The Catalogue of Office Plants at UQO, Catherine Lescarbeau.

Catherine Lescarbeau, Plants, Botany, Herbarium, Horticulture, Company, Trade
Catherine Lescarbeau, Catalogue des plantes de bureau de l’UQO (Catalogue of Office Plants at UQO), 2020. Photo : Marie Perrault

Launched in early January 2020, Le catalogue des plantes de bureau de L’UQO (The Catalogue of Office Plants at UQO), a book in French that reports on two exhibitions by Catherine Lescarbeau presented at the UQO Gallery and the Darling Foundry in Montreal in 2016.

This artist’s approach unfolds according to the mandates of a horticultural services company called Le département des plantes de bureau. Produced with the complicity of Marie-Hélène Leblanc, curator, and Alexe Houtart, graphic designer, this publication reflects a singular conception of her artistic practice. The work is presented in the form of an administrative file gathering the documents related to the project.

The body of the catalog consists of an alphabetical list of all the specimens catalogued in the UQO’s departments, followed by the layout of the University’s Finance Department, the sector where the greatest number of plants was catalogued, and images of the specimens photographed at their usual location in the institution. These documents are held together by a metal clip used for large archival files. Interspersed between the pages are a few photographs from both exhibitions.

The essays by David Tomas and Marie-Hélène Leblanc, written for the Darling Foundry and UQO Gallery exhibitions respectively, are loosely inserted into the folder. Tomas links Catherine Lescarbeau’s work to that of Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), who critically examined the art institution. Anchored in the consciousness of the historical moment, Lescarbeau’s anthropological and self-reflexive approach is distinguished, according to him, by recurrent botanical references and an analysis more oriented towards economic activity. As for Leblanc, she discusses the specific genesis of the project inspired by N.E. Thing Co.’s Environment installation, presented at the National Gallery of Canada in 1969 and to which the artist refers, as well as its various iterations during a residency at the UQO and in the context of the exhibitions to which the work bears witness.
Added to this are a series of graphics produced by botanist François Lambert, a collaborator on the project, and a transmission e-mail establishing a record of the nature, provenance and living conditions of the plants Lescarbeau identified in his field survey. A letter signed by the director-curator Marie-Hélène Leblanc inviting potential visitors to the exhibition and to Catherine Lescarbeau’s lecture-performance completes the dossier.

Catherine Lescarbeau, Plants, Botany, Herbarium, Horticulture, Company, Trade
Catherine Lescarbeau, Catalogue des plantes de bureau de l’UQO (Catalogue of the Office Plants at UQO), 2020. Photo : Marie Perrault

In fact, this work is an artistic project in itself. Playfully playing with the codes and methods that guide the elaboration of art catalogs, its construction also gives it the aspect of an administrative file, of professional services and scientific expertise reports, or even of a catalog of plant products. It thus makes eloquent the incongruous meeting of these activities, by revealing the apriori and the principles of functioning of their respective fields or economic sectors, as well as the social significance and the values which underlie them.