Fictions critiques

Ileana Pintilie



Fiction Collection
(Two Versions)

Every collection has at least two distinct lives: a real palpable existence which maintains a logical connection with the world around it; and another, secret, clandestine existence, originating in fiction meticulously or—on the contrary—feverishly conceived in the mind of an amateur. Since the two collections may exist simultaneously, without bothering one another, I will attempt, in what follows, to outline two mental paths of possible visits, or two ways of “taking possession” of the works: paths which unwittingly follow the meanders of perception, condensed into intellectual “feasts.”
In every kind of artistic “feast,” space is the key element which participates in the process of perception: its function is to establish a special relation between the viewer and the work of art. The traversal of space, step by step, traces a fortuitous, unpremeditated path taken by the visitor who observes and constructs, blindly feeling the way, his or her individual relation to the work.
That is why the way one relates to the exhibition space of Frac Lorraine may turn into a new exercise in discovery of a place that is charged with history, austere, and secluded (even if it is located in the heart of a city), but also an exercise in refined aestheticism. Without being an ideal space—the famous White Cube of contemporary art—this space, already invested with a spiritual charge, gradually unfolds, and requires an unhurried visit so that one may discover the works hidden among these thick walls.
Upon my very first visit I noticed, even before I came inside, the keep tower and the geographical coordinates inscribed on its upper part: 49 Nord 6 Est. They specify the exact location, as if transmitted from on high, and illuminated at night by a bright spotlight making it always visible, like a lighthouse sending its beams over the rooftops. By day, on the white wall reminiscent of a fortress, one can see a series of names written in white: a peculiar inventory incomprehensible to a casual passer-by, enumerating, in fact, the names of the artists featured in the collection.
The unexpected opening of an art space onto its surroundings may be seen as an indirect invitation to a visit; as a message, dispatched to the passers-by and enticing them to cross the threshold and make their way first into the inner courtyard, and then into the building.

On Absence I
An alternative reading of the collection

Why speak of absence? Amidst present turmoil, assailed by plenitude, surplus, redundancy, I tried to find “silent” things in contemporary art: those which do not strive to demonstrate anything; which do not ask rhetorical questions, or give answers. I looked for things which might discretely blend into quotidian rhythms, without too much noise or ostentation.

The space lacks any special coherence; it doesn’t lend itself to being deciphered at a glance, but must be discovered step by step. One climbs up a few steps, then down, then turns around, and then once more heads in the opposite direction. Thus searching, one may be lucky to make a few “discoveries” or to find oneself face to face with a work of art. One might, for instance, discover Mario Merz’s table laden with vegetables (L’autre côté de la lune ou table de Chagny) which encourages us to contemplate the material world in an opulent still life left to slowly decompose: a sign of fulfillment, but also of passage. The juxtaposition of materials selected by the artist—glass, lead, rocks, set next to fruit and vegetables laid out on a table and offered to the gaze—is meant to create an uncanny contrast, setting the perishable against the mineral: a metaphor for so many ever-present disparities of this kind. Even if the still life is generous, displaying an impressive variety of forms, the process of passage suggests fragility of the material world destined for decomposition, and hence for absence which eventually triumphs.

In another room one might discover a minimalist work by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, entitled Kanalvideo, which is a representation of nothing. The two Swiss artists have used this utilitarian video as a ready-made, wishing to suggest the indeterminateness of this sort of visual “act” which may take place independently of the artists’ intentions, but which may then be recovered and reused in a new context. The coldness, distance, and in the end the absurdity of such a video are bound to raise a series of questions concerning artistic creation, its origins, and the relation it establishes between the artists and the surrounding reality.

As one proceeds through the exhibition space, several choices open up: to enter the room upstairs or to go the other way. Up ahead, one could visit a space marked by the presence of Gina Pane’s actions (Discours mou et mat), documented in a series of photographs and preparatory sketches. At once tender and dramatic, the photographs represent an action performed in 1975. The artist treats her own body as a sculpture she modifies gently, yet with sadness, not in order to produce an effect, but, through the void separating her gestures from the audience, to create tension. Distanced from the public by her dark sunglasses, and dressed in white as if for a game of tennis, the artist is using a razor blade with elegance and precision in order to cut herself: her blood adds a chromatic accent to an astoundingly aesthetic composition. The tacit dialogue with her audience becomes all the more powerful that the viewer is forced to witness helplessly the mute, flawlessly executed ritual.

One may take Mircea Cantor’s empathetic installation, entitled Chapelet, as a memory of a concentration camp, and of the limit experienced by someone on the other side of the barbed-wire fence (the fingerprints are the only evidence of a personal existence.) The conjunction of the image of the barbed wire with the brutal rigidity of its form, so familiar since the trauma of the camps, together with the irregular, almost hesitant trajectory of the fingerprints of the artist (who takes on here the role of a witness to the space of the concentration camp), produces a dramatic visual effect which hints at silent, sublimated suffering. The randomly configured fingerprints seem to clutch the barbed wire, groping along it, multiplying and intersecting, in order to merge into a mist. Material and dematerialized at the same time, this installation expresses an absence: an absence whose presence is unsettling.

Directly responding to the spatial configuration of the building (and to architecture in general), Monica Bonvicini’s installation, entitled Plastered, offers the public an experience of deterioration, to the point of destruction, of the exhibition space, left empty, and transformed into a space of analysis in which every step leaves visible traces. Footprints become more and more pronounced, and their accumulation brings about the destruction of the floor, effectively altering the image of the interior. To an unaware viewer, the visit becomes a bit difficult, demanding some effort, as if he or she were advancing through crusted snow, so that the very act of crossing the exhibition room, in order to get to the next one, takes on the character of an adventure.

