r e v i e w s

Interlacing and Sabotage

by Guillaume Gesvret

We have never been so eager to win people over by explaining everything: economics, history, philosophy, and even literature. Vapid rhetoric and radio screaming are no longer enough, we now have to unfold everything in order to seduce. But what happens when, instead of unfolding, one folds, implies, and speaks of this moving implication, like that of a mystery which escapes us?

Christo’s Discretion

The opposite of all that is unfolded? L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (2021) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

At first glance, a massive overview of time and space to come: saturated, blocked, suffocating. And yet, suddenly, discreetly, when we closely observe the small metallic lines (polypropylene fabric) that wrap the monument instead of the monument itself, we quickly understand that “this most closed of worlds is [in fact] the most unlimited.”[1] Revelation. Eureka. I couldn’t find anything because it spins unceasingly, in the braids that continue to appear and disappear, and in the folds they form when the gaze wanders away again.

“This most closed of worlds is [in fact] the most unlimited.” Good news (?) in which the most important word may not be the one you think, “unlimited”, but rather, “in fact,” or even, “fact.” Read it again.

I remember a schoolboy from Stains who exclaimed, almost laughing, one day, “We are surrounded by fences, in fact!” Strange enthusiasm, originating from a trap in order to draw energy from its improvised reading, in detail; or to look for its small true fact, between the limited and the unlimited, the anguish and the enthusiasm, the trap where one stumbles, and its infinitely varied description which frees itself from itself in a certain way.

Christo et Jeanne-Claude, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (details), 2021. Photo : Wolfgang Volz. All rights reserved. Courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation.

When we approach the wrapping again, a small piece of a contemporary painting or wicker basket appears. The ambivalence, this interwoven part of the experience, becomes a permanent oscillation for the viewer: tightly packed or infinite variation of braids? But also: anguished suffocation or playful dissimulation? Trap or protection? Garbage bag or block of freshly cut marble? The ambivalence here is a weapon of massive disorganization against all the parameters of certainty. Even the skeptic is still too sure of himself. The indifferent too. Ambivalence does not leave one indifferent. It accompanies the desire at the moment of its awakening, of its circulation in a contradictory bath where something emerges: not necessarily a hurricane, but rather a wave, a fold, created by the destruction of the previous one. To find this type of ambivalence– baroque and subtly sabotaging, yet nevertheless a great spectacle for the general public in the center of a roundabout in Paris– is a joy. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had of course planned everything– including the joy of the unexpected– meticulously.

What’s underneath? We know, and yet… It’s almost like the joy of a child who likes to be scared. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrappings are childhood memories to come. Because everything plays hide-and-seek, the worst and the best. The first wrappings looked like body parts tied up after a crime, or like secret parcels for clandestine lovers. The birth of a desire pulses in the shadow, contradictorily. It electrifies the formless space of its appearance. It invents itself at the moment it conceals itself. Hides itself at the moment it addresses itself. Would art have wanted to teach us to feel a desire being born? In love and/or criminal? We are so bored of listening to everyone speak that ambivalence has almost become precious, with the intact, archeological joy of discovering its turbulence– slightly insidious, indeed dangerous, surely refreshing– to finally choose its way, to move away from this elusive form, and to look differently at these broken links that linger (the blue strapping to enclose a parcel), memory of a break, promise of a liberation?

What we now see from a distance is a monument to all the would-be escapees who deal with the ambivalence of ties– and no longer a tribute to a particular military victory. Under an official guise, and through this discreet transfer of memory, is it not in fact a debunking of sorts?

Turbulent tembé

By virtue of approaching a wrapped triumphal arch, one finds the weaving of a tembé. In paintings or carved reliefs, on doors or everyday objects, tembé appeared in Guyana, among the Businenge, a Maroon community of descendants of fugitive slaves known as “brown negroes” at the beginning of the 19th century. According to Dénètem Touam Bona, the braided bands of the tembé, each of a different bright color, represent both the memory of slavery and that of the liberating flight into the rainforest. They thus bear witness to the sabotage of the plantations as well as to the sense of history (of the victors), thus disorganized but from within. In memory of the transmutation of the bonds that imprison– including the forest– into lianas that conceal the escape, the tembé are also the more “stabilized” challenge of exchanges in the newly created community always capable of welcoming newcomers.[2]

The fence that one wanted to ward off thus becomes a very paradoxical refuge where to live, and to open up to those who come. In their tendency to abstraction (as if they were already valid for other ties and other lianas), the tembé thus retell the escape of the slaves, but as the issue of a reading, that of the transformation of a suffocating trap into a strategic covering that makes life possible. A testimony of the past, the tembé also leaves one alert to the uncertain future. From one generation to the next, the need for an infinite sabotage is always present, always actualizable, a place to use the trap against itself.

