Author Archives: Paul Litherland

B-Side Agnes Etherington

I had the opportunity to photograph the Agnes Etherington Art Centres newly acquired Rembrandt, Head of Man in a Turban a number of years ago, and as the work was being wheeled out of the room, I noticed the back was covered in bits of paper, labels and other markings that seemed significant. This was the beginning of the B-Side series. This new exhibition of photographs is drawn from the historical European collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario. The exhibition runs from January 11, 2020 to August 9, 2020. The works are photographs of the backs of paintings, printed on rag paper, and mounted on painting stretchers constructed from poplar and bass woods.

The backs of the works reveal a plethora of information not found on the front, with all the practical matters of artwork manufacture and presentation leaving their traces. There are marks from the stretcher makers, the restorers/conservationists, auctioneers, collection managers, collectors, the transporters and accidents. This project is a tribute to the collective effort of many hands that guide a work into our consciousness.

The photographs are printed to the same scale as the original works and mounted on to the stretchers as one would mount a canvas. Through this act, the artist is imbuing  the photographs with a desire to become “real” art objects. That they may already be real art objects is not really the point. The photographs don’t feel like they quite belong in that world. You can almost hear them whispering Pinocchio’s mantra:

Fake it till you make it

47 Storeys

This work is a collaboration with Monique Moumblow

The experiences we render into story are integral parts of who we become. Yet some stories remembered are more significant than others. These stories are often comprised of “vital memories” (Brown and Leavy) that recall a moment of drama or trauma in a life. Vital stories are not always coherent, or consistent. We may tell them slightly differently, only recall fragments, or embellish. Although we may share them with others, we may also repress or forget details over time.

47 Storeys is one such vital story. In 1996 Paul Litherland went to a bar at the top of a very tall building, drank a beer, waited until the other patrons and staff left, then parachuted into the night-time sky, landing safely on the street to the astonishment of two late-night revelers. Three months after the jump, afraid of forgetting significant details, Paul commemorated his adventure to video. 20 years later Paul revisits the event with Monique Moumblow. They re-edit the original 43 minutes tape down to 11 minutes. Paul then attempts to re-enact his original mediated performance. On one screen we see Paul who sits, listens to himself through headphones, and speaks over his original narrative. On a second screen Paul attempts to duplicate his original performance word-for-word and gesture-by-gesture. On the third screen is the edited original. These three different renditions of the tale, from 3 different moments in time, are almost the same, but they never perfectly align. No matter how much we practice, the story is never exactly as it was.

47 Storeys is a brilliant and slightly comedic rendition of the “performative act of memory -making” (Kuhn). Narrating the past re-activates and catapults memories into the present, often with the help of souvenirs such as the video-tape and parachute equipment that Paul still keeps in his care. Paul’s fumbling narrative recollections lay bare this performative process of memory-making as past and present collide in a single temporal moment superbly visualized in this 3 channel video.

In the re-telling of this vital story grey-haired, bespectacled Paul moves in imperfect harmony with his former self. This temporal collision invites reflection upon both memory re-enactments, story-telling and the vagaries of ageing: “the permanently fluctuating relationships between younger and older selves” (Segal). We see, hear and feel these fluctuations, experiencing a vertigo of narrative mediation: Paul’s post-hoc memory is rendered into story and captured on video tape, which is then digitally remastered in the present for the future. It is the absence of documentation of the original event –no pictures, photos or go-pro video– that makes the re-telling of the story so necessary and so compelling. Thankfully, Paul lived to tell the tale, again and again.

Monique Moumblow is a video artist and a fan of spectacular storeys.

Paul Litherland is a gentleman adventurer, a closet scuba diver in a room full of wingsuiters.

Author: Kim Sawchuk (professor et director of Ageing-Communication-Technologies, Université Concordia)

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Lift vs Drag

Gallery 175B is pleased to present the work of Paul Litherland and Rachel Echenberg.

