montreal-based artist guy laramée is truly a multi-disciplinary creative. for more than three decades, laramée has worked as a stage writer, director, composer, a fabricator of musical instruments, a singer, a painter, sculptor and writer.

 

designboom spoke with the artist to learn more about his latest works and the carved landscapes that transform found books into barren or, sometimes lush landscapes.

guy laramée
drawings, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 2.25 x 9 x 29.5 inches
all images courtesy of JHB gallery, new york

 

 

designboom (DB): what fascinates you about ‘found books’ as a medium?

 

guy laramée (GL): what first fascinated me about ‘found books’ is that they found me…! I had no idea that such a thing could exist, I had no idea that there were artists working in this ‘altered books line; so i think part of the lasting effect of this discovery came from the fact that it was so naïve and ingenuous. then of course I saw all the implications in regards to my previous lines of work — the mixed feeling I had with our passion for accumulating knowledge, the question of silence, my interest in eastern spirituality, etc. but this was rather a side dish, paradoxically. wanting to ‘say something about something’ would not have been strong enough as a motivation, not enough to keep me digging the thread for so long.

guy laramée
drawings, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 2.25 x 9 x 29.5 inches

 

 

GL (continued): of course my longstanding love affair with untamed landscapes must be part of why I keep doing this. when I say that a ‘statement agenda’ would have worn off eventually, I mean that I still think that the driving force in art, for most artists, is this state we reach where we dissolve in the work. the state where you forget about yourself. some people call this state ‘contemplation’. one thing is sure, when you touch this state of dissolution, the dissolution of the ‘sense of self’, you realize you really want nothing else in life. that’s why the metaphor is still speaking to me: no longer books, not yet landscape. in this interstice, you have a chance to realize that your place in the universe is fundamental: without you witnessing it, none of this would exist. this is paradoxical, isn’t it. 

guy laramée
fukushima spring, 2017 | altered books, pigments, metal stand | 22.25 x 7.5 x 2 inches

 

 

GL (continued): a minute ago I was talking about losing the sense of self, and now I’m talking about remembering oneself. the fact is I just discovered that in a way, these two boil down to the same thing: when you lose yourself in beauty, in contemplation, you discover yourself to be much larger than you thought. losing the boundary of ‘self-world’ we become the world. miniature landscapes do that to me, and my guess is that they do that to other people too. it’s the anthropologist levi-strauss who said ‘every artwork is a miniature’. it is always smaller than what it wants to depict, evoke, enact.

 

guy laramée
fukushima spring, 2017 | altered books, pigments, metal stand | 22.25 x 7.5 x 2 inches

 

 

DB: your book series has evolved over time yet also maintained a consistent style. can you explain the way in which your work methods have changed over time?

 

GL: yes, continuity and change…big theme. if, instead of taking ‘things’ to be the ground zero of reality, if instead we take change to be the fundamental characteristic of the phenomenal world, then what? what? nothing, we are still stuck with the dilemma: things appear to be solid and yet they are not. then why is it that we keep noticing continuity, looking for it, fabricating it? what is it in us that wants things to endure? the same is true with art. why is it that we want to detect the artist’s signature in works that are still very different? my work now is far more complicated and intricate than it was before. in the beginning I was satisfied if I could suggest the landscape through some key markers. now I have to be sure that if you want to plunge in the illusion, you can for a long time. ultimately if you want to see the gravel beside the road, you can, even if you are at the feet of a rocky mountain. maybe i’m just obsessed…! or maybe the power of the metaphor is making me become mad…

 

guy laramée
sutra rain on sutra land, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 7 x 6 x 11 inches

 

 

DB: the motif of spiritual books is prevalent in your work, can you explain the inspiration behind this?

