On the temporary exhibition “Songs of Alienation” at the Van Gogh Foundation of Arles, winter of 2017-2018, curated by Bice Curiger in collaboration with Julia Marchand assistant curator.
It is a designer, that is to say as a person who at one point in time, chose to dedicate a life purpose to observing, analysing, studying, interpreting and suggesting sensitive forms of human relationships through representation. It is also as a designer that this practice was to be established within the fabrics of an economy, integrating technology and cultural behavioural threads.
The purpose of setting a standpoint as a designer is in essence to address sensitive and legitimate movement in human interaction directed to elevate and at least create a space for sensitive literacy within the minute details of daily activities.
In the face of the normalization of relationships including those that contribute to the reduction of design expertise to one of delivering form and content in standardized and/or “ideologised” frameworks, I am concerned with one’s ability to still be able to address and represent the subtle as a form of literacy, of life and living possibilities.
I use the wording literacy to define the ability to perceive and relate to experience, in accepting to question form, articulation of form and content, relationship to form and content, and appreciation of ambiguity and contradiction within form and content and human experiences that representation can create or spare.
My main preoccupation being, is there still a space where one can experience non domination in representations, that could manifest some kind of cognitive hospitality, a space and place within which and where to, come into being.
It is the “coming into being” that I wish to highlight in my experience of the outstanding exhibition “Song of alienation” that I have had the good fortune to experience. And it is precisely with the quiet strength or even astonishment provided by the curatorial proposition, where specific pieces of 19th century painting and etching and contemporary pieces of artwork hold the ability to shift frames of reference, in apprehending, what could be understood, as our experience of life and its nature, or indeed perhaps its absence.
As in the piece “The Pure Necessity“ by David Clearbout, the barren or indeed the bare, as initially suggested as the title of the original song written for the Disney production Jungle Book, one encounters in this piece a seemingly familiar and yet very particular animation film being projected in a semi-closed room. Utilising the footage from the original 1967 animation feature, David Clearbout has edited the cartoon to remove all human related references, the singing, voice over, dancing animation sequences and linear storytelling. “The Pure Necessity” is striped, undressed, naked, innate. In watching this footage projected, a certain ease seems to grow in apprehending this piece, for through this animated ambiguity, one lies somewhere way beyond the colossal importance of media industry, and yet well before any frame of reference of mankind being seduced into tasting some low-hanging fruit !
The gestures of the anonymous cartoon artists who contributed to creating this feature material come slowly to light through reflection of the editing process. A visual mirroring of the material itself places the artistry of gesture, devoid of glamorous seclusion or delusion, but rather discerning, consistent, accurate. And, at some point in time, struck by the original soundtrack, that is not to say the original sin, as clockwork, the animation loop showcases an original sequences of the Disney production, one in which a young woman is alone, singing a tune, revealing through her song, an outlook on what could be her condition, projection, fantasy or indoctrination.
This is the only moment in which David Clearbout showcases the footage of this original feature film devoid of his intervention. This sequence’s soundtrack seethes beyond the projection space of the installation, like a siren’s lure, or nature’s grace encoded into a mass-medium narrative. Here David Clearbout brings us back to our place in the face of human production, his indeed, and perhaps the original feature film that he seizes. He thrusts us back into a reality where production is set in the face of time and in the face of it’s time, bringing us to consider what really is, in essence, of reference. David Clearbout may be making quite a statement with regards to tentatively sharing human realities, should he bring us to question our body and bodies of reference.
And it is in body that particles as matter, matter as much as the un-embodied matter. Andrea Buttner in her series of woodcut prints, including a piece entitled “The Beggar”, brings forward, a feeling of transposition in gesture, as referring to the technique she utilises in printing from the organic matrix of a wood carving. Although in the exhibition, we only encounter the resulting print on show, there is a sort of magnetic appeal emanating from the colour that is spread out and upon the grand format, and the finesse of it’s meshing with the substrate’s grain, as could be perceived in counter size small formats presented through the selection of Millet’s etchings upon entering this exhibition.
The technique utilised by Andrea Buttner with the woodcut print, recalls the basis upon which presence or absence of matter prepared on an original organic wood cast, casts inversely correlated presence or absence of ink on a substrate destined to become representation. The articulation of shape and counter shape in this printing process could suggest an encounter with what is a seemingly consistent technique or highly patterned in nature. However, it can be a known fact or intuitive perception, that each produced print varies slightly, between replica and singularity, increments the vulnerability of finite difference with the infinite intricacy of passing shapes and coloured matter back and forth, through the gesture of passing over the fullness to emptiness, absence to presence, but never to reciprocate.
At some point, form is pulled into collision, antagonising our understanding of where we stand. Andrea Buttners’ “The Beggar” stands, but not for the question! Petitio principii, or “begging the question” comes to mind. The expression known to describe the logical fallacy in which a premise is assumed to be true without warrant, or in which what is to be proven is implicitly taken for granted, or in other words “to assume from the beginning” suggests the following: would there be, in the presence of this wood print, and it’s title, a questioning of the premise or matrix of representation, as being self evident, by means of itself ? And then, what of the posture of begging, in the moral consideration of a social dynamic, that indeed, is never, to reciprocate.
The questioning is opened up by two slide carousels set up across the floor space, both harnessed upon two waist high plinths, each carousel projects images of religious artefacts. Together they seem to be performing a visual diptych or dyad, in which appear and disappear particles of light that hold, suspend and collapse, the representations that they carry. The sound emanating from the slide carousels in action work as metronomes as the curatorial practise continues to reveal the importance of poetic regimentation in seeing the visible world afresh. We can encounter here an aesthetic of the features, the mechanisms, the sounds, the projected reproductions, that, as such, and together, articulate the multidimensional, distributed and graduated processes at work, suggesting and including those that have not yet come into form.
It seems that the curating being performed throughout the exhibition is not of one of an entity standing to represent another, to condition another, but one that gives rise to an effect, where a force field channels one happening, into another. The mediation function lies beyond the instance of rendering art pieces to public view.
As the bare walls of the Van Gogh Foundation become the canvases for Dan Perjovschi’s and Nicolas Party’s respective in situ pieces, the curatorial and the institution come to play with iconicity and projection. Dan Perjovschi’s use of graphic signs -that could, by the way, be reminiscent of the Parisian militant graphic designer movements of Grapus, Pierre Bernard, Nous Travaillons Ensemble in the mid-seventies and throughout the eighties- plays with the ways in which sign takes on the features of it’s object, in controversial militant stances, his ontological “on the wall” inscription, in this instance, come to being featured, and being a feature, of the Van Gogh Foundation. Nicolas Party engages an all over series of very colourful paintings, a performance where the art object, as projection, takes on a literal and interpretative function, in featuring the institution and the curatorial, within the material of the art piece itself.
Somehow as a designer and layperson, I wonder to what extent the title of the exhibition in French Simple life, Simply life and in English Songs of Alienation, possibly brings us to ponder the degrees to which a representation system is intended to fit the requirement of a living being, and the conditioning of a living being which is needed to fit the requirements of a representation system.
I have not as yet had the opportunity to encounter what I have here, that is to touch onto an experience that so subtly sublimes any tentative hold that a representation or a representation system may fall prey to. I believe, in the light of this experience, that this exhibition carries, by bestowing bodies of consciousness as figures of thought and frame, a particular curatorial proposition on the essence of representing and being, and is, as it appears, and in its own right, an unprecedented and perhaps fundamental work of art.
© Catherine Schwarz, Marseilles, January 2018