Searching for a Hold

Another way to elaborate an allegorical sketch of the present moment– this time from very close-up, at the edge of the erasure of a work on the verge of merging with the wall, the logistics, the wires that linger– is with the macramés of Mara Fortunatović (Electra series, 2021).[3] In the latest edition of the Jeune Création exhibition in Romainville, the white electrical outlets braided together were used to supply electricity to the surrounding works. For a long time now, painting has been braided, twisted, stratified, thickened or barred with intermittent strips, resisting in every way the projection of an illusion or a univocal meaning. And yet, if these threads do not really serve the good functioning of the world (like utility companies), they produce, in extremis, a sign– half austere, half ironic– which would concern even the greatest joy and the greatest mourning (To that extreme? Really?). These threads speak, they question: what is the energy that runs through us and how do we capture it, give it, relay it, in a bed of love or at the threshold of death? What exchange of energy takes place despite the absence of relationship between us? The form almost disappears at the place where it gives energy– that is at least what it makes us believe. And it joins not only an idea of “life” or of “the need for collective mutual aid,” but also engages a practice of reading, which it convenes to better revoke it. A reading that has also become sinuous, to pay attention to what should not have been there­: not like this, not in this form, quietly, minutely metamorphosed. Besides, if attention has become the real fuel, everything is suddenly reversed. And the generosity becomes the phagocyte of the dose of attention that the works around it also required, thus delicately mastered. Not only does the intensity in question circulate, but its value does as well, sometimes emancipating, sometimes perverse. This is its danger, also invisible, but light, and even playful: “to give is to give, to take back is to steal.” This work must above all be astonished to produce so many associations much too literary. Simple suspended braiding, abandoned. Penelope left to find a vagrant who tells her something. Shortly before the great massacre.

Mara Fortunatović, Electra, 2021. electrical cables and sockets, variable dimensions. Courtesy Mara Fortunatović.

Pixel and Death

In his photomontages, Thomas Hirschhorn uses pixelization like others use braiding, folding or wrapping. In The Purple Line at the Maxxi Museum in Rome (on view until March 6, 2022), images jostle each other: silhouettes and Western luxury goods juxtaposed with horrific images of corpses photographed just after attacks or killings in war zones. The banal, continuous and limp movement of the visit is gradually transformed into something else, more devious, exceptional: at times, avoidance, at others, brushing of the work in a corridor too narrow for distance, until the oblique attention to the reflections of the plastic which covers these montages, or to the nails which hold them hung.

With Hirschhorn, the pixels (for “picture elements”) often miss their target. They no longer decompose the horrible image to make it bearable, having become unreadable through geometric oversimplification. All modesty out of control, as well as the mastery of information that usually decides it, it is the effect of a saturation that is staged: at the same time confusion (which image do they want to show us, to hide?) and a strike (through the quantity of images, the intensity of the horror). The images intermingle, complicate each other and gradually bring out what can only be seen by glimpsing it, sometimes falling back on a dull advertising cliché. Because glimpsing is the most intense modality of the gaze in this region of the horror, and not at all a defective regime of the vision. Between the violence pixelated for our own good and the commercial ready-to-read that distracts us from it, rediscovering the possibility of a gaze is thus the challenge– insufficient but unavoidable– of a politics of the gaze.

Exhibition view of Thomas Hirschhorn, “The Purple Line” Photo : Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Fondazione MAXXI.

From one tomb to another, the face of the dead replaces their forgotten name. Each time we think of him, of her, singularly. It is incredibly bad taste, with its critical scope reminiscent of others (Martha Rosler inserting photos of the Vietnam War into American interiors), and yet: a multiplied passion, not far from the Saint Cecilia of Trastevere under her translucent marble. Recognition is thus only hanging on by a few intertwined threads. It is both difficult to see and an exercise in not understanding and recognizing everything too quickly. This interlacing invents other modes of reading in search of a tact in full confusion. Between undergone disorientation and active delicacy, this weaver’s tact would assume to lose the thread (of sense, of history) to better find it, elsewhere and differently; or to return its free and groping movement, full of detours and discoveries, to the infinite (un)lacing

[1] See Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon. Logique de la sensation [1981], Seuil, 2002, p. 37, and Le Pli, Minuit, 1988.

[2] Other “outlaws” are “braided” into it: European deserters, Amerindians escaped from the missions, among others. See Dénètem Touam Bona, Fugitif, où cours-tu?, PUF, 2016, and Marie-José Mondzain, K comme Kolonie, La Fabrique, 2020, pp. 192-200.

[3] The artist will participate in the group show “Last Seen” at Koppel Project in London on February 2, 2022; the Pole Gallery in Paris; at Drawing Now Art Fair at the Carreau du Temple with the Archiraar Gallery in Paris from March 24 to 27, 2022; and at the Gilles Drouault Gallery for a solo show, “On The Edge,” from September 3, 2022.