Ça commence par un J
L. A. PAI’S 2018 NATIONAL JEWELLERY STUDENT COMPETITION WINNER JUSTINE BONNIN’S SOLO EXHIBITION
L. A. PAI GALLERY, OTTAWA, ON
June 29 – July 11, 2019
By: Marie-Eve G. Castonguay
Although it is a very present reality around all of us – more than most of us think – mental illness is often unspoken. It remains an unfortunate taboo that we seem to have a hard time addressing. In an abstracted and poetic way, Justine Bonnin used jewellery and metal objects as a vehicle for opening up this conversation in her exhibition Ça commence par un J, held at L.A. Pai Gallery, in Ottawa earlier this summer. Having dealt closely with her mother’s bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, her work speaks about mental illness in a very personal manner.
The winner of L.A. Pai’s 15 th Annual National Jewellery Student Competition, Bonnin was given a whole year to create a new body of work to be presented in this solo exhibition. A subject she had already touched upon during her final year at the École de joaillerie de Montréal, she decided to dig deeper into her own trauma, speaking about her mother and, in parallel, about herself.
Nestled in a corner of the gallery space, an immaculate white box contained Bonnin’s exhibition. Contrasting with the rest of the room and with the nature of her work itself, the white space reserved for the exhibition presented itself as a peaceful haven, sparsely punctuated with her jewellery objects. Voluminous but frail looking, her pieces evoke a collection of finely organized debris. Not only did Bonnin make use of found objects, especially pieces of rust that she would encounter on her daily strolls through the streets of Montréal, she also finely crafted her own debris by putting pieces of sterling silver under stress and wear, thus resulting in a well rendered aesthetic of controlled chaos.
A series of spherical brooches hanging down in front of the space’s main wall created an intricate pattern of shadow and light. With it, Bonnin was able to infuse some playfulness in the profound subject she was dealing with. The group of four floating pieces represented a cyclical psychological path: depression, euphoria, fictional life and return to self. Intervening inside the decayed form of a sphere, she created minuscule worlds in which various elements collide and become intertwined before spilling out in a seemingly uncontrollable manner.
The exhibition also contained works that were almost exclusively made with pieces of rusted metal that she would encounter on her daily strolls. I was impressed by her capacity to let the material and fortuitous finds speak for themselves, without feeling the need to intervene all that much. It is a bold move coming from such a young artist.
Altogether, Bonnin seems to be gradually developing a voice of her own, both in the way that she works with materials and in her sensible way of expressing ideas. It will surely be interesting to see how her work matures.