C/O Geneviève Thauvette

The Hamilton’s Artists’ Inc. presents Geneviève Thauvette’s wall installation exploring modern news media

CW: mentions of abusive language and sexual assault

When Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States in 2016, Geneviève Thauvette was so horrified that she smashed a vase. The multidisciplinary feminist Franco-Ontarian artist, who often explores the history of French-Canadian women in her work, was disgusted with the president’s abusive language and numerous sexual assault allegations.

Following that election, Thauvette watched as deepfakes and the term “fake news” rose to prominence. This prompted her to create a work that explores the ways in which the news media has changed over time.

The result is Breaking News, a series of hand-tinted self-portrait photographs manipulated by Photoshop. The colourful works depict Thauvette posing as a newscaster reporting on several serious subjects such as flood and dictatorship. First displayed in Ottawa in 2017, the work was put up as a set of billboards on the Hamilton Artists’ Inc.’s exterior Cannon Project Wall on Sept. 12, 2020.

The first thing one may notice when seeing the billboards is the use of bright colours and clown-like makeup. While the work employs Thauvette’s trademark of depicting herself as her characters, the use of lively colours is a slight departure from some of her earlier works. However, these elements were a way for her to highlight the idea of the media circus.

“So in the series, the characters are very kind of clown-esque and of course they’re playing a role. They’re there to entertain [which] represents the more contemporary or modern kind of newscaster in the sense that they’re performers. They’re not necessarily like your Tom Brokaw, talking head. They have to be a personality and that in itself, it’s entertainment. It’s not really meant to inform it’s meant to sort of sway,” explained Thauvette.

“So in the series the characters are very kind of clown-esque and of course they’re playing a role. They’re there to entertain [which] represents the more contemporary or modern kind of newscaster in the sense that they’re performers,” explained Thauvette

By employing bright colours and comedic details like the spilled popcorn in Oh the Humanity, Thauvette invokes this idea of media as entertainment. However, the actual contents of the reports are far from funny.

The three billboards featured on the Cannon Project Wall depict the death and embalming of a dictator, a devastating flood and the abduction of a young girl. On the Hamilton Artists Inc. website, you can also find the parodic Batchild Weds Mystery Woman and Oh the Humanity, named after the famous exclamation Herbert Morrison made while reporting on the fire that destroyed the Hindenburg airship.

In many of these works the newscasters are more than just reporting on events, they are a part of them. A good example of this is in Oh the Humanity, where the newscaster herself pops the balloon representing the Hindenburg. This theme can also be seen in Chance of Rain, which depicts a flood.

“I wanted to touch on some key big events, like stereotypes almost of news reporters. So like the flood, the journalist knee-deep in water, you know, almost masquerading as a humanitarian or really . . .  putting themselves into the story whereas, are they really all that involved?” said Thauvette.

“I wanted to touch on some key big events, like stereotypes almost of news reporters. So like the flood, the journalist knee-deep in water, you know, almost masquerading as a humanitarian or really . . .  putting themselves into the story whereas are they really all that involved?” said Thauvette.

Adding to the power of the work is the fact that it is being presented on a billboard, making it reminiscent of outdoor digital and billboard advertising. Much like the news itself, it is a spectacle that confronts audiences when they are least expecting it.

Thauvette also expressed that having the work outdoors makes it more accessible. Especially during COVID-19 when art galleries have had to close their doors, this is a way for the audiences to safely interact with important work.

“[Since] it uses humor because it’s so bright I think it will, I hope, give people pause to sort of think and reflect on kind of what’s going on right now . . . [T]here is a certain crazed look to them so it’s not quite exactly how the news is . . . but it’s clearly representative of the news. So [I hope people reflect] on where things are going and how we interact with the news and be more careful [and] mindful with our interaction with the media,” said Thauvette.

Breaking News will be on the Cannon Project Wall until May 30, 2021.

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