Sunday, March 30, 2014

Genre Changes and Reinvigorating Wonder: Drawing Now at Le Salon du Dessin Contemporain

Looking at the same landscape over long periods of time can cause the vision to blur, skim, or otherwise shift to an engagement based more on habit than curiosity. This sometimes becomes the case in my research on graffiti or street art. It is easy to tell a reliable narrative about an art object through the frame of the already-having-been seen.

Of course, as many theorists of the aesthetic and political can tell us, such an approach has clear drawbacks. Luce Irigary argues that one ought to approach gender as not a given but a space of wonder that "sees as if always for the first time." In French, the word for gender and genre is one and the same genre. Socially produced identity can relate to questions of gender, but also simply genre, belonging to a certain category. In either case, the stakes for membership are often high. This week, from March 25, 2014 to March 30, 2014, there was a large scale exposition on drawing. I attended on the suggestion of Nathalie Victoire, a street artist, who told me that there were works by one of France's first street artists: Speedy Graphito. Visiting Drawing Now has helped me to reconsider, or rather, reminded me, that the question of aesthetic genre, membership, identity, and history for street art/graffiti, is very much up for grabs and lies neither on the side of painting nor drawing.

Speedy Graphito. Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Speedy Graphito. Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

There is also a piece from Swoon's "Motherlands" show, and Bodelocque did a live drawing of one of his animals on chalkboard. Indeed, Le Monde reports, "l'art brut," or self-taught or outsider (ish) art has a privileged place in this year's expositon.

Swoon. Motherlands. 2013. Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Espace Commines boasts an installation by Lek and Sowat in collaboration with Jacques Villeglé.

Jacques Villeglé, now 87 years old, is one of the major figures of New Realism and who in the 1960s, explored Paris' walls, inscribing signs and symbols to create what he describes as a "sociopolitical" alphabet." Philippe Piguet, curator of the Villeglé, Lek and Sowat show argued:

« Le dessin est très prospectif, il donne à réfléchir sur nos codes, nos sociétés (…). Il investit la ville, il est omniprésent dans les graffitis et le street art, il créé un langage ... C’est [Villeglé] une figure tutélaire de l’art urbain, Lorsque j’ai découvert ce que faisaient les jeunes graffeurs au sous-sol du Palais de Tokyo, j’ai pensé que ce serait bien d’organiser une confrontation entre eux ».

Drawing is very prospective and enables us to reflect on our codes, and our society. It invests the city, and is omnipresent in graffiti and street art, it creates a language. Villeglé is a tutelary figure for urban art. When I discovered the work of young graffiti artists [Lek and Sowat] underneath the Palais de Tokyo, I thought that it would be good to organize a confrontation between them.
Sébastian Preschoux, Lek et Sowat. Peinture acrylique, encre, scotch, et bois sur linoleum. 2014. Le Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
However, it is not only the explicitly "street art" works that create more context for the movement. The exhibit as a whole functions as a reminder that drawing is the zero level of visual expression. The doodle, the scribble, the cut paper, and even an ink and paint production occupies a strange territory that is intimate, fragile, and hard to define. Different pieces in the exhibit explore and push the limits of what constitutes "drawing," from a three dimensional medicine-person caravan pulled by cigarette smoking dogs, to raw scribbles on notebook paper, to "digital drawing," the genre boundaries of drawing as an act that might be aligned with particular media are unravelled.

Le Gun, a collaborative piece, is a to-scale reproduction of a carriage, colored in black and white, containing labeled vials and objects invoking nostalgia for medicine wagons. A corpse rests on the floor of the vehicle, which is pulled by life-sized dogs.

Le Gun. Collaborative Piece.  2014. Le Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Le Gun. Collaborative Piece.  2014. Le Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce 

Gideon Kiefer's End of Dreams series, which depict massive bird heads placed precariously above minisule human figures points to spring awakenings and winter death. Fine lines descending from each beak mark either a potential impact trajectory, or sustaining cords.
Gideon Kiefer. The End of Dreams Drawings. Sense of Urgency. 2014. Le Salon de Dessin March 30, 2014. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Shine Shivan's work, which largely explores themes of identity, sexuality, and mortality, offers a glimpse into the way that drawings can create a sense of heaviness and vertiginous pull.

Notably, Phallic Phobia, the Bendana Ipinel Art Contemporain gallery owner told me, was painted using poison extracted from a cactus, and carefully applied to paper over the course of two months.

