In student lounge, artist offers glimpse of life around world


Nicholas Côté at his May 2013 MFA show.

For an indication of what graphic artist Nicolas Côté is all about, visit Lecture Center F.

In the circular space in the middle, you’ll find 12 of his photographs on the wall in a new, permanent display.

Each image is related to the next, or to one across the space.

There’s a roofline, topped with a whale-shaped weathervane, shot at sundown in San Francisco. It hangs next to another roofline shot, this one made at sunrise in Chicago.

One arresting shot, showing yet another roofline, is of a brick chimney with a TV set resting on top.

“It’s from Berkeley, in a house my wife lived in,” said Côté (pronounced co-TAY.) “The whole house is covered with TVs, 15 or 20.”

He calls it an “art project” to which neighbors contribute by dropping off their old TV sets.

Another photo centers on a round surface of indeterminate size, reflecting an office building next door in Switzerland. It’s the bird’s eye view of a dome that Côté shot by leaning down from the adjacent building’s sixth floor.

He took the photos over 10 years in locations including Paris, Portugal, Switzerland and New York.

Each is neatly signed in pencil:



His “artist’s statement”:

“As you walk through the room, sounds melt into one another, get amplified, muted and echoed.

“You hear a whisper from across the room, but your own voice sounds foreign when it bounces off the walls and ceiling. Repeating geometric patterns at once anchor and disorient.

“Similarly, from one photo to the next, you will travel years and thousands of miles but notice a motif: repetitions next to one another or from across the room, altered and changing; visual echoes and tonal transitions.

“You are in this room and you are not; you are in a city, you are in a village, you are in a university and you are not.”

Côté’s exhibition is part of UIC’s Project Oasis, developed and managed by the Office of Campus Learning Environments.

“They have a mandate to furnish common spaces with furniture and art donated by UIC students and graduates,” he said. “I submitted my photos, and they liked them.”

He received a master’s degree last May. His thesis project was on memory.

“It’s not so much a record of what we’ve been through as a physiological aspect,” he said. “You move into how re-remembering happens.”

Côté projected on a wall two alternating photos of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He took one in the late ’90s during the day, the other last summer in the evening, both from the same angle.

He altered the images by “glitching” — “pushing limits to where it starts breaking beautifully” is how he put it.

Bands of color play across the alternating pictures, changing every second or so. “The original photo is not the important thing,” he said.

On a computer screen next to the images is a line of text, and in “an illustration of the same principle,” Côté said, letters are taken out and put back in, and words are jumbled.

The text, quoted from a Nabokov interview, reads: “I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it becomes.”

Côté grew up in Quebec City in Canada, and his first language is French. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Laval University there.

He is teaching two classes at Harrington College, a design school in downtown Chicago — typography and a master’s level class, designing social awareness.

His wife is Krista Varady, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition, author of the new book The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want, and herself the subject of a UIC News Profile last year. They live in Logan Square with their 3-year-old son, Gabriel.

Côté met his future wife in Montreal, where she was pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University. He was working in a print shop, and she was a customer.

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