A collective exhibition by Yann Sérandour
with Dove Allouche, Eva Barto & Sophie Bonnet-Pourpet, Robert Breer, Elina Brotherus, Mark Geffriaud, Tirdad Hashemi, Július Koller, Jiří Kovanda, Roman Ondak, Pratchaya Phinthong and Pak Sheung Chuen.
This work was interpreted by the gallery members based on a protocol transmitted from Hong Kong by the artist: “Starting with John Banville’s 2005 book The Sea, collect books with a horizon on the cover from people you know. Place them side by side on the wall to expand the horizon. Create a small library of sea horizons in your community.”
The starting point for this participatory work is rooted in a literary work that its author, John Banville, may have described as a direct return to his childhood. It is set in a seaside resort and spans fifty years of the life of its narrator, a retired art historian who recalls three key moments in his life through the interwoven writing of a diary. In this human and poetic work that links the near to the far, Pak Sheung Chuen invites us to extend the horizon, not in a backward or forward movement, but laterally, from near to far. The horizon line extends from one book to the next, following our reading habits: from left to right. It does not only put end to end portions of horizons but also authors, titles and stories which have in common only this line which crosses them and unites them visually. The reading gives way to an exercise in contemplation formed by the chance encounter of these titles which are also the links of a small human chain of readers.
Following a second protocol conceived by Pratchaya Phinthong (Untitled (Wires), 2012) and at work throughout the exhibition, the books were fixed to the wall with copper hooks melted from the recycling of used electric cables.
This incongruous meeting of a red ball in an empty glass constitutes a point of fixation, a beacon, around which gravitate the other works installed around. A work by Jirí Kovanda entitled Glass heart (1989), it evokes with humour this vital organ whose beats are regulated by our emotions. In its transparent envelope and deprivation, this improvised sculpture recalls the silent genre of the still life, composed with the simple objects of the daily life.
A 1970s fire alarm mounted on the white wall of the gallery bears the scars of a fire that obviously happened somewhere else and in another time. This safety equipment, which allows us to signal the presence of fire or suspicious smoke, lives only in anticipation of a destructive event. It loses all utility after use. Extracted from its original context, it testifies to the irruption of a fortuitous event in the time of a past history. The aftermath stretches indefinitely in a suspended present. The fear aroused by the danger, the urgency to react, gives way to other less vivid emotions with more melancholic accents.
This long colored frieze is composed by the alignment of a collection of successive reprints of the same book by Sartre: Esquisse d’une théorie des émotions published by Hermann. The colours of the covers have been ordered in chronological order of different reprints between 1960 and 1995. Curiously turning from blue to green, it follows the progressive degradation of Frutiger’s original design and traces the reception of Sartre’s text over time through its marks of use and reading. Geneviève Asse is known for her very singular use of shades of blue in paintings that constitute a tireless search for space, light and transparency. If the source of “Asse blue” remains unknown, the shades produced by the covers of the books printed between 1960 and 1965 evoke her palette in a very fortuitous way.
First published in 1939, Sartre’s text advocates a phenomenological approach to emotions. It constitutes the introductory part of a treaty of phenomenological psychology, The psyche, never published. In this work of formation, Sartre opposes the idea that the emotions would be only demonstrations started by our body and escaping entirely our will. The emotion is a transformation of the world.
Faced with the impossibility of transforming the world, the conscience would modify the image of this one in order to transform illusorily an unbearable reality. “In the emotion, it is the body which, directed by the conscience, changes its reports to the world so that the world changes its qualities” he writes.
Under the appearance of a colourful colour chart marked by the passage of time, this set links many stories and figures from the world of art and publishing. The cover of the book was designed by the Swiss typographer Adrian Frutiger (1928-2015), artistic director of the Hermann publishing house between 1957 and 1967, from a still life drawing that Geneviève Asse (1923-2021) offered to Pierre Berès (1913-2008) to illustrate this text by Sartre. Considered one of the most important booksellers of the second half of the twentieth century, this collector and merchant of old books and literary manuscripts bought the scientific publishing house Hermann in 1956 and opened it to the field of art by associating with the art historian André Chastel. He called on Frutiger to modernise the image of the company. Pursuing this objective, the collection “L’esprit et la main” (in which this title of Sartre was republished) republishes philosophical or scientific texts by associating them with the illustrations of artists of the moment.
This triptych is part of a photographic series by Elina Brotherus which re-enacts, twelve years later,
the return to a place linked to the emergence of her work: Chalon-sur-Saône. The artist was invited there at the beginning of her career as a photographer. This city in Burgundy is also the one in which the inventor of photography Nicéphore Niépce was born and raised. There is a museum in his name that traces the history of photography.
By leaving the presence of the photographic trigger apparent, Exercise in Emotions places the staging and the game at the center of the action. Are the emotions feigned or felt? Is the play sincere or affected? Does mimicking an emotion allow us to feel it? Do we have to practice to feel again? By empathy, will the spectator let herself be taken in the game or will she remain outside the scene? Presented for the occasion without frame nor protective glass, the image remains permeable to the impressions of the moment.
Placed too high to allow us to look through, this Window by Jirí Kovanda (1980) fixed to the wall reminds us that the gallery walls are the frame within which we perceive the objects on display. By overflowing the architectural margins, by not quite aligning with the edge, the glass produces an opening into empty space, a breath that we notice or not, depending on our ability to look up.
“One night when I was alone in the room and the weather was so cold that one didn’t want to come out from under the covers, I felt like I was sinking into my bed for hours, the coldness of the weather outside, the coldness of the emotions that the people around me had felt, had poured into the walls that were not lit. The only thing that could save me from this melancholic state was the open door of the room and the light that came from the kitchen with the voices of those two talking in the kitchen.” (Tirdad Hashemi).