Shine Shivan. Phallic Phobia, 2013. Poison sur papier. 213 x 141 cm. Salon de Dessin, Paris, France. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Shine Shivan. Phallic Phobia close up, 2013. Poison sur papier. 213 x 141 cm. Salon de Dessin, Paris, France. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Boudelocque's live-action drawing of a horse, part of his cosmic creatures series, demonstrated the conciousness of drawing's public character held within the exhibit (videos of the artist were also projected on the surface of the exterior of the building on Friday night, creating a connective tissue between his works on the street, and inside).
Boudelocque. Drawing from lecture. March 2014 Le Salon du Dessin. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Wim Hardeman and Onno Schilstra's ongoing series, Panopticon Berlin, explores the relationship between biopolitical spaces and the bodies that dwell (and are shaped) within. Drawing heavily from Michel Foucault's work, Surveillir et Punir, the works are created by both artists as a sort of duet, yet, extracting bodies from spaces and vice versa, to create a momentary suspension where they can be considered in relief. Because the works are mere fragments of activity reading the effects of the spaces on laboring, learning, or imprisoned bodies require much imaginative exertion.
Wim Hardeman and Onno Schilstra. Panopticon Berlin. 2014. Le Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce 

Wim Hardeman and Onno Schilstra. Panopticon Berlin. 2014. Le Salon du dessin. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce 

The notion of the human is further stretched by Yoshio Kitayama, whose series which invokes medieval era paintings of hellfire and damnation, yet, titled with normatively valued terms like "Human Rights," brings a sense of discomfort and the uncanny to usually valorized terms.
Yoshio Kitayama. Human Rights. 2010. Ink on toriknokoshi paper. Le Salon du Dessin. Paris, France. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Moreover, several pieces explored the relationship between photography and drawing. Photography can be understood as light drawing, but also drawing can be read as an analogue form of photography. Catherine Boch takes neither approach, instead, using a sewing machine, weaves thread across the surface of paintings, leaving webbed spaces where one can glimpse buildings from an aerial view which is quickly covered over and smothered by yet more thread. Creating a composite image that is reminiscent of patterns of infection, but also moss growth, Boch uses a documentary mechanism precisely to obscure vision.
Catherine Boch. Sans Titre. 2013. Photographie aerienne sur papier argentique, greffées, carte routière, couture machine. Le Salon de Dessin. Paris, France. March 30, 2014. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

Detail. Catherine Boch. Sans Titre, 2013.
Finally, I want to close by mentioning two pieces that point to the relationship between documentation, memory, and violence.

Johann Rivat's Uncivilized series shows protest images that largely position figures of order-- police-- as figures of barbarity, the force of the uncivilized. In moments that may precede violence acts the spectator is filled with anticipation, and left to work out how violence unfolds from neatly queued bodies.

Johann Rivat. Uncivilized. Le Salon du dessin. Espace Commines. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce 
Jorge Pineda's La Forêt  Mensonges, The Forest of Lies, offers a disturbing tableau of a child-sized doll whose face is attached to a wall, from which heavy dark swirls unfold, gaining size and density. This forest of lies can stem from the imagination, from memory, or from the very visual field of the exposition itself. The juxtaposition between the three-dimensional life-like doll and the two dimensional scribbles is deeply disconcerting, implying the risk of the three dimensional collapsing, or the two dimensional taking on violent, tornado-like life. It presents drawing as a dynamic, emotional field that equally has the power to create, and to destroy.
Jorge Pineda. La Forêt Mensonges. The Forest of Lies. 2006/2014. Installation poupée et crayon sur mur. Le Salon du dessin. Espace Commines. March 30, 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce 
In all cases, the exhibit forces the spectator to reconsider drawing as a genre, seeing it "for the very first time" as a technique of creation, expression, and exploration that is both fragile and powerfully persistent. It can, and is, everywhere. On our streets, in the corner of notebooks, on napkins. A viral force, the drawn proliferate without interruption. As a result, it helps me to reconsider the life of street and graffiti art, to think about it not just as painting, but a work of drawing that is tactile, embodied, and unpredictable.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lille Hors le Murs: Automatic Writing and a Clownish Spectacle

Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Lille- Hors les Murs, a collaborative show with Jef Aérosol, Mimi the Clown, Mister P, and David Veroone, at Cabinet d’Amateur from March 27th to April 18th, offers a diverse exploration from Lille artists of small format experimentation in gallery-based street art. The idea of street art being located in a gallery may seem contradictory at first glance. Street art, historically, in France, functions as an intervention into the street, a critique of order, a spontaneous outbreak of public communication that is immediate and raw. Over the past forty years, however, street art has come to achieve a relatively established, although still peripheral, place in the French art scene.

Jef Aérosol Piece. Jimi Hendrix. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

At the vernissage I had the opportunity to speak with David  Veroone and Mimi the Clown.