“Gravité brings together photographs and videos by Rachel Echenberg and Paul Litherland. Astonishing, puzzling, secretive – what do these works signify? What narratives propel these enigmatic images? Both artists immerse themselves in compelling situations, positioning their bodies as barometers of the spirit and of the mind. Each of their invented actions demands a response. Inner and outer self engage in a fascinating interchange; gravity meets resistance. The title of this exhibition has a double meaning that applies equally to these works. While gravity exerts itself, pulling us towards the earth, the term also alludes to the tone of thoughtfulness that pervades these works. Combining serious play and humourous invention these images propose a deeper significance that arouses imaginative speculation.” – Lorraine Simms, Curator

Road Work

A road trip from Montreal with a vaguely defined destination. Maybe LA, maybe Moab, Utah. Maybe the West Island of Montreal.

I want to document secrets. I will ask friends and strangers to tell me something that they don’t want known. I will document some part of the story in photos. The photos will be sent via the internet to a web-enabled photo-frame in the gallery. At the end of each day I upload the photos. So the next day when the gallery opens, the new photos will be there.

I leave without a clear idea, hoping that something will emerge. Perhaps it will just be a series of awkward encounters, or the challenges of the weather, or the motorcycle, that will define this itinerary.

B-side Ellen Gallery

B-Side Ellen Gallery is a series of photographs of the back sides of artworks drawn from the collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. The images are printed actual size, and are glued or stapled around commercial painting stretchers. The initial selection of the artworks was somewhat arbitrary: two were taken from the works photographed on a single storage rack; the ten others fulfilled the criteria of being 20 to 24 inches tall.

This series was created for the 2014 group show Speculations: Risquer l’interprétation, but the idea goes back eight years, when the artist was photographing a 17th century Rembrandt painting, which he was documenting for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The markings he found there from distant conservators and framers told the story of the provenance of the work, but also there was something intriguing about the privilege of seeing the side of the painting that is normally hidden from the public.

Litherland’s B-Side uses a lesser-known but recurring subject in historical and contemporary art. He shares in an overarching interest in the gesture of elevating the mundane material support of an artwork to the status of art, and thus flipping the normal status of the front and the back. He also engages with the trompe-l’oeil tradition, which confronts viewers with the pleasures and questions that come from mixing up the “real” and the “representation” of the real. However, what it brings to both of these axes is also very personal.

The choice of the subject not only comes out of his work as an art photographer, it also is a visual metaphor for the artist’s ongoing reluctance to embrace his identity as an artist (the front of the painting) at the expense of an ideal of being a “productive” member of society (the support).

As for the trompe-l’oeil, the artist does want to fool us, but only at first. He leaves enough clues to reveal the artifice. The underlying question for the artist is “How can I find a balance between being an authentic person while maintaining the act that allows me to get along with others?” In having us realize our mistake in perception, the artist gives us an experience in which we can delight in the pleasures of the representation, but also feel what is missing in it—reality is something more—thus reminding us that there are ways to navigate this distinction.

During the production of the work, the artist had the privilege of an email conversation with media theorist John Hunting. You can view the conversation here.

Also presented with the exhibition is an artwork information document that is modeled on the accession database that the gallery uses to manage the information about the collection. You can consult it here.

Air : le regard du vent

Air : Le regard du vent is a video produced through an intervention on the roof of Galerie Espace Projet, in the Villeray district of Montreal.

This project is part of an exhibition that marks the 5oth anniversary of the death of architect and planner Le Corbusier, and specifically to his book, Les quatres routes.  The exhibition is curated by Marie-Ève Lamarre and Hubert Beringer, and they composed  4 teams of architects and artists to develop and realize a project based on one of the four modes of access to a city described in the book – Air, Rail, Road and Water. The air component was developed and produced by Paul Litherland, Julia Manacas and Amanda Wormsbecker. David Brodsky assisted with the installation.