This drawing by Tirdad Hashemi is very singular in his production. Unlike many others, it is not inhabited by any human representation, even though the drawing retains the coloured trace of the vigorous gestures of which it is made. The empty space of the room which opens on a labyrinth of doors is plunged in a nightmarish darkness.
Faced with the image, the viewer finds herself in the same position as the artist who is watching the scene from her bed. In her absence, she shares the vision.
Stored on a shelf too high and too narrow, this board game without rules addressed to children is waiting to be activated. Stimulating sensitivity to touch and to recognise detail, it places at the heart of its project questions of attention, curiosity and imagination. In an intergenerational perspective, Eva Barto & Sophie Bonnet-Pourpet’s work questions our dispositions to share and exchange on a background of intrigue and enigma.
Avalanche is a DIY work. This assemblage was produced from elements found in the artist’s living and working space during a temporary residence in Berlin. A mirror with cut corners, probably from an old cupboard, a plastic square, two pieces of tape and two chewing gums make up this improvised assembly that evokes a psyche, these large mirrors which allow to look at oneself standing up.
Behind its title, as enigmatic as it is disturbing, Avalanche presents an icy and sloping surface that reflects the environment in which we find ourselves and on which some elements are attached. The two small green chewing gums in the shape of cones placed at the base of the mirror can evoke conifers while the square taped in the upper left corner rectifies the missing angle.
Please don’t tell my mom, I smoke. Revealing to the art world what in a family setting had to remain secret, is to take the spectator as a confidant while betting on the small probability that a meeting between the artist’s mother and this spectator could take place one day. Under the light and anecdotal appearance of a conceptual work, we are revealed the fragment of an intimate story and the improbable links that play out. She places the revelation and the dissimulation in the heart of her device. Smoking kills. The messages printed on cigarette packets announce unequivocally that smoking accelerates the probability of dying prematurely. The work begs us not to reveal an increased risk of mortality to the person who gave birth to it. Curiously, this work was conceived when the artist, born in 1974, was 33 years old. This eminently symbolic age reminds us of the cosmological and spiritual dimension that his work can take on. Astrological belief tells us that a second birth is possible at the age of 33, when the stars are in the same position as on the day of our birth. Every self-portrait is also an attempt to ward off death through the survival of the work.
At each installation, the receiver of the work decides on the form (size and choice of typeface) in which the word should be reborn. Installed in the corner of a wall, it reveals itself only in two times, when we find ourselves in front of the “psyche” revisited by Jirí Kovanda’s Avalanche.
The value we place on things is intimately linked to the narratives attached to them and to our awareness of their trajectory to reach us. The intertwining of bare electrical sheaths that the exhibition places before our eyes is inscribed in a chain of more or less visible gestures that give it its reason for being. If the visible part of the work resembles a scrap, the extraction and transformation of the copper that these sheaths contained is the material by which the other works of the exhibition can hang before our eyes. The memory of the electric current that ran through these recycled wires connects all the works in the exhibition by imaginary paths.
Pratchaya Phinthong’s cables, Mark Geffriaud’s switch, Elina Brotherus’ photographic triggers, Roman Ondak’s fire alarm, Lynne Cohen’s obsessive presence of electrical devices, compose a vast phantasmic network that secretly interconnects the works on display.
In this photograph, Július Koller pays homage to Marcel Duchamp by re-enacting the scene from Apolinère Enameled (1916-1917) in his domestic and family setting. In this “rectified” readymade, Duchamp altered the lettering of an enameled advertising plate for Sapolin Enamel industrial paint to pay homage, through a play on words, to art critic and poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The advertising scene depicting a young girl painting her bed frame is an ironic allegory of painting in the age of its industrialization. Július Koller replays the scene not as an “art bachelor” but as a family man. In the corner of the park where the child is learning to stand, one can see the German translation of Robert Lebel’s monograph on Duchamp, whose cover illustration reproduces the collage Fluttering Hearts. Two histories of transmission intersect: the history of Western art transmitted by books beyond the Iron Curtain and its intimate reappropriation as a vector of liberation.
In this photograph, Roman Ondak laid his camera on the floor beside his month-old son in an attempt to capture the vision of his immediate environment. The low angle contemplation of a wall corner or the lamp hanging from the ceiling is punctuated by the regular irruption of familiar heads. Hung high up, the viewer must in turn adopt the presumed point of view of the newborn to look at the photograph. Two types of posterity and points of view are brought together through the image: that of the artist’s direct descendant and that of the viewer who looks at his work years later.
Robert Breer’s motorized sculptures are unmanned vehicles whose trajectory is guided only by the chance of an unexpected encounter. Their attentive observation allows us to experience our capacity to slow down, to adjust to other almost imperceptible rhythms.
They have the grace of those living beings who live their lives without submitting to a program or to any project. Simple presences, they are entirely devoted to the occasion, in a pace that is their own. For all that, their autonomy is not total: when the electric batteries are exhausted, they must be replaced.
When we enter a dark space from a brightly lit one, a time of adjustment is necessary to begin to detect something. The time of latency during which we remain blind to what presents itself before our eyes is part of the experience of this work by Dove Allouche whose title, L’origin de la source(2013), points to a fundamentally mysterious question. It shows us the path (always sinuous) which allows us (like the eels) to go back to the “origin of the source” after a long journey. It also tells the story of every historian facing the symptomatic presence of the past.
If the exhibition begins on an image of a common horizon after having asked the question of our more or less direct descent, it touches here the movement of the investigation: to go up to the sources starting from the traces that the passage of time more or less abruptly erased. From the horizon to the black hole. From the vanishing line to the point of return. From the future to the past and back again. The flow of water, from the source to the sea through running water is an invigorating spectacle that this drawing seems to mourn.