wallpaper

By papering the walls of a nineteenth century parlor room at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris with a high-end wallpaper from a Chinoiserie collection, attention is drawn to the continued domestication of the fabled Orient as status symbol and magic carpet ride to a mystical land. The wallpaper’s repeated vignette depicts “whimsical Chinese figures” who amble among pink spotted leopards aloft curling tendrils that blossom paisley flowers and bluebells. The logic of this fictional Chinese idyll is slyly unsettled as a projection of European desire by the insertion into the climbing vines of a cast of intrepid interlopers. The wallpaper becomes a theatre for the cavorting of anachronistic characters drawn from an image bank spanning the last three centuries in France: Fragonard’s shoe-flinging maiden in a swing adds a touch of amorous extravagance and is a reminder of the influence of China on the Rococo; a Napoleonic figure in a French Foreign legion hat recalls colonial enterprises; and a newspaper reading businessman seems nonplussed by the Eiffel tower straddling his head. As a saw-wielding monkey and boy in contemporary street clothes run amok—threatening to send all the characters tumbling—one of the “whimsical Chinese figures,” poised with a point-and-shoot camera, turns the table on who is in control of the representational image. Installed in unassuming sites meant for informal conversation, wallpaper prompts a communal exploration and discussion of the many incongruous characters to be discovered therein. (adapted from text by Sandra Firmin)

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