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26 Sep 2014

Sabrina Tarasoff on 'Mammouth', Treignac Projet, FR

Falke Pisano, 'Structure For Repetition (not representation)' (2013)

Exhibition review: 'Mammouth', Treignac Projet (31 May - 31 August 2014)
Treignac Projet


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Treignac Projet
2 rue Ignace Dumergue
19260 Treignac

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An anecdote provided by Matt Packer for the press text of Treignac Projet's recent exhibition 'Mammouth' details a moment in the early 20th century, in which surrealist artist and visionary Andre Breton defaced a 20,000 year old painting in the caves of Lascaux, eager, in his intoxicated state, to disprove the paleolithic origins of the images. In short, a scratch on the surface of a primitivist rendering of a mammoth, and a subpoena from the French government later, Breton was condemned to fines payable to the mayor on charges of degradation of cultural heritage. It has been suggested that the relatively benign sentence was served on basis of Breton being 'not of a normal state of mind', too heavily under the influence to have been in charge of his own actions.

Diverging slightly, in 1964, Peter de Vries famously penned the statement 'write drunk, edit sober' in his novel 'Reuben', Reuben, a fictional text on the life and work of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It warrants a mention that there has been some debate on the origin of the quotation, equivocally attributed to Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Baudelaire respectively—all notable drunks in their own right. Regardless of its origins, the proposition seems to access the very heart of surrealist ideology, in which the tension between drunkenness and sobriety becomes an alternative path, a mode of production unbound from the idea that material and phenomenal experiences are mutually exclusive. Rather, the surrealist experience Breton indulges in—as do countless of other artists, poets and theorists alike—is one of radical possibility. By destabilizing human experience through, say, one too many vodkas, aesthetic moralism, droning historicism and other limiting factors can be thrown out the window—or in Breton's case, cave—all in order to free the self from the supposed oppression of normative doctrines.

Here, it becomes quite clear that what the anecdote introduces us to, is far more complex than a state of intoxication capable of inducing creative—and political—agency. Rather, in Benjaminian terms, it is here that 'intoxication finds its practical expression in anarchism' ; anarchism, in its own right, defined as a liberation, a conscious withdrawal from social reason and an abjection of common consensus. This all implies a very methodological desire to intoxicate oneself with ideological thought in order to 'edit' the socioeconomic, aesthetic and moral trajectories we capitulate to.

In 'Mammouth', it is perhaps precisely this insurrectionary desire to 'edit' or rewrite the theories of representation that have emerged as a result of the increasing convergence between symbolic and capital values in art. The production of knowledge has become synonymous with the market in and of itself—significantly, leaving the material, or the corporeal, subservient to the status, identity or context implied. At that, as the object becomes increasingly governed by a socioeconomic system reliant on conviviality and networking, in which consumption is no longer a working methodology, but imperative to ones participation, the body is put into an entirely new kind of focus as a vessel for capital exploitation.

This appears most blatantly in Falke Pisano's 'Structure For Repetition (not representation)' (2013), a haughty, paravent-like structure is recalled from 'The Body In Crisis', a series of works made by the artist in the past year. As the title suggests, Pisano's work attempts to create an archive of political, economic and historic affects on the human body; the body here, considered as an abstracted object, reflecting the sequentiality, repetitiveness and moral contentions of its surroundings. Though firmly on the side of representation, Hans-Peter Feldmann's 'Handprint (Andre Breton)' (2007) acts out a similar agenda. Whilst Feldmann's print can be considered as a direct reference to the anecdote on Breton, more abstractly, it becomes a way of re-positioning human presence in our sphere of images following the alienation and exploitation of the body that occurs post-industrialization. Here, as the corporeal, the bodily, is appropriated and repeated in the artist's work, it is abstracted from its uniqueness—it becomes a representation of touch, a mechanization of the body.

