A Shot in the Dark, Foreword by Kendall Reiss
As an idiom, a shot in the dark has come to mean a wild guess or an attempt that has very little chance of being successful. A shot in the dark is usually attempted when all other ideas have failed, and may be considered a last-ditch effort. The idea is of attempting to hit a target without being able to see it" In other words: likelihood of failure, a familiar philosophy for many artists. But what can we learn from failure, from shooting continually into the dark? For artist Doug Breault, lessons on discipline, catharsis, and connection rest in the act of continually trying.
This body of work and the artist’s practice grow from a reflective space of mourning. At age 18, following his father’s suicide, Breault picked up a camera to document his belongings: “I started taking images of my dad’s stuff — like the whistle, he was in the Coast Guard. These objects held meaning for him"
Photography, the first medium Breault embraced as an artist, developed into a tool to process grief. Both a way to connect with his father and an attempt to work through the trauma of his loss.
Photography — analog and digital — has since become a way for Breault to explore space between presence and absence. A tool to reckon with big questions like how to convey the essence of our loved ones after they’ve passed. The photographs themselves are slow and deliberate — hours in the darkroom, tinkering, experimenting, remembering and failing to remember, forgetting — shots in the dark. But they also have an air of urgency, a pressing need for you to — look — they call you in to a specific moment, a feeling of nostalgia, a memory.
To repeat in the space of absence that which is no longer possible, revisiting objects — or their simulacra in 35mm form — or combing the internet for proof of a past since disassembled; the meanings and stories of these objects, their connections to a life lived and gone too soon, are what gives them urgency. An attempt at recollection — the challenges of memory and the pain it can inflict. Returning to the catharsis of repetition, sadness might feel more like an environment, or a process: shelter in place, remember, forget, repress, excavate, repeat. Photos as medium and material are inherently subject to memory — reminiscent of photo albums, scrapbooks, modes of familial documentation. “Like cicada shells once the insect has broken out of its subterranean nether life and winged away, photographs preserve the husk of human souls now flown off to that boundless freedom, such is death.” Through photographing one can find ways to still be with.
A constellation of twenty individual collages reveal a mycelial web of connections; a paternal mind map of sorts. Moments of hyperfocus punctuate attempts to obscure, layered imagery built with tender brushstrokes of blue paint over photographic prints. Using a personal archive of negatives he took at the time of his father’s passing, Breault blurs the line between past and present — images printed for this exhibition come from a time capsule of documentation 14 years in the making.
Blue, a color that reappears in much of Breault’s work, takes on multiple meanings, sometimes as the sky — and sometimes as a nod to the atmosphere created by the cast of ’80s neon signs. We spoke together about “blues” — concepts of sorrow and pervasive melancholy, a tempestuous sea of blue induced by loss, and also about the divine depth of blueness — agreeing that there is something comforting about the infinitude. Lately Breault has been making images at night, staring into the darkness and leaving things up to chance in the obscurity. Communing with the night sky in his backyard, shooting in the dark to try and make sense and find connection in the vastness.
Ramshackle architectures also occupy the gallery space, precarious assemblages that have become both threshold and shelter. These objects serve as a means to recall the past — the person — and also as an attempt to protect from the erosional effects that time inherently has on loss. The act of remembering by revisiting an archive of memory. Artist Doris Salcedo’s work touches on themes of memory, mourning, and trauma:
“Given that mourning is a permanent presence...the notion of memory is also ambiguous, since it is always confronted with a doubt, with an aporia. One struggles between the necessity of being faithful to the memory of the other, to keep that loved one alive within us, and with the necessity of overcoming that impossible mourning with forgetting. My work deals with the fact that the beloved — the object of violence — always leaves his or her trace imprinted on us. Simultaneously, the art works to continue the life of the bereaved...Derrida says, ‘Everything that we inscribe in the living present of our relation to others already carries, always, the signature of the memories from beyond the grave.’”
And yet, “this work isn’t a funeral,” Breault proclaims, it also exudes a hopefulness, offers an attempt at connection, creates an expansive sublime space for exploring. Heaven? Maybe. Or perhaps the work serves as a doorway to another plane of existence, like the hollow of a giant tree trunk, a portal, an opportunity or pathway to move through, a threshold; referring to the space death leaves and the capacity for growth that inherently lives in that void.
Breault’s sculptures speak of instability, resourcefulness, creative problem-solving – are these tools for self-preservation? For propping oneself up? Altered photographs, mirrored and reflective surfaces and shards of glass — dangerous and seductive, debris and detritus of the studio itself (the artist) — its (his) trappings and material language, all find their way into the compositions. Precarious, punctuated, there are microcosms of tension in the work, nails driven into wood — rusty markers of another time and place, a different life-hood of the objects themselves; imbued with a silent history we can only guess at. Maybe Breault’s work is queering the paradigm — looking at death as a series of explorations on life. Reincarnation. An offering of life after death.