It is often hard to know what to make of Patrick Bernatchez’s cinematic, otherworldly video installations. Melding pop culture appropriations, dramatic musical scores and film noir tropes, the Montreal-based artist makes films that confound traditional genre categories to present unique and enigmatic narratives in otherwise familiar environments. While his work in last year’s Quebec Triennial brought the emerging artist into the national critical spotlight, a new show at Toronto’s Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art now offers a considered view of Bernatchez’s recent production—and the world premiere of a new video—which is sure to impress and beguile an even wider audience.
Addressing notions of decay, entropy and rebirth, “The Chrysalides Trilogy” is a series of three seemingly unconnected videos that prioritize moments of mounting tension but ultimately withhold narrative conclusion. The first video of the series, for instance, titled I Feel Cold Today, depicts a mundane office space that quietly but increasingly fills with drifting snow. Although no living subjects appear in the video, abandoned paper, books and office equipment hint at previous human occupation of the space, lending the scene an eerie apocalyptic mood that is difficult to shake. Meanwhile, in Chrysalide, the second video in the trilogy, the camera endlessly circles a man who sits in his car smoking, with an incongruously calm expression on his face, as the vehicle slowly and inexplicably fills with water.
Bernatchez’s new video, the final installment in the series, is 13, which opens with an aerial view of a large factory space. Accompanied by a mounting orchestral score, the camera slowly descends to and through the cement floor. It then continues through the building’s infrastructure to reveal new spaces—a shipping room, a woodwork shop and more—below it.
The camera’s constant falling movement through the building in 13 reveals a series of commonplace rooms, such as a photo studio, a room full of heating pipes and a small office space, that would normally be unremarkable but for the increasingly bizarre scenarios that Bernatchez places in them. From Ronald McDonald being prepped in a makeup chair to an apparently unconscious security guard soaked in dripping water, 13 creates an absurdist collage of filmic narratives that is at once disturbingly disjointed and compellingly inventive. It is in this way that, at their most effective, Bernatchez’s videos mimic viewers’ unconscious dream worlds: combining the familiar and recognizable in intriguing ways to create an immersive environment that is miles away from reality. (124-401 Richmond St W, Toronto ON)