C/O Kat Williams
By: Emma Shemko
Justin Langlois’s new exhibition explores how stories and language have shaped our experiences during the pandemic
Justin Langlois‘ exhibition No Exaggerations takes text-based art and turns it into an interactive event to help viewers process, understand and reflect on living with the Covid-19 pandemic. His artwork — a set of posters showing statements that have become common throughout this global health crisis — asks folks to reflect on how the pandemic and the specific statements included in the posters have made them feel. Viewers are then given a chance to vote with a sticker on whether they agree, disagree or are indifferent towards the statement.
“I think interactivity [within artwork] is a way to certainly engage the viewer — the audience — but it’s also kind of like an invitation, right? I don’t see the work as done until it has that level of interaction or participation,” said Langlois.
C/O Kat Williams
The conversations and responses arising from the interactive nature of Langlois’ work offer himself and others a new way to view what it means to live through tough and trying times. These interactions and connections to his audience are one of the aspects of artwork that Langlois enjoys the most. He has enjoyed watching his work evolve and transform as people from many different communities interact with it.
Before any audience interaction, his artwork is akin to an incomplete painting ready for the creative process to continue. Interactive artwork is beautiful because it allows the audience converse with the artist more directly and, in doing so, the audience becomes artists themselves.
The artwork in Langlois’ does more than just communicate a narrative about living through the pandemic. It offers folks the chance to tell their own stories about the moments of change they have experienced throughout the pandemic. Langlois likened the artwork in No Exaggerations to a collection of short stories about the people within the Hamilton community.
“Storytelling is just another way to think through what we experienced and what we have been experiencing and I think, in this case, the idea of creating the short stories and really kind of like framing them in that way just creates an opportunity for [viewers] to hopefully be understood as those texts are not only about my experience, but they may be just abstract enough that folks can kind of see themselves in them, or that they might have their own understanding of them,” explained Langlois.
C/O Kat Williams
No Exaggerations also fosters new ways of thinking about change. Langlois’ work opens many doorways for us to give thought to the shifts in our lives, whether small or dramatic, in deeply human ways.
“Change in a deeply human way, I think, is about recognizing that [change] is a very dynamic process and something that affects us not just in noticing that something is different from one moment to the next, but to really understand that it has other implications and impacts on our lives and how we feel,” explained Langlois.
Langlois hoped to his audience leaves feeling they are part of something bigger than themselves. He wanted his audience to notice the moments of change during this pandemic that have affected them and reflect on how they perceive those moments of change.
“I think it’s a way to maybe kind of take stock of what the last couple of years have meant and to maybe start to imagine what it might continue to [mean] over time in the future,” said Langlois.
No Exaggerations can help us understand past, current and future moments. Someone who visits Langlois’ exhibition may come to know that though we have all been separated by a physical distance, we have all had similar experiences to someone else somewhere else.
No Exaggerations is on display at the Workers Art and Heritage Centre until April 16, 2022.