Inspiré par l’ouvrage méconnu de Le Corbusier Les quatre routes, les deux commissaire ont mis au défi quatre équipes composées d’artiste en arts visuels, de designers et d’architectes à repenser notre utilisation de la ville.

Première étape : 1 novembre 2014, rencontre de type charrette où les équipes se sont formées et où les projets se sont définis.

Deuxième étape : 7 décembre 2014, réalisation des installations dans le quartier, documentation.

Troisième étape : 14 janvier au 22 février, exposition

Freefall Fighters

In preparation to fight, two boxers touch gloves. But they are packed in a small plane. They file out of the door and once in flight position themselves to box. Falling at 200 km/h, without the ground anchoring their bodies, punches are ineffectual. The drag on the gloves is so strong that the wind blows the fighters away from each when they put their hands in front of them to fight. The point of view of the camera is that of the referee.

The video was a “what-if” experiment. There were no expectations, the artist just wanted to see what would happen when combining two sports that are associated with danger, high-potential for injury and a good dose of machismo. It turned out that the extreme elements were not cumulative, but rather put together they became almost ridiculous. The free-fall fight is more funny than exciting, deflating and playing with stereotypes and expectations.

Yet at the same time, as with the masters of slapstick, the humor masks the skills needed to make it work and the real dangers of the performance. The two skydivers are very experienced, and the truth is that they only have so much time before they have to abandon the fight and open their parachutes.

Film shot in 2004 and distributed on the internet, but does not come into the context of art until 2009 when it was curated into the exhibition Fall-Out. 


ASCII Fighter (BOX)

Ascii Fighter and BOX are two versions of the same piece. They were both 30 minute performances in which two boxers fight wearing gloves and protective equipment fitted with sensors that send signals to a computer. The performances were staged much as a boxing match would be presented: in a ring, with a referee and timekeeper.

In its initial form, ASCII Fighter, there are three sections to the performance; Poetry Fighter, Ascii Fighter and Video Fighter. In Poetry Fighter, hits to the gloves, headgear and waist mounted sensors trigger sound samples. The samples are part of a sentence about the inability to express anger. In Ascii Fighter, the gloves trigger series of zeroes and ones on one screen, while on the other video screen, we see the results of the zeroes and ones interpreted as ASCII code, the binary computer language that most computers use to generate letters and symbols. There were two rounds to this section: the first was free form, with random letters and symbols appearing according to their ASCII code; in round two, the boxers hit each other in a predetermined sequence of punches that were designed to spell out a text: “I am an animal”. In Video Fighter, hits trigger various combinations of video loops of the performers apologizing in different ways.

Two years later, the performance was remounted with technical and thematic changes. In ASCII Fighter the fighters were connected to the computers by actual wires. In BOX the sensors were attached to modified wireless video game controllers, which controlled videos stored on a computer running MAX/MSP/JITTER software.

BOX had three sections: the first was Progress/Regress, in which each boxer’s hits generated movement along a hand-painted progress bar, similar to those used to measure internet downloads; in the second round, the boxers hits triggered video clips of the boxers doing pushups to exhaustion; in the third round, they triggered clips of the boxers verbalizing the inner dialogue they might be having while fighting.

The artist started boxing to train for this performance, just to be able to throw a convincing punch, but quickly learned that he had misinterpreted boxing: that it is simply violent and about expressing anger. Rather, he found that staying calm and controlling your fear is the goal. These insights enriched the initial metaphor. ASCII Fighter (BOX) renders the psychological frustrations of communication problems visible as physical violence, and is about pushing oneself through difficult moments.

Liquid Face

Liquid Face is a close-up of the artist’s face while he is in freefall. It emerged out of the Turning Point video installation. The artist noticed that people were as interested in what the wind was doing to the bodies as any concept he had in mind. So, he decided to focus on this small aspect of the freefall experience. The challenge was to relax his face and let the wind take control.

