The art of storytelling: One exhibition that could

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

Sometimes I like something SO much, I just CAN’T stop talking about it. Janie Julien-Fort’s photographic exhibition Révélations anticipées (Early Revelations), at Voix Visuelle gallery in Vanier, is my most recent “something”.

I admit, the first time I saw Julien-Fort’s photograph Révélations anticipées (les camions) (Early Revelations (Trucks)), I asked myself “Why is this art?” I couldn’t get past what this work reminded me of – the pain of discovering white and orange blotches on my own photos after forgetting to rewind the film before opening my Canon Rebel XS, way back when. I just didn’t get it why an artist would want to do something similar to her photographs.

Early Revelations (truck) photograph by Janie Julien-Fort

Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs are by Janie Julien-Fort (courtesy of the artist), included in Révélations anticipées (Early Revelations) exhibition on view at Voix Visuelle gallery in Vanier until February 17.

The art-appreciation aha moment came to me during a visit to watercolourist Alena Liapko’s exhibition Lights and Landscapes. While looking at the bright, cheerful cityscapes lining the walls of the Trinity Gallery Salon A at the Shenkman Centre in Orleans, I remembered that for Liapko her art is a form of a dialogue between her and the viewer.


Courtesy of Alena Liapko

Alena Liapko | Infinity | watercolour with oil pastel on canvas | 36 in x 96 in (92 cm x 244 cm) | 2014

Liapko loves Ottawa. She uses her paintings to show us how beautiful our city is and to connect with us through the familiar scenes. Surrounded by the colourful, medium- to large-size canvases, I got her message loud and clear.

As I was leaving the gallery, Julien-Fort’s photography came to mind. In an instant my brain connected the bits and pieces of information: the reason her photographs look so unrefined, flawed and strange is that the artist uses them to tell us a story of a post-apocalyptic world. Aha! I finally got it!

Although I touched on Julien-Fort’s abstract storytelling in the latest Up Close post Janie Julien-Fort Points Camera Obscura at Our Future, I wanted to consider here the exhibition rather than just one work because Révélations anticipées has been a turning point in my art appreciation, and I will never look at contemporary art the same way again. (Thank you, Janie.)

You really need to see the exhibition yourself to fully appreciate what the artist has accomplished, but here is a bit more of what Julien-Fort shared with me and what lead me to my art appreciation breakthrough.


Julien-Fort was inspired by the biblical apocalyptic writing, science fiction and scientific research. Her photographs are meant to look like photographic fragments depicting an unknown cataclysm and to evoke a sense of an apocalyptic prophecy.

The artist assembled her photographs in constellations, rather than in a beginning-to-end linear series, to suggest dynamic storytelling and to encourage us to link the images as one connects the points of a constellation. We are invited to use those fragments to reconstruct the story of what has happened, to solve an enigma.

Was it a natural disaster? A monstrous tornado, maybe? Was there a war and tanks rolled through the area, destroying everything on their way? Are these survivors in the photo, or a photo that survived? Perhaps these are not even photos but scenes from a video message, a call for help from a world in trouble?

Janie Julien-Fort Early Revelations 14

One of Julien-Fort’s constellations.

Janie Julien Fort Early Revelations15
Janie Julien Fort Early Revelations 09
Janie Julien Fort Early Revelations 08
Janie Julien Fort Early Revelations 16

In Julien-Fort’s skilful hands, a camera obscura is the perfect tool for evoking a sense of foreboding. A pinhole camera requires long exposure times, as a result, anything that moves leaves a ghostly shade.

“The big picture that looks like a tornado is actually a fairground carousel,” says Julien-Fort. “The camera must be placed on something stable to remain immobile. I chose to place it on the ground which presents a different perspective on the world.”

Voix Visuelle is a small gallery focused on experimental art, and an artist-run francophone artist centre. I didn’t expect that I could learn so much from just one modest-size exhibition. If I had it my way, Julien-Fort’s installation would be on permanent display as a textbook example of how abstract and semi-abstract art can be used to tell a story or send a message.

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