Through the Wormhole - An Exhibition in Paris
Journalist, art critic and former head editor of AMA, Clément Thibault is also an exhibition curator, currently presenting Wormholes. In other words, a two-part exhibition, jointly curated with Mathieu Weiler. Showing in Paris, at the Galerie Laure Roynette and at La Ruche.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, our ideological system believed itself, for a time, to be victorious. The fact that some thinkers, including Francis Fukuyama, conceived that History had reached its end is a symptom of this stance.
Of course, events would continue to occur, but the world’s march towards liberal and democratic consensus was underway and nothing more could stop it. It was the end of the dialectic of History, survived by a single immortal system. The new millennium on the horizon could only become a continuum.
Nearly 30 years later, things have changed a great deal. Democratic systems are quivering, trembling, troubled by internal or external threats. Shaken by doubts that either produce inwardness (as incarnated by the virulent debate between nationalists and globalists) or openness. Critical openness, a questioning of values. Post-modernism had already started this task of re-examining History and art history, but with regard to modernism alone. Today, all hegemonic foundations of our culture are being challenged, some of them centuries old. Foundations of a culture that is Western in its focus, namely historical, capitalistic in its economy, bourgeois in its social character, white in terms of race, masculine in terms of its dominant sex.
First things first: a wormhole, in physics, is a hypothetical object that links two distinct regions of space-time, a sort of shortcut between two dimensions. Poetically, this concept can be applied to the work of artists who consciously blend, either tangibly or symbolically, different space-times in their work, creating shortcuts between two distinct regions or eras in art – or rather, human representations.
The wormhole concept also wields the iconography of the cosmos. An iconography that is heavily called on these days, in fiction (namely in film) as well as reality, as we have embarked on a new era of space conquests, this time headed for Mars. In short, this is an exhibition designed as an experience of time and space by Mathieu Weiler and myself.
The connections between art and history are rich, obviously. An artist emerges from centuries of submerged creations. Traditions, inspirations and the game of references have woven subtle links which crisscross the history of forms, and artists have long seized hold of the question of time. The Renaissance turned its eyes towards Antiquity, pre-Raphaelites gazed at the Italian primitives, Derain, Picasso and Matisse looked at African art, and the surrealists contemplated Oceanic art, before postmodernism triggered critical reflection on History. In this way, artists have long found ways to allude to time in a space that is either two-dimensional (the canvas) or three-dimensional (sculpture), whether we’re talking about History (the ideologization of time) or duration (the perception of time).
However, the desire to blend – or even bring head-on against one another – different time-spaces is recent – the desire to create wormholes… In artistic terms, this gesture has two grandparents: Hannah Höch’s collages (the selection and reorganization of pre-existing, re-contextualized cultural items), and Duchamp’s ready-mades (which led artists to more searchingly question the symbolism of the objects they use).
Wormholes can take the form of a fairly wide range of gestures. Some artists create collages or montages, like Tim Stokes, who matches African masks picked up from flea markets with the moulds of Roman busts. Others recycle old objects: this is the case of Jean-Marc Cérino, who takes old 19th century drawings that he covers with supremacist motifs, or Léo Dorfner who touches up old engravings with tattoos, often the emblems of rock and rap groups. Gabriel Léger’s mirror, Nicolas Tourte’s brick pierced with a delicate staircase, and Pascal Convert’s books embedded in glass, also re-use objects for their symbolic and historical import.
Finally, other artists – for example Hughes Dubois, Laurent Grasso, Hyppolite Hentgen or Mathieu Weiler – make use of the illusions of drawing, painting or photography to play with modes of representation, or to re-employ fragments of the past or of pop culture.
While such gestures are becoming more common these days, it’s not accurate to label them as a novelty hot off the press either. We can credit Aby Warburg as the first artist to develop “tunnel”-like thought in the first half of the 20th century. Few, before him, had the boldness to bring together realities as remote from one another (in time and space) as the Indian Hopi snake ritual and the flower bearer in Ghirlandaio’s Birth of St. John the Baptist at the Santa Maria Novella (Florence). Not forgetting bas-reliefs of the Maenads in Rome. Carrying on the rapprochement he initiated, Aby Warburg went on to produce the Mnemosyne Atlas, in which he discerned the survival of forms of pathos from Antiquity in the Renaissance. A type of memorial mapping…
Later, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags (1967) – a pile of colorful clothing and a cement statue moulded after the ancient work depicting Venus – would offer a primitive example of a wormhole.
In a wormhole, the image plays with its model. It gives access to an absent reality, to which it alludes symbolically, while veiling awareness of this reality. It is “an image of images”. The rapprochements between symbols of an elsewhere, a past or future time, are often operated to shed light on the present. Without taking any risks, we can presume that this relatively recent desire to join up different regions is encouraged by the globalization of exchanges, the multiplication of images, and their wider diffusion. These wormholes bear witness to a world in the state of becoming, where identity is turning liquid and plural, where history is a rhizome rather than a root, where hierarchies (of culture, gender or otherwise) are abolished.
Through Wormholes, the Galerie Laure Roynette and La Ruche are welcoming an experience of time and our present in the light of a recomposed past or a premonitory future. The space aspect of the wormhole isn’t overlooked either: there are the large space-related paintings by Emmanuel Régent, Caroline Le Méhauté’s delicately wrinkled cosmos, Fabien Léaustic’s utopian maps, or Brankica Zilovic’s glitched fabric universes. These artists represent – in other words, they make present – the cosmos as well as utopian or non-existent spaces that lie outside of time.
In this way, Wormholes opens up to a relativity that is all the wider: that of the place of our history, of our present, and of time itself.
In short, the place of humans in reality… and the mystery of the latter. A mystery as great as a passage through a wormhole.
Wormholes #1, curated by Clément Thibault & Mathieu Weiler, until 21 April. Galerie Laure Roynette, 20 rue de Thorigny, Paris 75003.
Wormholes #2, curated by Clément Thibault & Mathieu Weiler, from 27 April to 6 May. La Ruche, 2 passage de Dantzig, Paris 75015.
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