“The images, looped, run by in slow motion creating, paradoxically, a suitable mood for the contemplation of a body falling at a speed of almost 200 km/h. On his face, assailed by the wind, a crowd of emotions rushes by, uncontrolled and lacking meaning. Shaped by irregular blasts of air, the mouth and supple flesh of the cheeks lightly softened by age, lose their consistency. All of this happens without the artist’s gaze once leaving the camera’s lens. There is no point in struggling before the clear inevitability of the condition that weighs us down. In representing himself in a position he cannot completely control—speech being impractical and gesture greatly reduced—even as he deliberately puts aside any search for “Beauty”, Litherland offers, of himself, an image turning round self-mockery.”
(Nathalie de Blois)


The work Listener consists of five sets of ears made from cast tin. They were attached to the trunks of trees in Changhampuzha Park, near Kochi in Kerala, India. A local metal smith was identified, and he built a small foundry from the dirt. The ears were originally sculpted in bees wax, then covered in clay. The wax was melted out, and hot tin poured into the mold.

Listener points to humanity’s  deafness towards nature.  A tree with tin ears points not to the ability of the tree to hear, but to our continued reflex to anthropomorphize our surroundings. We become the tree… If we could just hear ourselves.

More pictures from the International Symposium of Sculptors and travels in the region here:


Babble is a performance created by Paul Litherland, and developed by Litherland and percussionist Alexander MacSween. They perform a series of verses on electronic drum kits connected to computer equipment.

For thousands of years, people, separated by many kilometers, communicated with each other through drumbeats. Loud, soft, with pitch bends and with timing, drums would send messages about travellers, invaders or celebrations. Today, separated by even greater distances, we are still sending messages with a percussion instrument: The computer keyboard.

As the performers play their electronic drums, the hits were converted to MIDI signals and sent to the computers, which in turn interpreted and transformed the signals. The performance was presented in five scenes. In three of these, each hit generated a 0 or a 1: in “Binary Buildup” the 0s and 1s were displayed directly on the screen; in “ASCII Writer” the performers used them to carefully build the ascii codes to display the letters of two texts: “I made a machine to speak for me” and “I want to speak for myself”; in “Binary Meltdown” Litherland and MacSween drum frenetically, which the computer displayed as a series of random characters. In two of the works, different ways of hitting the pads controlled a series of video clips: in “Stutter” this played video clips backwards and forwards of the performers’ mouths saying words; in “Sign Language” it played clips of deaf performers signing letters and words.

Babble explores the codes of various languages, the technologies of communication, and how these technologies transform our messages and often fail us in our attempts to relate to each other. Babble builds a bridge between old technologies and new ones. It is a multimedia perfomance about speaking and trying to send messages. It is about the need to be heard and understood.


Bouquet est le fruit d’une collaboration entre Paul Litherland et sa mère. Comme point de départ, l’artiste a demandé à sa mère, une jardinière accomplie, de reproduire une oeuvre de Rachel Ruysch, peintre flamande du 17e siècle reconnue pour ses reproductions d’arrangements floraux. S’inspirant de ces bouquets, ainsi que de ceux de Pieter Brueghel l’Ancien et de Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Madame Litherland sélectionne et arrange les fleurs de son jardin. Paul Litherland, lui, s’occupe de la mise en scène, ainsi que du choix des objets et du mobilier qu’il photographie ensuite. Les oeuvres s’inspirent de la tradition hollandaise par le type d’arrangements, les contrastes de lumière, les lignes de force chromatiques trouvées dans les bouquets et l’ambiance générale. Ainsi, malgré l’utilisation d’espèces cultivées en Colombie Britannique et donc différentes de celles utilisées en Europe il y a 400 ans, les oeuvres captent l’essence de la nature morte flamande. La référence est si évidente que le spectateur peut hésiter à savoir s’il s’agit d’une peinture d’époque ou d’une photographie contemporaine, effet renchéri par l’utilisation des cadres baroques pour la présentation.