David produces what he calls “urban calligraphy,” text based works that he develops from a process of “automatic writing” or “écriture automatique.” He explained:

“I read something that I find interesting all day, and then I write a phrase or idea, all mixed up, through automatic writing, over and over again…this expresses the emotionality of the day.”

David Veroone. Sans titre. Metale. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Largely based on a handwritten cursive style, David’s works invoke the power of the handmade to contain traces of affective charges. Yet, they are only ever traces. One can glimpse an energy or urgency in David’s texts, but they only exist as a visual residue, not a conative field. He dispenses with punctuation, spacing, and sometimes even word order, making the works opaque with regards to the texts from which they are derived.
David Veroone. Close up. Sans titre. Metale. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

In addition to stencil (pochoir) and printed works, the piece of which David is the most proud is one of his metal installations. This work required intense labor, carving out curling letters to allow the words to take on physical and (limited) dimensionality.
David Veroone. Sans titre. Metale. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Mimi the Clown was in fact dressed as a clown: but not your sweet, stupid, children’s clown. He is a clown that is acerbic, from a Comedia del Arte and punk lineage, a clown that reflects the farce of the political moment and throws it into relief as precisely that: mere spectacle.

Speaking with Mimi while he smoked a cigarette he embodied the very clown he represents: a little sad, with underlying uneasiness. What he described as a clown who was "énervé et triste," pissed off and sad.

Mimi the Clown has a variety of works on display: canvas pieces, prints grocery leaflets, francs and dollar bills, all of which are marked by the visage of the clown who is leering, laughing, manifesting skepticism, with the kinetic scratchings “MIMI” in the background. These works on canvas are also studies in color for Mimi who usually works in “black, white, and red.” But “for a painting to be a true painting, it must have color.” The canvasses offer an opportunity for “intellectual” work on color in preparation for an upcoming show in 2015.

Mimi the Clown. Paint and stickers on canvas. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Both David and Mimi the Clown’s works play with what it is to transform something ordinary, be it a word, a phrase, a dollar bill, an advert page, or a series of letters, into an object. The elevation of that which might be merely read, or discarded with the mail, to the level of a work of art is highlighted as a process that requires the gallery as a sanctifying context.
Mimi the Clown. "Art?" Seriographie sur prospectus. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
The two artists’ works, however, work at different levels of political specificity. Veroone’s refers to an almost ontological capacity for human expression, recognition, and needing to leave a trace in dwelling spaces.

Mimi the Clown’s work, on the other hand, asserts a reactive, historically specific critique of the spectacularization of politics that renders us all clowns (in the bad sense of the word) as dumb, stupefied, and silly without being critical. His works on canvas which bear the frenetic scratches of his personality’s name, faces contorted and pushing outward from their two dimensional plane, bespeak a more contingent need to work against forces of order. I noted that his figures, with shaved head and upturned chin, evinced a punk aesthetic.
 Mimi the Clown. Canvas and paint. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

“Have you heard of the Berurier Noire,” he asked? I had not. “They were a super well known group in the 1980s, critical of the FrontNationale. They often had clowns on stage with them, with the red noses of pigs.” The exhibit, which opens three days before the end of Mayoral elections which are heralding a radical increase in rightist, specifically Front National sympathies, points to a (returning) need to be critical of forces of policing, domesticating thought.
Spectacle. David Veroone. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Epi2mik: Virality, Infection and Communicable Affect

In The Transmission of Affect Teresa Breannan describes affective force as a sort of contagious force. One can catch the blues from another, and equally, be infected with shared joy. Thierry O., best known as Epi2mik, a street artist from Caen, Normandie, opened his ephemeral show 22 March 2014 at Cabinet d'Amateur in the 11eme arrondissement, a series of drawings and watercolor paintings that explore the structure of malady in a range of visual forms, ranging from the leering, to the joyful.
Epi2mik Flyer. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Epi2mik's show offer's a series of four by six inch panels, at eye level, that run from one end of the small gallery to the next. The opposing wall is punctuated by a few much larger pieces, potentially offering"contaminate the city, its walls, its urban furniture, and its trees."
Epi2mik.  Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

 an enlarged microscopic view of the structure of the cells across. He notes: "[I use the name] Epi2mik [pronounced 'epidemic'] because I make circles in the street that multiply, like a malady, and I return, again and again to the same location, so that it grows and grows. Here at Cabinet d'Amateur I have done a series of drawings with paint." Asking him to elaborate on the political context for his work he added: "I find that we live in an era of malady. And for those that work in the street, it is a little like a kind of therapy...and for me [epidemic] symbolizes all of what our generation must live within. It is an immediate reaction to the extreme right, and other problems.""Has anything changed, since you began with this epidemic?" "No. For me? No. I continue to work in the street and to also do smaller paintings...its a different kind of work [paintings] but it is something I like to do very much."

