You've got to see what's hiding inside these incredible transforming sculptures

Inspired by nature, the artwork of Claude-Olivier Guay — this week's Exhibitionist in Residence — is brought to life with stop-motion animation.

Inspired by nature, Claude-Olivier Guay's artwork is brought to life with stop-motion animation

Cénotaphe, a 2016 sculpture by Quebec City artist Claude-Olivier Guay. Just like one of those old Transformers action figures, it's "more than meets the eye." (Courtesy of the artist)

To make the sculpture you see above, Claude-Olivier Guay spent 1,000 hours with a roll of iron wire — twisting it, cutting it, shaping it into this "quasi-robotic" form.

But what you're looking at is more than just a head. There's something hiding inside, and it's revealed when you watch this video.


On Sunday's episode of Exhibitionists, we'll be featuring more videos like that one. Guay is developing an ongoing series that he calls Dissipative Structures, and each sculpture is designed to transform, as if H.R. Giger were working at Hasbro. Using stop-motion animation, the Quebec City artist films each one, creating looped video companions for every sculpture — just like the clip above.  

The piece you just watched is called Cénotaph. Created in 2016, you could read it as a straight-up "circle of life" story. We start with a realistic human face, which Guay's sculpted out of peachy leather, and that mortal-ish coil gets shuffled off, so to speak, in seconds — revealing a skull, then a flurry of hungry locusts, all made of meticulously-jointed metal.

If you can shove any thought of Optimus Prime out of your head, it should also remind you a little of a nature documentary — specifically one of those timelapse scenes, the kind where, say, a dead fox decomposes in seconds, its fluffy corpse ballooning with maggots until it disappears entirely. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...iron wire to iron wire.

As Guay explains, the series is inspired by that ultimate fact of life, though the sculptures don't necessarily depict something as grisly as a decomposing human head. La Taniè​re (2015), for instance, is a woman's torso that opens to reveal a ferocious wolf that's been lurking within.

Claude-Olivier Guay. La Tanière, 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Claude-Olivier Guay. La Tanière, 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Claude-Olivier Guay. La Tanière, 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)

The work is both literally and symbolically about transformation, says Guay — a reminder of how all matter is connected. "That's what's driving me, that idea that on a greater scale we are linked to our environment," he says.

"We have to struggle a bit to see that in our day-to-day life," he says, and the work is meant to shift your perspective. And while the effect might be chilling, it's not nearly as unsettling as the real-life story that inspired the series.

"I had an experience with a bear," he says. Nothing out of The Revenant, but still. Guay, now 28, was studying art at the Université du Québec à Montréal when he decided his latest assignment required some unique materials — animal bones, specifically. One of his friends, a bear hunter, offered to help, and he led Guay to an animal he'd recently shot.

That's what's driving me, that idea that on a greater scale we are linked to our environment.- Claude-Olivier Guay , artist

"I got there and it was already decomposing," he recalls of that trip to the woods. "At first, it disgusted me, but afterward that bear wasn't dead at all. In fact, it was really alive." Not literally, mind you. The bear had become a feast for forest insects. "It was almost like looking at ripples on water," says Guay. "It was just transforming before my eyes. It was not pretty to see, but the mechanism of redistribution that was there was beautiful in the end, because it was just not dead at all."

He never used the bones, so, you know. But the experience inspired all of his most recent sculptures.

"I had an exhibition where a woman, probably from Christian background, was telling me that [the sculptures] make her think about the soul coming out of the body. [...] It's not exactly what I have in mind, but it's close — that introspection of 'Where are we?' and 'What's our place in that system?'"

Watch videos from Claude-Olivier Guay's series, Dissipative Structures.




See more of Claude-Olivier Guay's work on his website and on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Sunday at 4:30 (5 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want your creations featured on CBC Arts? Just send us an email! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.


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