 

GL: to me art is spiritual. there is no art that has not a connection with spirituality, that is: the question of the infinite and transcendental nature of the human mind. now a few little number of artists are willing to acknowledge this, maybe because they feel the danger of reductionism. they fear their work would go back in the gutter of interpretation. we feel intuitively that our work is richer and has a longer shelf life is it is ambiguous, if it resists a clear-cut reading.

guy laramée
sutra rain on sutra land, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 7 x 6 x 11 inches

 

 

GL (continued): so I’ve been somewhat cautious these years about not letting people reduce my work to anything, especially not content. however, I have to acquiesce that my work – so to speak – is about the illusory solidity we attribute to the physical world, and the role that language plays in that our insistence to ‘fix’ things down (‘this is a table, this is a chair’ etc.). so for me, both the encyclopedia and the religious text are on par regarding this compulsion. they both want to establish things forever. they both seek to put a form on the eternal, the transcendent; and all the better if the form too pretends to be everlasting. and yet there is a reason why this is a typical human obsession – wanting to find some solace in a symbolic world. we feel that words like ‘timeless’, ‘beauty’, ‘love’ describe something that defies time and space. this paradox – of wanting to prove timelessness by giving it a time-bound form, this paradox fascinates me because i find it inescapable.

 

guy laramée
tibetan-chinese, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 7.75 x 4.25 x 6 inches

 

 

DB: your work seems to make parallels between mountains and important texts. is there a particular reason for this?

 

GL: people thought that mount st.-helen was eternal and boom! one day half of it is gone. I’m told that the rock on top of the everest is a stone that is made by the accumulation of billions of dead sea creatures, mostly microscopic. this means that these everest rocks were once at the bottom of the sea. likewise because our words seem to describe immortal things, and immortal concepts and ideas, we see these words as eternal as well and we used to put them in books that were meant to last centuries. it’s no longer the case, it seems… we came to realize that our symbolic world is changing very rapidly and that the ‘cultures’ we thought were immutable wholes are in fact as dynamic as the clouds in the sky.  and yet… there must be something that is immutable. to notice the change you need a fixed point of observation. what is this point?


tibetan-chinese, 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 7.75 x 4.25 x 6 inches

 

 

GL (continued): is it ‘I’? is it ‘me’ even if I’m told I’m going to die? all important texts – religion, philosophy, mythology- have tackled this basic ambiguity in human life. continuity and change. I’m interested. when I was a music composer, the task of writing down the music I had in my head was excruciating. it was like killing it, killing its dynamic, ephemeral nature, now i build inert objects that stay like they are, even in a dark room. but are they? you see, the same excruciating pain I had as a composer I now have with fixed object. just put the light at the wrong place and you’ve ruined the sculpture. put a flared cheap spot on a huge painting and you’ve destroyed it. maybe forever, in the eye of some passerby. interesting…

 

guy laramée
fall, 2016 | carved books, inks, pigments and damar fixative | 18.5 x 01.5 x 4 inches
image by alain lefort

 

 

DB: can you tell us about any projects you are currently working on that you are especially excited about?

 

GL: I just finished an important commission for the library of university of toronto so I’m in recovery mode! (laughs) I never quite know what’s ahead for me. I know somehow that this ‘desert’ theme is there for a while. spaces where there is ‘nothing’ appeal to me because they enlighten the fact that we are the creators of the show. (I don’t mean the level where we make things with our hands, but the level where you assemble the perception to make a whole.) my last big music piece (1991…)was a chamber opera called ‘théorie du désert’ (desert theory). so that theme has been there for a while. 

guy laramée
fall, 2016 | carved books, inks, pigments and damar fixative | 18.5 x 01.5 x 4 inches
image by alain lefort

 

 

GL (continued): it’s a classic among mystics and hermits and for a good reason. when the human circus is going on like crazy and the clowns are doing a good show, it is more difficult to see our role in the creation of the universe. we take it all for granted, don’t we? but when things slow down a bit, when there is not so much to see, hear, smell, taste and touch, then maybe we have a chance. we have a chance to notice the small nuances, the very small things, the very tiny voices. the tiny voices are the loudest in term of making a difference.

guy laramée
dawn (srauta sutra), 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 11.5 x 9.5 x 11 inches

guy laramée
dawn (srauta sutra), 2017 | altered book, pigment, mixed media | 11.5 x 9.5 x 11 inches

 

 

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