Sunday, February 23, 2014

RERO ERREUR DANS LE TITRE: Laborious Reading and the Ellipsis

RERO. "The invisible is in the visible beyond the look." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

RERO, a French street artist, is known for his strike-through text, inscribed within (and upon) prestigious art institutions such as the Centre Pompidou and the Grand Palais, as well as abandoned spaces (Backslash Gallery Exposition Summary). His current exhibit at Backslash Gallery in the 3eme arrondissement explicitly experiments with the perceptible, the imperceptible, and the erased. Arial style font inscribed upon metal, paper, wood, and wallpaper, witty phrases taunt, tease, and escape the viewer (and their camera). Through difficult to read color combinations, or the actual use of physical barriers, RERO makes it hard to access his various texts.

RERO. "From word to deed..." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

First, RERO's use of physical obstacles in the gallery space transform it from a space of pleasurable looking, to one of uncomfortable deciphering.
RERO. Long view, upper floor of gallery. Backslash Gallery, Paris.  February 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
The piece in the far back, which presumable reads (or is deciphered as) "Je vous attends dehors," "I wait for you outside," is the first of such physically blockaded pieces. The piece, which is inscribed directly onto the gallery space, is covered in an aged piece of wood, rough and worn. The combination of the strikethough, the obscuring board, and the ellipses lend to the piece a sense of mystery, a hidden message, but a message that is only reluctantly given, and then recanted, or made ambiguous.
RERO. "Je vous attends dehors..." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
As a street artist, RERO emerges from a milieu where the unreadable or the illegible is not necessarily a bad thing. For many graffiti artists, by having an unreadable (to non initiates) signature enables to communicate in the light of the public, but beneath and around its penetrating gaze. The urge for legibility, readability, and easy translation, Chicago-based artists Stef and Raven suggest, is the logic of typographic capitalism that writes out the spiritual, complex, and layered communications that constitute human exchange. A second obstacle piece, this time inscribed around a bottom corner of the gallery reads:

RERO. "La nature prefere les ____ aux impasses." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
What does nature prefer to impasses? What does the typographical, struck through text, so mechanical in aesthetic and form, have to do with nature? The ellipsis, which extends this piece, and many of the others, speaks to further ambiguity and the continuance of thought.

In a recent Artforum piece, Lauren Berlant explores the ellipsis:

Oh yes, the ellipsis! I’ve been working on ellipses as infrastructures of relation. When I saw the black balloons in Forlesen, I had to laugh, because they appear as a kind of exploded ellipsis, and Ellipsisturned out to be their title. Pope.L was playing with the flesh’s thingly temporality. At the opening, all of the black balloons were inflated, and by the end the helium had gone out of them and they were all on the ground—shriveled, sexual, uncanny and more, but not identical. That’s part of the show’s orchestration of negativity too. The balloons look like afterthoughts, the way they are scattered, because they don’t take up the same kind of concentrated monumental space as the big wooden cock. And yet…The thing about an ellipsis is that it has a set of contradictory meanings.An ellipsis is a sentence that I don’t end because…I don’t know how to.An ellipsis is a sentence I don’t end because…you know what I mean.An ellipsis is a figure of return that isn’t symmetrical.Ellipses might be a figure of loss or plenitude: Sometimes it is more efficient to go dot dot dot. Sometimes it’s also a way of signaling an elision. Sometimes the referent is beyond words.
The ellipsis, Berlant muses, serves as an "infrastructure of relation," that "has a set of contradictory meanings...a figure of loss or plenitude" that sometimes may be "beyond words." As a reading method for thinking relation in a way that allows thought to continue to move and grow, the ellipsis can serve as a visual sign of the not-yet-finished, a signal of an idea's non-sovereignty, or a space of reduction or "efficiency." In "Error in the Title," RERO's pieces leverage ellipsis in the context of charged normative (struckthrough) terms, such as "ESCAPE" but also in more enigmatic, seemingly less risky contexts.

Ellipsis, for RERO, also figures as a space of suspension, literal and affective. Many of the texts are suspended in a plastic laminate, white on white, only distinguishable from slightly protuding from the page, and difficult to capture with camera, as they attract the florescent gallery lights and cause glare.
RERO. "I can't believe in my words." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
In "I can't believe my words," a text which seems to have braille text covering it, is encased within a sheer gloss and suspended against a reflective metallic surface. The book's pages are dog-eared, ripped and shredded, lending a sense of age and aura to the object. RERO's declaration of doubt, "I can't believe my words..." is elevated from the text, literally cut out of it, but also struck through, an editorial gesture of withdrawal. So is it that he can't believe his words" or that he cannot NOT believe them? Here, the strikethrough creates a complicating double negative, creating additional ambiguity around the declaration of linguistic uncertainty.

A similar gesture is adopted in the piece adjacent:
RERO. "Don't tell me the truth." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February, 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
One could also read the pieces as anticipatory, as one of the more declarative suggest (albeit after being crossed out):
RERO. "Something will happen here..." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
The unreadable also emerges as lack of space. Pieces where RERO emerges all spaces between words to create what, on first glance, seems like a dense but nonsensical assembly of letters, to what, after closer (labored) reading, creates a paragraph.

The piece above notes: "This work presents a landscape in which swarm toxic things and pollutants: Their invisibility is not an indication of their non existence. Their realities play in all manner of ways in the sphere of the invisible, and it gives to their presumed presence a space that is quasi-unlimited..."

The invisible is not the non existent. The invisible creates an unlimited space of play, but also toxicity, the deadly pollutant. Positioned next to a (seemingly) empty canvas of burlap, in juxtaposition the space of apparent emptiness is referred to a space that contains a landscape of pollution, invisible but real.

In the exhibition write up, the curator quotes Pascal Quignard:  "To write is to hide a message, to confide to external memory that which does not make any noise, that which buries the words, as if they sleep, in a space for waiting, reserved for that one who will find them because he knows the code that allows him to bring them back to life."

"Ecrire c'est cacher un message, le confier à une mémoire extérieure qui ne fait pas de bruit, qui ensevelit les mots, comme endormis, dans une attente, résérvés à celui qui saura les trouver parce qu'il connaîtra le code permettant de les faire revivre."

As a closing ellipsis, a piece that directly signals RERO's attachment (however ambiguous) to a graffiti lineage is disclosed.
RERO. "Une contradiction pour chaque graffiti et chaque graffiti a sa contradiction..." Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

It observes: A contradiction for each graffiti, and each graffiti has its contradiction... 
A repositioning of the Marxist law of contradiction, of materialist dialectics, the phrase points to the repetition and becoming, rule of identity and difference contained in any and every object. "Development arises from the contradictions inside a thing," Mao Tse Tung notes, attempting to explain historical change outside of a bourgeois frame. RERO's mobilization of the law of contradiction could be read to align him with Marxist ideology. It can also be read more ambiguously as a textual strategy, being and non being, writing and striking out, that is concluded in an ellipsis or a gesture towards a future thought that may (or may not) be the undoing of the prior thought. Mobilizing graffiti style across spaces in a way that undoes its own polemic, RERO uses legible text to create a site of laborious reading and uncertainty, working against its seeming transparency. Using the space of the gallery as active participant, RERO also draws attention to the protocols of visibility and invisibility that shape spectatorship in a high art venue. Strike throughs and ellipses render unstable polemical interpretation, as well as the sovereignty of the viewer. Pleasurable, frustrating, and hard to locate, "Error in the Title" is a provocative meditation on signification, invisibility, and the potential.

RERO. "Visible (in)Visible" Backslash Gallery, Paris. February 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce.

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