Five years old at Palais de Tokyo

I have recently started an internship at the culture department of the Danish Embassy in Paris. I enjoy this a lot, as I have always enjoyed art and literature, but it also stresses me out a bit. There are too many people and artists that I am supposed to know about, or at least to have heard about,  and my namedropping skills remain at zero. It was therefore, feeling the need to be updated on cultural knowhow and general artistic coolness, that I went to the Palais de Tokyo opening with my very best intentions of being observant and critical. Lets just say that my plan didn’t pan out excactly the way I had envisioned it…

After a little wait in the rain, my friend and I, who had come directly from work, were let into an already bubbling atmosphere of people, smalltalk and smiles everywhere. Everybody seemed genuinly excited to be there and to experience Soleil Froid, Palais de Tokyo’s newest exhibition. Although I was thrown off for a minute by the excessive amount of beautiful, welldressed people, and the mounting wish for an afterwork beer, we quickly went downstairs and started moving our way through the underground labyrinth that is the lower floor of Palais de Tokyo. The place was crowded, but not in a bad way, and we enjoyed the very diverse pieces. We even found a piece by a danish artist, of a talking depressed fox in a mirror telling the story of the worlds demise, and I took a mental note and a phonephoto, to show to the good people at the embassy. The idea was, that maybe, in the realm of danish culture, I could get to come back during worktime and study it a bit closer. It never happened, but in the moment I felt at the epitomy of my cultural journey.

A little while later, we worked our way out of the downstairs labyrinth and into the arms of a cold beer on the first floor. We stood for a while and observed the people, until we noticed a corner covered with mirrors that seemed to be the entrance to something. Having recalled, that earlier, there used to be more exhibitions back in that corner, we made our way, past beautiful girls and boys in colorful clothes, until we were in front of the glimmering entrance. And that is when all seriousness, if there was any to begin with, evaporated. We found ourself in a hall of mirrors, as the ones you know from your childhood, and instantly we became five years old. We walked around, amazed like babies, looking at our own images reflected all over.

On the other side of the mirrored hall, the game of lights and mirrors continued as we, mesmerized by tiny pieces of mirrors, several light installations and a lit labyrinth of cloth, walked through what felt like several rooms of light and shadow. The excitement would have no end and everyone, old ladies as well as perky young hipsters, seemed enthralled in the same feeling of light and lightness. Of uncomplicated beauty and whimsicalness.

We felt happy and serene as we crossed the corridor and entered, what we assumed to be, the front hall that we came from. But we had misjudged the size of the museum and instead we found ourselves in the exact opposite of where we came from. We entered a big room and were immediately overwhelmed by the noise of what seemed to be a hundred schoolchildren. But instead of schoolchildren, what we saw were our fellow museumguests. Running around, stomping and throwing with things. In what can only be described as a big circus. We shrugged and joined the games. I took pictures as my friend happily stomped around on a noisemaker disguised as an installation, and we tried out several viewdistorting sunglasses.  After a little while we quickly tired of the noise, and with tired eyes and excitement in our bodies, we returned to the dark, quiet coolness of the parisian evening. The last part of our journey had washed out any desire I had to be pseudointellectual, or even to retain the name of a single artist.

I went home with a smile on my face and a photo of a talking fox on my phone.  I will come back another time to see the rest of the pieces once more, but for this evening, I had a wonderfull time just being five years old again.

Soleil Froid is an exhibition taking place at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris from February 27th to May 20th, 2013

melissa chloe

Silent girl in the window – The work of artist Mélissa Boucher

These days, as you approach the Galerie Florence Leoni in Paris,  you are greated by a young, fragile and almost austere looking woman who stares you down and refuses to let you in on her secrets. She looked at me from the window thursday evening and drew me into the warmth of the gallery, where a vernissage was well on its way, and where I met her maker, the artist Mélissa Boucher.

Mélissa Boucher, Chloé

From afar Boucher’s piece entitled Chloé looks like a bigger version of a straightforward portrait photo, as you know them from passports, drivers licences etc., but when you really look at it you quickly realize that you are in fact facing a videoinstallation. The  photospell is broken by the girl’s random and natural movements that makes it appear as if she is waiting for something to happen while she stares into what used to be the camera, but is now the audience. You get the impression that she is waiting for her photo to be taken. She seems to pose herself as you would do in a photobooth waiting for the flash to go off, and this is, as I found out by talking to the artist, exactly what she is doing. The work captures the waitingprocess before a supposed photography is taken, and the video thereby seems to project an almost blank and ungarded side of the blueeyed girl. It is an approach that seems to capture a sort of nothingness. A blankness of expectation that occurs the moment before something actually happens. The same blankness that appears on most passportphotos, where you never quite get the timing right and therefore end up looking like an emotionless serialkiller. Not that this girl looks like a serialkiller, but she does look secretive. The artist mentions her looks as a rememberance from the paintings from the past, her outfit and the color of her hair.