Cette série de Litherland ne s’arrête pas à une référence esthétique. En plus d’aborder des thématiques explorées dans d’autres projets, tels que la famille (Family Workstations, 2007) et celle du trompe-l’oeil et de l’histoire de l’art (B-side Ellen Gallery, 2015), Litherland revisite, tout en subtilité, les rôles et attentes quant à la masculinité. Aussi simple puisse paraître la prémisse de ce projet, ces bouquets mère-fils du 21e siècle (2000) inspirent des réflexions contemporaines sur le genre, préalablement explorées de manière explicite dans son projet Absolutely Fabulous (1993, 2006). Non seulement le bouquet floral, souvent associé à la féminité, est choisi comme sujet, mais sont mis en valeur le savoir-faire et les connaissances botaniques de sa mère par son rôle crucial dans la conception de ces oeuvres. Issues du jardin, ces connaissances sont encore trop souvent associées au monde domestique et au loisir, alors que Paul Litherland leur reconnaît un rôle central dans une pratique d’art actuel. De surcroît, l’artiste souligne la référence au travail de Rachel Ryusch et rend donc hommage à cette peintre méconnue qui à l’époque était une des seules femmes artistes à avoir une reconnaissance internationale et dont la valeur des oeuvres a été plus élevée que celles de Rembrandt.

Ainsi, Bouquets est une série de ponts (dialogues) intergénérationnels entre mère-fils, peintre-jardinière-photographe, femmes-homme et art-domestique-art. Une suite relationnelle dont la composition et la beauté chromatique séduisent et questionnent.

texte: Roxanne Arsenault

English short description:

In 2000, The artist asked his mother, who was an accomplished gardener, to produce bouquets based on paintings from Dutch artists of the 17th century. The work that acted as the starting point was by Rachel Ruysch, who produced work from the age of 15 almost to her death at the age of 85 in 1750. Other painters like Breughel the Elder and Jan Davidsoon were also referenced.


Insecurity is a performance in which two security guards sleep on the floor in a dimly lit room, during the opening hours of the exhibition. There is a projection on the wall of a tree that was cut down to a stump after the 1998 Montreal ice storm, but sprouted many new branches, apparently not understanding that it was supposed to stop being a tree.

The performance took place in the context of the exhibition 48 hours / 48 rooms. A rooming house had been emptied out and was waiting to be transformed into a residential condo project.

Positioning figures of authority as vulnerable goes against the grain. The security agents are not just nodding off in a chair while on the job, they are sleeping on mats on the floor, and have left the door open. The world is free to do as it likes while the agents of control are taking a break.  Where does our sense of security lie? Perhaps they are the security guards of sleep, making sure that the dreams don’t get out of hand.

The presence of the tree problematizes the tendency of voyeurism on the part of the viewer, and thus a simple inversion of power relations. It stands as a silent witness to the relationship between the viewers and the performers and is a direct metaphor for resistance.

Body Contact

Body Contact is a series of images produced in collaboration with the artist Claudia Kappenberg. They are unique photogram-photographs, made using multiple exposures. Negative images or simply white light was projected from an enlarger on light-sensitive paper, with or without bodies and other objects placed directly on it. Previously exposed imagery shows up in the shadow area that was underneath the object or person.

This project emerged from experiments done while working in a photo lab in 1986. Every day at start up, a throw-away print had to be passed through the large-format Cibachrome processor. Instead of just processing unexposed paper, the artist found a fast way to make a print by climbing on the paper and exposing it beforehand. The play of shadows that resulted on these “Cibagrams” was unexpected and often surprising. For the artist it was the recording or the residue of a performance, the play between body and light.

This experimentation stuck with the artist and a decade later seemed right for this collaborative exploration. The technique was pushed further: bodies are fused and multiplied; scale is shifted and other imagery added; silhouetted bodies are filled with the skin and structure of other bodies. The result was a new way of articulating and representing an intimate proximity between two bodies.