Friday, December 28, 2012

Mircea Cantor, Prix Marcel Duchamp 2011, Centre Pompidou

Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2012

Everything in Mircea Cantor’s world is dangerous. And everything is made all the more dangerous because it is beautiful, and filled with innocence and purity. A child carefully stands three large calving knives on a table, then blows them down, as if they were candles on his birthday cake. What makes the loop of Wind Orchestra (2012) so frightening is that the child goes through the motions over and over again (thanks to the looping) seemingly out of boredom, with nothing else to do. And it is not lost on the viewer as s/he watches the three knives, as they chime in their fall, that they could be deadly if used in a different way.
Mircea Cantor, Epic Fountain, 2011
All of the pieces in this exhibition which celebrates Mircea Cantor, the Romanian artist now working in France, for his winning of the 2011 Prix Marcel Duchamp, have a double, sometimes even a triple edge. Epic Fountain, 2012 is made of 24 carat gold-plated safety pins, delicately fastened to form a double spiral that represents the form of human DNA. What we think of as everyday objects are first made precious and extraordinary through being gold plated, then they are wound together into a column that is aesthetically gorgeous. But, as always, the piece is underwritten by violence. It’s a violence that is never present, only suggested, as it is when the world is hung together by safety pins, pins that could well be a kind of barbed wire barrier.

Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2012

The recurring form in this exhibition, and in Cantor’s work more generally, at least as I have seen it, is the circle. A group of beggars, or perhaps they are believers, prostrate before a woman, in the shape of a circle. Their arms are extended and the palms of their hands open to receive the fuse that this beautiful young Asian woman will ignite. The woman’s face is friendly and lovely, and she lays down the fuse so tenderly, that it is inconceiveable she might want to hurt them. The flame of the fuse travels around the circle across the open palms of the men who do not watch the danger as it climbs over their hands and onto the next. The movement of the flame is accompanied by the beat of a drum that intensifies as the woman moves around the circle, first laying down the fuse, and then again as she follows the flame on its path. The drum beats faster, the flame moves to the end of the fuse, the cutting of the image increases its pace, and the woman’s expression never changes. Again, the violence is only suggested, it is not directly administered. At the end of the piece the burnt fuse smells and looks of destruction, of a movement into death.

Mircea Cantor, Don't Judge, Filter, Shoot, 2012
In perhaps the most frightening of all the pieces on exhibition here, a series of filters that reminded me of the sieves that might be used when panning for gold, are arranged on the wall, again in a circle. Each has six holes in the fabric that stretches across the wooden frame. And inside each filter or sieve are the six gold and concrete bullets that have made the holes. The violence is clear enough here, but again, because the bullets are at rest, the threat is placed in the past. It is only the memory of the time when the bullets are shot that pierces the viewer’s sense of vulnerability. True to Cantor’s other work, it is not the circle itself that is important in works such as this, Don’t Judge, Filter, Shoot, 2012, it is what happened inside the circle that matters. Just like it is the violence of the past that tugs at our heartstrings, as we remember all of the bullets that have been shot unnecessarily in recent times.

All Images courtesy of the Artist 

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