1700 La Poste

Artist Jannick Deslauriers brings a radical vision to her elegant exhibition of dystopian sculpture, featuring the new site-specific installation Phasmids.

Artist Jannick Deslauriers brings a radical vision to her elegant exhibition of dystopian sculpture

Jannick Deslauriers and her daughter smile widely as they work on an art installation together.
Jannick Deslauriers and her daughter. (Béatrice Flynn)

Going inside 1700 La Poste right now feels more like entering a warehouse rather than one of Montreal's most renowned contemporary art spaces. Pushing through the industrial vinyl flap door that divides the welcome area from the main exhibition space, you might have the sense that something is amiss.

A sense of the uncanny is central to sculptor Jannick Deslauriers's solo exhibition entitled Imaginary Being, which combines older works with a new site-specific installation. Like a post-apocalyptic landscape, devoid of life but filled with the carcasses of our industrial age, the work presented at 1700 La Poste is as ominous as it is beautiful.

The Beaux-Arts style building which now houses 1700 La Poste was built in 1913 as a post office. In 2013, Isabelle de Mévius re-opened the building as an art space and since then, over a dozen artists have presented solo exhibitions there, making the gallery an emblem of the rapidly developing Griffintown neighbourhood.

"Piano" by Jannick Deslauriers. A piano made from textiles.
Jannick Deslauriers, "Piano" (2010). (Guy L. Heureux)

Deslauriers is one of the youngest artists to exhibit at 1700 La Poste and also perhaps one of the most radical in her aesthetic. She is best known for her life-sized sculptures, which combine fibres including polyester, tulle and crinoline to form delicate objects, and draw from a range of influences like fashion, contemporary art and even construction sites. Suspended from the ceiling by dozens of translucent filaments, these monumental works often reference massive industrial goods and objects — tanks, cars, boats and building facades — but they also evoke smaller domestic items — typewriters, laptops, drills and sewing machines.

Deslauriers's unique process transforms these easily recognizable shapes into airy, ghostlike figures. Off-kilter and lopsided, the sculptures are finely crafted but also consciously unfinished, with loose wires and bits of string unabashedly showing. Literally bursting at the seams while also inexplicably standing upright and defying gravity, Deslauriers's work announces the only certainty in life: nothing is permanent, everything is ephemeral.

Over a video call, Deslauriers describes in French the fulfilling process of installing this work over a period of two months, literally turning the main space of 1700 La Poste into her studio: "There are few places where we can present installation and sculpture in Montreal at this scale." 

Installation view of Jannick Deslauriers's "Phasmes (Phasmids)" at the Montreal gallery 1700 La Poste.
Jannick Deslauriers, "Phasmes (Phasmids)" (2023). (1700 La Poste)

Returning to Montreal after earning her master's degree from the Yale School of Art, the Joliette, Que.-born visual artist finds newfound depth in her interest in decay and debris throughout Imaginary Being.

"When I came into the Master's in Fine Arts program at Yale in 2019, I decided to do everything except for the textile objects that I was recognized for," Deslauriers recounts. "That was my challenge."

"I was known for this seductive and impressive work that mostly pleases. But I felt that I was limited in this aesthetic."

The contrast between Deslauriers's previous works and Phasmes / Phasmids (2023), the site-specific installation presented in the main gallery, is also stark. Suspended on 1700 La Poste's upper balcony, for example, is Ghost of the Queen's Hotel (2006) — a stunning red architectural façade. It contains Deslauriers's signature ethereal aura and has a certain brightness to it.

"Ghost of the Queen's Hotel" by Jannick Deslauriers. A pinkish red corner of a building made from textiles.
Jannick Deslauriers, "Ghost of the Queen's Hotel" (2006). (Guy L. Heureux)

For her new installation, which she workshopped in a previous exhibition at the nearby FOFA Gallery last fall, Deslauriers trades weightless textiles for welded steel, beeswax, wood ash and vinyl. "When I started soldering, it felt a lot like the basic hand-stitching that I knew from my practice," she says. "I got the trick quickly. It's a technique that suited my skills."

While the spectacle of car crashes and shipwrecks have been the subject of her work before, in Phasmids she moves beyond this into something that more closely resembles themes of extinction and dystopian futures. And yet, for Deslauriers, the installation isn't all doom and gloom: "There's something hard, but there's also an elegance in the work. There is reparation, a regeneration that balances the breaking down."

In 1700 La Poste's vault, a remnant of the original post office, Deslauriers has staged a working studio. This gives visitors access to her process, with patterns, tools and cast-off pieces of the installation adorning the walls. This proximity is also new for the artist, demystifying the world she is moulding.

"I feel like we don't always have access to the creation of artworks, but this is as much part of the work as the end result," she says. "I often get asked by people how I make my objects or how much time it takes. By placing my studio in the open, it displays this more plainly."

A piece from "Phasmes (Phasmids)" by Jannick Deslauriers. A bicycle made from textiles.
Jannick Deslauriers, "Phasmes (Phasmids)" (2023). (1700 La Poste)

Embracing this openness and moving away from the safety net of her previous successes, Deslauriers is finding a new stride. Like the phasmid insects (commonly known as stick bugs) that inspired the title of her marquee installation, her work is in metamorphosis.

"There's something really intimate about this work," she says. "I wanted to follow my passion and my sensibilities. Installation permits me to create a universe. I wanted to go all the way."

Jannick Deslauriers's exhibition Imaginary Being is on now to June 18 at 1700 La Poste in Montreal.


Didier Morelli is a Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQSC) Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. He holds a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois). Associate editor at Espace art actuel, his work has also been published in Art Journal, Canadian Theatre Review, C Magazine, Esse Arts + Opinions, Frieze, Spirale, and TDR: The Drama Review.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Say hello to our newsletter: hand-picked links plus the best of CBC Arts, delivered weekly.


The next issue of Hi, art will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Google Terms of Service apply.