The moment of anticipation is captured by Mélissa Boucher in a short video-loop that repeats itself every couple of minutes and which at times slows down to an almost undetectable slowmotion. Two effects, the looping and the slowmotion, that works together to create a moment frozen in time. Standing in front of the film, it does, in fact, feel a lot like standing in front of a photograph. Boucher thereby seems to have transfered the portraitgenre to the medium of the videoinstallation in a way that preserves, what I would call, the inherent quality of a photograph; its silence. She reenacts the way that a photograph captures a moment suspended in time, without a knowable before and after, and thereby taps into the enigmatic quality of a good photograph. In short, she leaves you wanting to know more. Like the physical presence of a photograph, Bouchers piece seems to underline an absence of information and to preserve a stubborn silence in face of the many unanswered questions. Unevitable questions like: Who is this? What is she thinking? What is she doing? What will she do? It seems like Boucher, who has previously worked with photography, is trying to transfer the inherent silence and the intriguing unknowabelness from the still media of the photography to the normaly more informative and noisy media of the video. She extends the momentariness of a photograph to the videoinstallation where the intriguing, but unknowable, subject is stuck in the videoloop. A loop that, along with the choice of an interesting subject, makes you want to know more, as many good photographs often do…

The smokers view

Another facet to the work is it’s placement in the gallery that seems to dictate the way the audience approaches it. I discovered this when I first stepped up to see the work, which I assumed was a still picture, and ended up obscuring it completely with the outline of my head. I thereby quickly discovered that I was standing in front of a projector and realized that I was in fact facing a projection and not a photograph. The obviousness of the projector might seem a bit obtrusive, especially as it makes one fifth of the gallery off limits if you don’t want to hide the work with your head or other bodyparts, but it is not an accidental placement. The obviousness of the projector is, as Boucher explained, a way to point out the connection between the photographylike video and the projector. That is, to underline the fact that it is a projection and not a photograph, which therby underlines the whole idea of the portrait gone video.
The projectorplacement forces you to see the video from any other angle than the one you would normally use; standing right in front of it. Instead you have to see it either from the sides, from behind the freestanding projector or as a last option; from the outside. The latter being an option as the work is projected on a sort of glassplate, which enables the freezing smokers to see the work as well. Which is also what creates the before mentioned effect of being welcomed to the gallery by the enigmatic girl in the video. An enigmatic quality of the silent projection that Boucher herself describes as « les paradoxes du visible ». A phrasing that I like, as it revokes the general idea I got of the video, where curiosity and the frustation of not knowing something collides with the visual and very direct presentation of the very thing that seems to be hidden and unknowable.

Mélissa Boucher’s play with the visible and the unknowable is also very prominent in another of her intriguing videoinstallations, that will be premiered at the KSAT CAMP # 1 on the 15th of December!

Lionel Sabatté’s use of toenails and dead skin to make art pieces

Dead skin, toenails and dustwolfs ended up being on the menu last saturday when I lured two friends, visiting from Denmark, to the Backslash gallery‘s vernissage with tales of wine and art. The Backslash gallery was this evening celebrating its second birthday with the opening of the exhibition « Family and Friends ». An exhibition that summarizes the lifespan of the small gallery with a potpourri of the works of the different artists that have been showcased there throughout the years and some that have been invited as a guest artist for the event. The classical, but not too stern-looking, white-cubish space of the gallery contains many interesting pieces, but our attentions were especially drawn to the works of the french artist Lionel Sabatté. Works that can be labeled among other things as brilliant conversation starters.

From afar the works of Lionel Sabatté, exhibited at the gallery, looks quite traditional and almost more scientific than artistic; three frames with pinned butterflies on a white background. But as you look closer you quickly realize that the insect bodies have been replaced by what appears to be tiny human skeletons. Tiny bones and skulls made of nailclippings and human skin. A fact that is not pointed out by any plaque at the gallery, but which makes the works a sort of exploration, where you have to establish the artistic materials yourself. A task that we completed, when we found a skeleton thigh with a fingerprint on it. Whereafter our discussion quickly turned pragmatic and was infused with bad humor, as we wondered where the nails and the skin had been procured. The seemingly gloomy pieces do in fact seem to invoke humor, despite the fact that they are created by the stacking of mortality and fragility connotations, such as pinned butterflies and skeletons, and executed with literaly dead materials. The absurdity of the use of nail clippings and peeled of skin as artistic materials creates an interesting contrast to the representation of  bones and death. A contrast that destabilize the works and keep them from becoming too serious and too literal, which would have pushed them dangerously close to being clichés because of the overwhelming use of memento mori connotations. This means, that even though the artist uses instantly recognizable images in a very tradition way, he still makes sure that they suddenly become somehow distorted or more foreign when you look closer and discover the materials. The images that easily could have fallen into bad pathos and a reminiscent chanting about memento mori therefore appears interesting and the mini-sculptures seem too offer a new view on the old « we are all going to die sometime » theme, without being reminiscent or repetitive.

It is especially Sabatte’s choice of unusual materials that render the pieces interesting and induces discussion. A tactic that are also to be found in his latest project where he, as he jokingly explained, have made wolfs of dust. The juxtapositioning of odd materials and traditional motifs continues in this series of work, where the image of the wolf is contrasted by the ephemeric quality of dust. The main movement in Sabatte’s works seem to be an interaction between context and construction. An interaction which gives the initially easily recognisable works an unpredictable and interesting quality. A quality that is to be found in many of his works, where he, in different ways and in different mediums, seems to invoke the relationship between the expected and the unexpected. The friends might have come for the wine, but they ended up stayed for the nailclippings and the stories of dustwolfs.

Some more of Sabatte’s works, that also examine the relationship between motif and material:

One of Sabatte’s dustwolf, whereof a whole pack has been exhibitioned at Jardin des plantes – Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

Another example of Sabatte’s work. An owl made of nails and footskin.

An example of Sabatte’s work on paper. A work which also incorporates the use of dust as well as the remains of an eraser.

Another work on paper, this time executed with eggshells.

A work made with traditional materials such as acrylic, oilpainting and vernis. The balance between the traditional and the untraditional (before seen with the untraditional materials and the recognizable motifs) is this time upheld by the relationship between the traditional materials and the more abstract motif.

N.B: Martina, Yasmine and me were invited at the Backslash gallery thanks to Frédéric Léglise and Jojo Wang who took part to the KSAT#5.

Lionel Sabatté was invited by the Backslash gallery and is represented by Patricia Dorfmann‘s gallery