Finally, the last room, with its separate entrance through a stairway leading up towards the tower, houses Agnes Varda’s installation Les Veuves de Noirmoutier. A large screen occupies the center of the exhibition. On it appear women dressed in black, who silently move around an empty table. The viewer focuses his or her attention on one of the many screens surrounding the main one and on the story of one of the women evoking an absence, that of her long-deceased partner. The juxtaposition of the image of the women in black, walking around in silence, and of the story of each one of them, creates a contrast charged with emotion and barely contained tension between the mute sorrow and the confession. The space is filled with chairs set up along the wall, doubling as the screen, in such a way that the viewers become witnesses to these intimate revelations of absence.

On Absence II
A new variant of a possible reading

What is not visible is not invisible, proclaimed Julien Discrit in his conceptual work, thus paving the way for our speculative reading. If there are things that aren’t yet present in the Frac Lorraine collection, it does not mean that these things could not exist or that, perhaps, that they don’t exist already… The invisible dimension of works of art, viewed through the prism of the space of Frac, could offer a surprising reading of the works which, although they aren’t here, yet, could, perhaps, find their place here in the future.

On Absence II could blow an “Eastern wind” into the Frac Lorraine collection and, of course, into the exhibition. The specificity of this new spiritual space, belatedly recovered by the international art scene, could consist in a silent dimension of suffering which has never been recounted nor shared with another; in a penchant for irony or self-irony; in happiness brought about by banal acts containing a dose of the miraculous, performed in our immediate environment and often gone unnoticed, precisely because of their proximity.

That is why the viewer could start his or her visit by fascinated contemplation of Imre Bukta’s video (shown in a loop), entitled Self Springing Ball (2006). In it an act as banal as a ball bouncing up and down takes on the aura of a miracle, thanks to the free movement which, with no one around, seems to have been self-generated. As is the case with many of his works, Bukta exercises his freedom to consider the world from his own perspective which has not been altered by his preconceptions. The image of a ball bouncing on its own exerts a fascination on the viewer who expects in vain to become a participant of an event.

This mechanical movement of “miraculous” origin, seems to be at odds with Lia Perjovschi’s frozen photographs belonging to the series Le Test du sommeil(1988). The series was shot in her apartment turned into the place of elaboration and representation of her first actions. The artist drew hieroglyphic figures on her own body, displaying it afterwards as an object of contemplation, expressing nothing but silence; the impossibility of communication; procrastination; and the void separating people. Since the message conveyed by the signs inscribed on her body seems to have been lost or forgotten, these images possess something unsettling which communicates through empathy, or through a state of lethargy or impotency, akin to absence.

The exhibition space located upstairs could be shared between Mircea Cantor and Ion Grigorescu who have been engaged in a dialog initiated on the occasion of a few joint exhibitions. The concept of absence may thus bring up physical void as a matter for discussion, yet it is a matter presented with humor, as in Mircea Cantor’s installation The Seven Future Gifts. The artist presents metal sculptures of variable dimensions (starting with those larger than life-size, and ending with small-scale pieces), shaped as gifts tied up with a ribbon, but presented under the guise of a plain rectangular structure. The purely conceptual, dematerialized form of this installation leaves, however, room for irony and ludic mindset which never abandon the author.

A separate room could feature Ion Grigorescu’s film Bucuresti iubit (Beloved Bucharest), made in 1977 using a hidden camera. Following a streetcar route, the filmmaker captures demolition sites, groups of workers and, in the background, the People’s Palace along with the whole urban deconstruction carried out as part of Ceausescu’s Pharaonic project to destroy historical Bucharest. The presentation of a few photographs from the series Cartierul Vitan (The Vitan District) (1994) could accompany the screening of the film. The photographs document traces, still visible in the city, of demolitions carried out over the preceding years, but also of abandoned construction sites. Consequently, the void and absence may be also represented by an excess of materials, nevertheless indicatory of destruction and, as a result, of a loss of meaning, of deconceptualization.

The space of passage leading towards the tower could house an installation by Veit Stratmann, an artist who, in a systematic fashion, questions space by constructing useless, absurd objects, and endowing them with a function that proves sterile. The artist’s highly ironic criticism is aimed at an increasingly pragmatic society which bets on excessive functionality, at the risk of losing any meaning. The relation to the surrounding space, be it inaccessible or public, activates the absurd dimension as does, for instance, Stratman’s installation entitled Untitled (2001), in which rows of fluorescent pipes, with their wiring exposed, come down from the ceiling into the exhibition room, creating the effect of an object-less redundancy.

The room located in the tower would be reserved for an installation of the series Mesures de l’ombre by Vera Roehm. Taking exact geographic coordinates and a precise time of the year (for instance, the time of the exhibition) as her starting point, the artist examines the shadow cast in the room by a cube affixed to the ceiling. The installation is an integral part of a long-term artistic procedure developed under the generic term Space—Topography of Art. The project, which works more with concepts than with visible forms, examines entirely dematerialized relations between Space and Time, conceived as two major coordinates within which we exist. At other times, the analysis conducted by the artist refers to conceptual relations within words and in texts: for example, the project of a cube bearing the inscription La nuit est l’ombre de la Terre translated into different languages. Envisioned especially for the space of Frac Lorraine, this project would establish a direct relation with the two geographical coordinates located on the outside of the building, on the tower’s wall.

The arrangement of works, taking into account the specificity of the Frac Lorraine space, would be an interplay of plenitude and void, a play seeking meanings behind the process of artistic elaboration. Rather than aiming for clamorous visibility of projects “stunning” by their arrogance, I opted for a quieter, “silent” variant of the exhibition which could be received by the viewer with empathy and which, above all, raises a series of questions and opens onto a dialogue with the work.

Ileana Pintilie