At l'étrangère in London, an intriguing new exhibition by the French artists Florian Pugnaire and David Raffini sees the gallery space enveloped by two film and sculptural installations featuring vehicles that self-destruct. The show is titled SHOW ME and consists of two film works and a series of mangled, metallic wall-based sculptures.
Pugnaire and Raffini’s collaborative practice is particularly concerned with the transformation and mutation of objects and has received international recognition with exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and Centre Pompidou, Paris, which holds their work in its collection.
Say the artists:
In general, our practice tends to highlight the process of making a work - in a film, this process is often transformed into a fictional story. When we don’t use the medium of video, however, the work’s relationship with cinema takes on a different form. Our sculptures tend to borrow from the film’s main components, characterised by its relation to time, space, movement or light.
Expanded Crash (Show Me) (2016) is a film whose protagonist is the carcass of an Opel-GT that transforms itself into a sculpture, while their second film on show in London, the award-winning Dark Energy (2012), shows a Volkswagen Transporter truck being violently destroyed, compacted, exploded and burnt, ultimately metamorphosing into a sculpture.
Both films are impressive in their cinematic finesse; the artists have been inspired by 1980s B-movies such as John Carpenter’s Christine (1983). This is the first time the artists have chosen not to exhibit the vehicles featured in the films, but instead to focus on the objects that appear in the background of the films, which are often overlooked.
With the main characters of the films absent from the exhibition space, there is room for the secondary characters. The sculpture created by the film is allowed to extend beyond the metamorphosis of the main object (or subject).
In the two films on show at l'étrangère, the cars appear almost alive - mechanical devices have been introduced by the artists to the vehicles so that they can move autonomously. These devices push and pull the metal frames of the cars from within, giving the illusion that the vehicles are almost breathing.
This makes the cars act as if of their own accord - to launch themselves at speed down rural tracks, or to slowly crunch their metallic carapace to compacted auto-destruction.
Whilst these devices are either digitally programmed or manually operated by the artists, the effect in the final films is one in which human presence has been usurped by the mechanical - hinting, perhaps, at the soon-to-be realised potential of driverless cars.
In their works, Raffini and Pugnaire are considering the relationship between man and machine - both looking back to the history of modern art, and to the future and the implications of ever-advancing technological progress on our society.
The advent of the machine has brought on many anxieties in our societies — especially with respect to developments in artificial intelligence. It is therefore not a coincidence that our films refer to a certain genre of fantasy film or science fiction, in which the advent of the machine is often synonymous with a sort of deviance of humanity.
The objects we create tend to highlight, however, the dysfunction of technology — creating an absurd form of metamorphosis, dedicated to self-destruction. Our machines recall the myth of Sisyphus, similarly to the machines of Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, and testify to the absurdity of movements of mechanical repetition.
Through their exhibition at l'étrangère, the artists have taken that symbol of modernism and post-war progress - the automobile - and turned it into a surreal and disquieting glimpse at the future of machine autonomy.
SHOW ME is on until March 3rd, 2018. The artists will be in conversation with curator Fatoş Üstek at l'étrangère on February 28th, from 7 to 9 pm.
Written by Eric Block.
Featured images: Installation views by Andy Keate. All images courtesy l'étrangère.