At that, as one is reminded of the other handprints featured in the series—Charlotte Wolff, Aldous Huxley and Marcel Duchamp to name a few—it becomes evermore clear that the crisis suggested by the Surrealists, the abstraction of the body under capital influences, was never truly halted. Matt Bryans' 'Untitled (Gun Barrells)' (2014) brings this to a violent conclusion, as the hand-crafted barrells scattered around the exhibition suggest the self-infliction underlying the abstraction of labour. Here, though Pisano and Feldmann both hint at a technological instrumentalization of the body under times of socioeconomic or aesthetic conflict, Bryans clarifies its organic origin, its roots in the body and the continued mutualism that exists there within. The body can perhaps be understood as a vessel for capital exploitation, but it is also responsible, all the same, for its own dissent.

In contrast, Nanna Nordström's almost touchingly hand-made sculpture, Untitled, consistent of a bricolage of media including a potato and magnets, relies on a subtle balance between controlled actions and external forces. Contrary to the rigid, almost infallibly precise logic in the aforementioned pieces, Nordström assumes contingency as a condition of her work, and the object of creation as its determinant. The materials create a space in which chance and rules, form and logic can co-exist, whilst determining the actions of those interacting with it and thereby establishing new relationships accordingly. This is perhaps closest we get in the exhibition to Breton's original action—not as a defacement of property, by any means, but as a work of art loaded with the potential of action. One false move, and a new equilibrium must be considered. Jess Flood-Paddock's work, 'Oral Records', functions quite similarly, though in a much more instantaneous, almost myopic way. Her mural of haphazard, drunken abstractions seem visually connected to Feldmann's print, as imprecise and fragile as Nordström's sculpture and as deterministic as Bryans' bullets, yet remains somewhat unconvincing, unjustifiable. Yet there is a lesson within the groundlessness of the piece concerning how readily we are willing to consume images, especially under the ever-so-alluring, mysterious intoxication of creative impulse. Anarchistic freedom, drunkenness, and creative expression appear in the piece as age-old addendums, clichéed remarks pertaining to a liberty we can no longer claim as real.

In the works of Alan Phelan, Padraig Spillane and Katja Novistkova, however, the body is withdrawn from the distinctions it is privileged by in the other works. No longer is the body, nor its materiality, treated as a personal or autonomous space, even amidst its crises; rather, it is collectivised through notions of institutionalization, technological advancement and the unbound proliferation of images around us.

Significantly, what these works underscore in the context of the exhibition is that the removal of the body is not a loss of its presence; instead, it shows how the body has been recontextualized as an representation of itself, a replica of autonomy. Pisano, in 2013, remarked that 'the body is under full attack'; here, however, the body has already capitulated to the forces of production and representation, in such a way that even intoxication, abstraction and creative insurgency become near indistinguishable from normative, institutional practices. At that, the works in 'Mammouth' seem to form an almost precautionary narrative, demonstrating, through overlapping genealogies and antithetical material pursuits, that the complacency of our image culture is perhaps in part a result of the displacement of the human body in the past century. Where sheer human materiality is abstracted, capitalized, co-opted and made superficial by reproduction and technology, labour politics and economics, our affect—or at least our perception of that affect—forcibly changes. By prodding his thumb into the mammoth at Lascaux, Breton disrupted the progress of history, halted it for a moment, thereby forcing his contemporaries—whether deliberately or just as a drunk—to consider the implications of such actions. Perhaps, all in all, each of the works selected for 'Mammouth' prod at history in one way or another, in a sober attempt to force attention upon the failures we have condemned ourselves to repeat within the apparatuses we current exist within.

© S. Tarasoff, 2014


Treignac Projet, FR

31 May - 31 August 2014

Artists: André Breton (an anecdote), Matt Bryans, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Jess Flood-Paddock, Katja Novitskova, Nanna Nordström, Alan Phelan, Falke Pisano, Pádraig Spillane.

Curated by Matt Packer