You Are Here: Rodney LaTourelle at the MacKenzie Art Gallery

By Lisa Hunter on March 14, 2016


Rodney LaTourelle, The Stepped Form (2013), installation at MacKenzie Art Gallery. Photo: Don Hall

Once, when I was 17, I went to the Whitney Museum with a group of know-it-all Columbia art history majors. Intimidated, I tried hard to act sophisticated, until a guard called out: “Blonde girl! You’re standing on the exhibit!” I looked down and saw that, indeed, some stones had been artfully arranged on the floor. The cool kids laughed. I had — both literally and figuratively — “stepped in it.”

That wouldn’t happen with Rodney LaTourelle’s art. His installations are meant to be experienced. You could walk through his Neo-Plastic Vice (2009) at the National Gallery of Canada’s 2010 biennial; his recent installation, The Stepped Form (2013), at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, also involves the visitors themselves. “For many years, my work has used architectural elements to create ‘social sculptures,’” said LaTourelle in an interview with NGC Magazine. “My intention is to make a space that allows you to recognize the many ways in which you experience space.”


Rodney LaTourelle, The Stepped Form (2013), installation at MacKenzie Art Gallery. Photo: Don Hall

Although stepped forms go back to antiquity, here LaTourelle’s multi-coloured stepped structures evoke a very specific, recent era: the 1960s and 1970s, when Canadian colleges and universities traded pseudo-Gothic spires for concrete Brutalist architecture. The public areas of these Brutalist behemoths often had multi-purpose, stepped areas for informal social interaction. Form encouraged function: the spare, Brutalist stepped spaces were part of a utopian vision of bringing people together. You could use them however you wanted. (The drawback of Brutalism was that you might never see sunlight in your windowless classrooms, but that’s another story).

The Stepped Form is not only influenced by these Canadian institutional spaces — it was created for one. At the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), when LaTourelle was planning an exhibition for its Illingworth Kerr Gallery, he decided he wanted to work in the public space just outside the gallery for his exhibition. “I wanted to enrich this expansive, amazing space, which had terrible, ugly seating and was not used to its potential,” he says. “At the other end of this space is a lower area, hosting a cafeteria and stepped-form areas for informal meeting and eating. I used the exact dimensions of the stepped-form/stair elements that exist in this space in the ACAD mall where the piece was installed.”


Rodney LaTourelle, The Stepped Form (2013), installation at ACAD

Born in 1965, LaTourelle grew up experiencing (and obviously thinking hard about) these kinds of institutional, Canadian spaces. Now, however, he is based in Berlin. Does he see public spaces any differently since becoming an expatriate?

“I have the impression that [in Berlin] cultural and public space are more ambiguous and dynamic — richer and less divided into restricted functions than in North America, where there is a greater focus on private space. [...] Public space in Europe is generally more integrated into daily life; it is safer, with more of a layering of activities — less designated into functional zones than in North America. There is simply a greater trust in people to think for themselves, which means that public space is more fluid and complex.”

“Trust in people” is a theme that seems to run throughout LaTourelle’s own work. One irony when it comes to art is that (usually) the artist has a hands-on experience making it, while the viewer is kept at bay by motion sensors or parents chiding, “Don’t touch!” But there’s something extra-satisfying about art with which we can interact. Surely we light up more parts of our brains when we use multiple senses to experience art.

And if all that brain activity gets too tiring, you can take a seat on one of LaTourelle’s stepped forms. The artist won’t mind.

Rodney LaTourelle: The Stepped Form is on view at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina until April 24, 2016.

By Lisa Hunter| March 14, 2016
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter is a screenwriter and arts journalist in Montreal. Her book, The Intrepid Art Collector, was published by Three Rivers/Random House Canada.

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Copyright National Gallery of Canada 2016