In 1797, Samuel Bentham applied for patents to protect his veneer-making machines. Since then, the business of gluing together veneers, or “plies,” to produce a sheet of wood stronger than anything cut from nature has become an industry standard. Yet no two sheets are alike. For Yechel Gagnon, this particularity in the face of a uniform and increasingly automated production process is both a point of departure and a narrative constraint.
Trained in drawing and painting, Gagnon produced her first large-scale plywood surface in 2004. Entitled Palimpsest, the work measures 305 x 1,067 centimetres and is made from routered and chiselled spruce plywood. While the surface’s rings and knotholes are reminders that its flat veneers were once round trees, Gagnon’s marks are a reminder that a sheet of plywood, like Robert Morris’ famous box, contains the story of its own making.
For her current series of plywood bas-reliefs, Gagnon has applied materials as varied as gold leaf and fire to enhance the illusion of depth. The tinted and exotic veneers of L’ecume de terre (2017) suggest a landscape as seen from a satellite, while the carved burl surface of Alchemy (2017) has the viewer looking at something closer to the torch-lit walls of antiquity’s cave. Michael Turner