Indeed he has noted at greater length what the generalized condition of malady may signify:

« Pour moi, cela symbolise tout ce que notre génération vit de négatif : sida, chômage, corruption, montée de l’extrêmedroite, dérives du capitalisme, etc... La ville est mon tableau. J’essaye de valoriser des endroits abîmés, usés ou désaffectés pour réaliser ces compositions qui sont comme des warnings citoyens. »

For me, this [the circles] symbolize all of the negativity that our generation lives with: HIV, unemployment, corruption, the rise of the extreme right, the drifts of capitalism, etc..The city is my tableau. I try to valorize spaces that are damaged, spent, or unused to create compositions that are warnings for citizens.
Epi2mik. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Although each piece is composed of circles, connecting at their edges to form various shapes, their composition, color, and density varies intensely, offering a wide array of emotional states and structures of forms. Although the pieces in the gallery were composed inside, Epi2mik remarked that his larger outdoor projects could take up to ten years to create. "I return one day, and paint a few circles, I leave, and then return another [day] adding yet more..." He further contextualized that he had worked in the street for fifteen years before working in galleries. Patrick, the owner of Cabinet d'Amateur, had contacted him earlier in 2013 to participate in an exposition on street art. "I find it interesting to do drawings, to do things other than what I would do in the work also in color, and in small format."
Epi2mik. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
His practice, which is gradual, points to how it is that urban landscapes are transformed in broader contexts, involving subtle changes that would be difficult if not impossible to recognized over the immediate feature, but leaving an indelible impact in the long term. The evolutionary nature of his craft is a broader tendency, often recounted by graffiti and street artists, as central to both genres. Asking him to elaborate on the theme of evolution Ep2mik responded: "When I work in the street...I'll first arrive with paints in warm colors...some red, some yellow...I return the next day and I add to it, and the people see the building evolve and evolve in equal measure with the painting

 I could not encounter the exhibit without thinking of Gilles Deluze's work in Difference and Repetition where repetition is not the eternal return haunted by the tyranny of the same, but instead is always with a difference yielding new and unpredictable outcomes. Such an ethic, to reproduce the same signature (or image) while allowing it to alter and be altered by its surrounding is one that can be read more generally in street art cultures.
Epi2mik. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Yet, in the context of Epi2mik's work, this imperative to repeat but not repeat, is even stronger. It raises questions, however. How do we define what constitutes repetition? Is it the use of a similar structure, or ingredient? This, to me, requires thinking about the repetition involved in Epi2mik's work as a question of arrangement, or invention, not recreating the circle, but deploying it at various scales in different concentrations and orientations to yield what may, at first glance, appear to be a new image. Sure enough, Epi2mik has noted in earlier interviews that:

Mon travail est urbain mais n’a pas grand chose a voir avec le graffiti, j’utilise la ville comme espace « rhizomatique » et « micropolitique » mes principales influences sont  et dans « Milles Plateaux« , ou  dans « Un art contextuel« , ou encore plus proche la contamination de .
Epi2mik. Cabinet d'Amateur. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
My work is urban but it is not exactly like graffiti. I use the city as a "rhizomatic" and "micropolitical" space, and my principle influences are Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in "A Thousand Plateaus", or Paul Ardenne in "A Contextual Art," or yet even more recently the contamination of Joel Hubaut.

Moreover, the simplicity and strength of Epi2mik's compositions, circles that are joined organically, almost (seemingly) accidentally to form a larger organism, is infections. Leaving the exhibit I was able to read patterns in worn patches of sidwalk, and eroded swatchs of retaining walls.
Visual Contagion. Rue de Reuilly 12eme. Paris, France. 22 March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Returning to my apartment I was unable to return to the blog post an a separate exhibit I was already composing, or to my other duties. His work elicited associational patterns in other viewers. An elderly woman at the exhibit noted: "Is there a relationship with medical institutions?" leading Thierry's partner to call over the artist to discuss his work with art as a kind of therapy.

This exhibit reminds us of one of the qualities of street art that is so powerful. It is not only that street art often offers a disruption or reaestheticization of degraded or ignored urban space. It is that street art, and public art more broadly, provides a reorientation or intensification of vision, allowing us to experience our surroundings anew.

Merci beaucoup à Thierry pour l'entretien, et à Patrick pour l'access à votre superbe galerie. L'expo est fantatique.