The last time Montreal artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier skated into Halifax, it was to express his lack of enthusiasm for the national game in Arena: The Art of Hockey at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

His contribution to the exhibition was Flirting with the Puck, a kinetic sculpture with two hockey sticks endlessly and pointlessly battling for the rubber.

The Sobey Award-winner is returning east next month with Machines at Play, highlights from his work over the past 10 years. Gauthier says he plays with his art for a long time before showing it to the public.

 

“I make them work many months before in my studio ... I just want to see them perform and they have to be entertaining for me after they’ve been working for weeks,” he says.

“They have to have this randomness in their system, which makes them quite interesting to look at.”

A centrepiece to the Halifax show is Le Cagibi, a sprawling, messy work that brings the janitor’s closet to the art gallery floor. That makes him a big hit with gallery cleaning staff.

“They’re always smiling when they see me. They relate to the installation — they find it quite funny,” he says. “It’s about the invisibleness of the cleaning staff. You don’t see them, they’re always in the basement.”

His homage to that critical part of a museum is also very personal: His mother worked as a cleaner after she retired. “I have a great respect for that career,” he says.

Sarah Fillmore, acting chief curator at the AGNS, says Gauthier’s exhibit appeals to a huge range of people.

“It crosses so many fields. It appeals to scientists, mathematicians, musicians, tinkerers,” she says, as well as art fans.

Opening Dec. 20 and running until March 15, Machines at Play is all about involving the visitor in the art. Uncertainty Markers, a wall installation, skates along creating automatic drawings that grow as the exhibition goes on, while Beats and Butterflies is a piano that plays tunes in response to a visitor’s motion.

“In all of his work, he’s just really methodical about finding something interesting and some way to show a different side of art work,” Fillmore says.

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