In Deployment, Montreal-based artist Emmanuelle Léonard captures the complex realities of Canada’s strategic military imperatives in the Far North. Her two-channel video and photographic portraits focus on the passage of time experienced by soldiers posted to the Canadian Arctic, showing everyday moments against an infinite backdrop of snow and northern night—a place where the climate crisis has intensified the national, political, and economic stakes.
Emmanuelle Léonard is a master at observing hierarchical groups, in particular groups of workers. She has devoted projects to the police, security guards and in particular military personnel. Her fundamental operating principle seeks to draw attention both to roles and to individuals. Defining and refining her material like an ethnologist, cultivating and documenting her investigations, photographing, filming and revealing her subjects, she acts intuitively and empathetically, guided by her experience in conducting inquiries, interviews and archival research, as well as taking pictures and making videos. She tries to grasp the facts she is examining discreetly and without meddling with their truth, contemplating them with as direct a gaze as possible and adopting a vision based on axes of interpretation that open the image onto forms of disquiet by renewing what it has to say to us.
The exhibition Deployment presents a body of work that Emmanuelle Léonard initiated in 2018 during a research residency under the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Emphasizing the exploration of northern space as a theatre of operations, an approach to the military world as a structure and the observation of young soldiers learning from Inuit Rangers, the artist pursued her interest in modes of authority and the circumvention and undermining they may engender. In following the manoeuvres of patrols whose purpose is to affirm Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic, she encountered diverse realities: strategic military deployment in this region of the world, where the national, political and economic stakes have been made more urgent by global warming; the commitment of young adults to the army’s collective values and their involvement as motivated by a personal quest; the indispensable contribution of the Inuit to learning how to survive in polar regions—the territory that is specific to them and of which, through tradition, they possess vast knowledge.
In March of 2018, Léonard took part in Operation Nunalivut, in the Resolute (Qausuittuq) sector of Nunavut. In extremely rigorous climatic conditions, she photographed and filmed the Arctic landscape as well as the activities of soldiers shielded from the cold by their clothing, hoods, masks and goggles. The artist paid close attention to the equipment and training exercises that levelled their identity and to the people themselves, their perception of the world outside the military model. At times, her images reveal them as ghostlike and anonymous, at times as flesh and blood, in person, and at yet other times, as pantomime figures, through the gestures of bodies encumbered with protective clothing, their faces hidden behind grimacing masks with an expressionist accent. She experienced the inevitable waiting and relative passivity caused by the meteorological contingencies deployment depends on, the hierarchical chain of decision-making, the limitation of motors that refuse to start, the troubling northern night that is so late to fall or is eclipsed. Nothing momentous is said, done or claimed.
Excerpted from “Emmanuelle Léonard: Deployment of the Image” in Louise Déry (ed.), Emmanuelle Léonard: Le Déploiement / Deployment (Montreal: Galerie de l’UQAM, 2020)
Curated by Louise Déry
Produced by Galerie de l'UQAM, Montreal. With project support from Conseil des arts et des lettre du Québec and Canada Council for the Arts