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EXHIBITIONS

Claude Lévêque “Vies de Singes” and Mohamed Bourouissa “Hustling”at kamel mennour, Paris

Claude Lévêque “Vies de Singes”

Here is the noise of the world turning, business as usual. Here is light fighting the vice of habit. Here is spirit hindered by too much obviousness. Claude Lévêque invites us into “Vies de Singes” [Monkeys’ Lives], his third solo show at galerie kamel mennour, where he has created a contemporary allegory with vocabulary drawn from a personal mythology made up of childhood objects, sounds, unsteady calligraphy and shadows thrown against the wall. “Regarde-les rire” [Look at them laugh], the neon phrase in the trembling handwriting of Romaric Etienne, stands at the entrance to the exhibit. It forms the frontispiece of a fictional device where the senses are called upon to philosophise: your eyes will see the laughter, your ears will stammer the sound and your toes will listen, as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra promised. [1]

At the bottom of the gallery stairs, blackness invades. The covered skylight extends its cavernous darkness over thirteen children’s playgrounds made of raw metal. The playgrounds, each the same size, are suspended, swaying around a central bulb that emits its questioning light waves and throws the shadows of the bars of the play equipment in carceral shapes against the walls. The playgrounds are set moving by the visitors to the exhibit, as they make their way through the device. A passage made all the tighter by the tension in the air caused by an asphyxiated voice. Its life breath fails, struggles for air but finds nothing but anguish, a strangling alienation. Statistics and standards end up in the impasse of agitation, despair, and war. But the work is there, interpreting. It lets you see and hear the closed exits of pathological normalcy. The hindrances to childlikeness.

At the crossroads between the intimate and the social, “Vies de singes” holds up a mirror to the contemporary world. Unleashing the truth, art can open up the possibility to choose. Claude Lévêque seems to be calling for a regeneration such as one once heard from Joseph Beuys : the “concept of freedom expresses the fact that no longer is everything done for people by others; but rather that it is human beings who must now act out of their own freedom and responsibility.” [2] And so, break their chains. Le Grand Soir [having now also taken on connotations associated with “the big night” in English, le Grand Soir is originally an expression from the French workers’ movement, and refers to the revolution that will topple capitalism, T.N.] is the title of Lévêque’s in situ intervention for the French pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. A cage, bars, light bulbs, sequins, the sound of a ship and a black silk flag provoked an electroshock. Be seized, it said—in order to pull oneself together. Lévêque, influence by the body art of Gina Pane, provokes senses, energy, and dignity. His colour palette, from the most pastel tones to the most violent, stir up moments of lucidity and flashes of lightning, sweetness and panic. As with this light bulb suspended over the slats of a childhood bed [Sans Titre (le Trou dans la tête), 1986; Untitled (the Hole in the Head)], or this revolving light transforming the shadows cast by the cage of a shopping trolley into a gigantic prison raised at the heart of the Leclerc cultural centres in Pau and Tarbes [Sans Titre (Caddie), 1990; Untitled (Caddie)].

For more than thirty years, across the world and at multiple sites, Claude Lévêque has been constructing an œuvre without compromise. His commitment as a visual artist once made itself felt in the rue du Pont de Lodi in Paris, at the current site before it became the galerie kammel mennour. At the time is was called galerie de Paris. Lévêque had conceived of a sort of pigsty, with a central trough, stalls and straps [Sans Titre, 1991]. The visitor was required to go down on hands and knees in order to get through the doorway, lowered for the occasion to pig height. Already, Lévêque was exhibiting the narrowness of battery-raised human life. Nothing has improved since… Like Chardin painting his Painter monkey in 1739, Claude Lévêque sounds the alarm, exposing the tragi-comedy of the human carnival. Not in order to overwhelm but rather to provoke the laughter of the Grand Soir, a liberatory laughter.

Annabelle Gugnon

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathrustra.
[2] Joseph Beuys, Volker Harlan, What Is Art?: Conversation with Joseph Beuys, Clairview Books, 2004

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at kamel mennour, Paris

until 5 December 2015

Claude Lévêque, “Vies de Singes” installation views at kamel mennour, Paris, 2015

Courtesy: kamel mennour, Paris. Photo: Julie Joubert.

