Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Matérialité de l'Invisibilité: L'archéologie des sens

104, Paris 75019
The title of this exhibition, Matérialité de l’Invisible is somewhat misleading. At least, I found it difficult to determine the relevance of invisibility to many of the works. In addition, the premise of the exhibition is not always clear. It brings together artists working in the NEARCH project, a European Commission supported project that explores the relationship between archaeology and heritage in Europe. But again, the works relate to this theme to differing degrees. The coherence of the exhibition aside, there were a number of very interesting pieces which, together with the creative and energetic space of the Cent Quartre Centre, made my rainy Sunday. An interesting piece by Julie Ramage, titled A Beautiful Town, that deals with the self-identity of St Denis, happens to coincide with the November 13 attacks. Another by Ronny Trocker doesn't have much to do either with the theme of invisibility or archaeology, but was compelling. On entering his Estate, we are met by a screen with a still photo of an unidentified migrant who comes ashore in a small dinghy. On the other side of the screen is a series of stop motion photographs superimposed on film of locals enjoying a day on the same beach. The discordance of photographs and films comes to represent the awkwardness of the migrant on European shores, casting a shadow over the heart of European identity and culture. These and some others stood out as quite effective, while others were not so captivating.
A Labyrinthe made of cardboard in the basement of 104
Before discussion of the exhibition, I have to say, a visit to the cultural entre 104 in the 19th Arrondissment is  a must. Walking through what was originally a building constructed for the city of Paris’ undertakers, I was plunged into a world of rappers and jugglers, hip hop dancers and acrobats. Old people and young people, children happily running around. The building is built in the style of the industrial buildings of its era (1870s) such as the train stations down the road, and thus a treat to be inside. Daniel Buren’s windows cast coloured shapes on the ground even as the sun barely made it through the clouds on a rainy Paris day. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the space is that it is accessible to everyone - all ages, ethnicities, cultural and class backgrounds. I was struck by its ability to do away with the hierarchies of traditional gallery and museum spaces.

Some of the works in Matérialité de l’Invisible were conceptually challenging, and yet the same audience from inside the halls spilled over into the exhibition rooms, looking at experimental films, wandering through conceptual installations, all doing their best to grasp the often elusive meanings. I was struck by the power that art has in a cultural centre such as this. As people discussed what they saw, and children of all ages, as well as senior citizens wandered through the rooms, I was impressed that the setting enabled the possibility that experimental, or at least vanguard, art might have an effect on people’s lives.
Agapanthe: Konné & Mulliez, Amas
For people like me who have an aversion to sugar for all of its chemical substance and toxic effects, Agapanthe’s Amas,  sculptures made of sugar were simultaneously repulsive and beautiful. Sugar wraps itself around everyday household objects, consuming them, taking them over, like a monster. But the sparkle and glitter of sugar as it crystallized around empty cans, candy wrappers and non-descript trash was simultaneously, somehow magical as it overwhelmed every object it touched. The contradiction of sugar as it eats into the fabric of daily life was powerfully represented.
Anish Kapoor, Ascension, 2008
The piece de resistance of Matérialité de l’Invisible is, unsurprisingly, the inclusion by Anish Kapoor. Ascension is a tornado-like column of smoke falling down from a ceiling fan, becoming vapour as it reaches the ground. Ascension is captivating, not only for its use of smoke becoming an object, but because more than any other piece in the exhibition, it shows the invisible made visible, and then turned back into invisible. This play with vision and materiality is typical Kapoor, as is his wont to make opposites coexist, impossibly. Thus, inside and outside are one and the same, just like the smoke or vapour is both material and immaterial, at the same time. For the children, the puzzling ambiguity of what the column was didn’t matter. They had fun when they played in and with it, deformed it, marveled at it, and immersed themselves inside of it. The children pointed to another ambiguity of Ascension: it is both image and object, even if it is an object always in integration.

Nathalie Joffre, Apparitions
Nathalie Joffre, Data History Voyage

Another artist whose work I found compelling, more for its conceptualization than it’s aesthetic was that of Nathalie Joffre. In Data History Voyage, she uses three pieces in different media to overlay the narrative of the excavation of an archaeological site she was filming with that of the memory of her computer files. Joffre’s was one of the smartest juxtapositions of science and art that simultaneously embraced questions of memory, history, and their narratives to find the gaps and spaces, the black holes of the past, so to speak. In those black holes--the invisible--disappeared the critical information that would enable a comprehensive history and story of what her film, the film in general, attempts to document. This discourse on the narrative of film leads onto the history of the archaeological site in excavation. The multi-media work bridged the past, present and future, as well as the myriad possibilities of visual media.

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