Ampersanders

Winnipeg’s Michael Dumontier and Toronto’s Micah Lexier have much in common. The artists share a minimalist sensibility, and when it comes to books and ephemera they are both collectors. It was this characteristic that led to Call Ampersand Response, an artist’s book co-published by Nieves in New York and Artexte in Montreal. The book is a collection of 98 images arranged on facing pages in which the image on the right-hand page responds to the image on the left-hand one. Then the original right-hand page image is repeated on the following left-hand page, where it plays the role of the image that needs to be responded to.

Play was the overriding effect of the year-long exchange. “This was the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project,” says Lexier. Dumontier concurs. “It was a way to stir up the collection and find new things. Sharing is a way of keeping these things alive.” Call Ampersand Response was the ideal collaboration through which the artists, who have been friends since 2009, could begin a dialogue about their respective collections. “We have shockingly similar tastes,” says Dumontier, “although there is very little overlap.” It turns out that they own only a single book in common.

The aim was never to use the same book twice, and both artists agreed there were times when it was difficult to respond to the image received. Lexier admits that Dumontier was responsible for the most radical shifts. “I’m a ‘plays well with others’ kind of guy, so I didn’t try to do anything too radical. But I loved it when he surprised me.” In one pair of images Lexier emailed an illustration on how to tie a knot and Dumontier responded with a child’s drawing of an uninhibited figure, a swirl of lines that has linear loops in common with the knot, and nothing else. Lexier calls it “Michael’s big jump, and it stretched things out beautifully. But it also worked formally with the two lines coming down in the figure and two lines in the knot.”

Lexier’s most vexing move came in response to a text piece. Dumontier’s contribution was the words “And she still couldn’t remember how to smile,” a text presented in the form of descending steps. Lexier sent back a series of four silhouettes in profile where the person isn’t smiling. Up to this point the connections had been visual, but here the response was to the image’s content, and not its form.

Throughout the book patterns do begin to emerge–a series of ovals, grids, hands doing things, squiggly lines, the number four–and then a sudden break occurs. “There were definitely points where we could have gone on but there needed to be a kick in a different direction,” says Dumontier. “There were also times when something in the image would make you ignore the obvious choice.” His image collaborator agrees–“Some projects are just infused with magic,” Lexier says, and his actions respond to his words. He’s found another image that will soon be on its way to Winnipeg. The ampersanders are back in the game. ❚

Volume 31, Number 3: Dreams and the Spaces In Between

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #123, published August 2012.

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