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Mohamed Bourouissa “Hustling”


The solitude of the cotton fields

Before a mystery, one must open oneself, reveal oneself entirely, in order to force the mystery to reveal itself in turn. [1]

The “deal” represented in Bernard-Marie Koltès’ play, Dans la solitude des champs de coton, is defined by the playwright as a “commercial transaction that takes place with prohibited or strictly controlled values, and which is concluded in neutral, undefined spaces, not designed for such a use…” The deal, thought of in this way, makes me think of everything that underlies an artistic project. Between the conceiver (the seller) and the prospective host or financer (the buyer or client), a negotiation takes place the nature of which neither protagonist is in a position to completely master. Unlike a calibrated, catalogued, identified commodity, the artwork finds itself situated in a blurry zone itself the product of the nature of the commodity up for exchange. Mohamed Bourouissa was certainly conscious of this when he left for a residence in the US with the intention of bringing two completely distinct, even contradictory worlds into cohabitation. The decision was not without an element of utopian humanism. But it is one thing to think of something in Paris, within the logic of a world you know your way around in, and it is another to multiply obstacles and initiate a process that is going to imply the participation of unknown actors in an unknown territory.

The work of the artist is to extract the best possible result from misunderstanding, agreeing to “reveal oneself completely in order to force the mystery to reveal itself in turn,” turning your losses into wins. Bourouissa found himself in a space of confusion that forced him to rethink the very nature of the project he had envisioned. Faced with the spoken language of Black communities, language, for the artist, began to act as a metaphor for displacement and heteropia. How was it going to be possible to attain the planned result in a negotiation the parameters of which he did not have completely to hand? His desire to bring together “riders” and artists for a fictional race brought forth a balance of power rich in lessons. What one ends up with is a double mise en abyme, where fiction and apparent reality get mixed up and become a single, blurred picture, as if a diptych had tried to tell a story that seemed to contain its own contradiction. This dichotomy is due to the distance between the viewer (the artist) and the viewed (the riders), without room for judgment: heterology is “an art of having it both ways” that sets up a reversible scene where the last word does not necessarily go to the first subject of the discourse, and where critique does not stop short of the enunciator, but rather ricochets against him. Heterology, a place of experiment, takes on the risk of unbounded speech and constitutes a magnificent instrument for trying, in the words of François Jullien, “to evaluate in one place what is missing in another” [2] This is exactly the exercise Bourouissa tackles.

Having it both ways is an indispensable schizophrenia. A perpetual exercise in translation reflected in the scenography of given spaces and the artist’s other choices. It is the best form, at least the most intelligent, for telling a story based on lived experience, and to introduce into it blanks and amnesic spaces. Our brain works in no other way. We lie to ourselves when we think we remember, feeding the illusion that we are capable of reproducing a complete whole. Bourouissa has decided to operate with fragments, calibrating chosen pieces of material that, like in a jigsaw puzzle, cannot become completely intelligible until the spectator has been made to take a journey scattered with clues to which she may not have even given the necessary attention. There are objects and images, but not the ones we see. The artist manipulates a voluntary distortion that forces us to distrust appearances. The car bonnets, the horse, the drawings, the voices and films cannot be read at face value, like so many obvious givens, but rather as the pieces of an enigma to which the author himself does not have all the keys. The experience of putting oneself in the place of the other while continuing to say ‘I’ is one way of avoiding the trap of anthropology or ethnology. We are at the heart of a fiction and it is up to us to feel of what nature. The artist does nothing but offer us one version of his own understanding, without making axiomatic dogma out of it. [1]

Simon Njami

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[1] Bernard-Marie Koltès, Dans la solitude des champs de coton, Paris, Minuit, 1986
[2] Michel Foucault, “Des espaces autres” (1967), in Dits et écrits, Vol. 4, Paris, Gallimard, 1984.

.

at kamel mennour, Paris

until 5 December 2015

Mohamed Bourouissa, “Hustling” installation views at kamel Mennour, Paris, 2015

Courtesy: kamel mennour, Paris. Photo: Julie Joubert.

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