Artipoeus Episode 09 – Explorers: A la recherche de la Terra Cognita

Vanite, Radouan Zeghidour 2016
Vanite, Radouan Zeghidour 2016

…in which your host returns to  her old stomping grounds in Paris, discovers that plus ça change…


This week, Artipoeus visits “Explorers: A la recherche de la Terra Cognita,” at Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve’s Loft 19 in Paris.

After 3 months away, I’m back in Paris, my home for 6 years.  It seems like Paris never changes — the sun still lights the city on fire at sunset, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles up the night, tourists still swarm on Montmartre and the Notre Dame, and Place de Republique is still full of skater kids and hip hop on a Friday night, dancing around the sagging November 13 memorials at the foot of the monument of Marianne, the spirit of the Republique.

When my good friend Kristian Radakovic invited me to the group exhibit Explorers: in search of Terra Cognita on my first night back in town, it seemed like that old Paris magic was back at play, when everything becomes serendipitous.  Seeking to create a more immediate dialog between two major cities, the show features work from young artists from Paris and London who explore the same question: what happens when you come again.

Radouan Zeghidour’s metallic works open the portal into this journey back home.  A large sheet of copper, treated with acid is just inside the door, but I was more interested in his installation “Relique” around the corner.  It’s a copper suitcase, propped open so you can see all the treasures inside, and I like it very much.  I like how it reflects the viewer in the lining, as it were, how the very shiny, almost golden metal makes it seem precious, almost divine, the traveler returned with treasures from abroad… the real treasure, of course, being the familiar faces reflected in the case itself — whether it’s your own or the faces of the ones you love. Although the copper also distorts the reflections, makes them a bit fuzzy, maybe softer, kinder, more beautiful — like the faces in memory. It makes me think of Ulysses and his long, difficult journey home to find everything he knew not matching up quite right with the way he remembered it, everything a little fuzzy, a bit distorted.

Installed this corner, though, is a phone booth — French-style, with only a half-box of plexiglass to enclose the upper torso and head of the caller.  A red phone waits inside, under a map of the quartier, points highlighted for visitors that are both mysterious and whimsical.  The installation makes me think of John Giorno’s dial a poem… if it had a baby with a David Lynch set from… well, almost anything, really, since Lynch does love a creepy ringing phone.  This phone isn’t ringing though, it’s up to you to make the call.  I picked up the red phone and all I got was a dial tone.  It’s an amusing piece, complete with lost cat posters, stickers for massage and phone numbers to tear off of homemade advertisements, just like a real phone booth.  But… I dunno.  The call from the Fourth Dimension is displaying alongside artists who come from the land of phone boxes and Dr Who and fourth dimensions already, and I don’t feel like this is saying anything new to me… no pun intended.  Or… maybe intended, because that’s a pretty good pun.

Explorer, Sarah Fortais 2016
Explorer, Sarah Fortais 2016

There’s another suitcase in this exhibit, further inside the loft space, that I also like very much.  Maybe I just like suitcases.  This one is by Sarah Fortais, called “explorer” and is again propped open… although with little pieces of round hand luggage fixed to the case by brackets, radiating out from all sides. It makes me think Mods and Vespas and their constellations of mirrors.  The hand luggage and the inside of the case are covered with photo prints from the artist’s photographic series, “explorer”, documenting — the artist? perhaps — moving through mundane, familiar spaces — London neighborhoods, it looks like, — wearing a helmet that evokes astronauts and space travel, and towing a roller bag behind.  It’s a simple concept and it’s in a way even a bit obvious, but I like the juxtaposition of the alien and the familiar, the use of the luggage elements both in the photos as well as in the piece overall giving everything a bit of a vintage quality, like memories of the future already preserved.

Moving to the back of the loft space, there is a cluster of artwork here that varies in depth and quality for me.  The Recycle Group’s piece “Selfie” depicts a life-size figure made of white plastic netting emerging from its frame, wielding a golf club like the lightning rod of Odin.  Selfie emergent, selfie returned.  Selfie come to life.  I’m not fond of this kind of work in general, and this one hasn’t sold me… although I can’t overlook the fact that it is well done.  Same with Ophelia Finke’s collection of drawings.  The artist clearly has talent, but these strike me as too immature, too undeveloped for me — a little too fresh out of art school. There is so much three dimensional work in this exhibit, to include something as simple as drawings is a risk — they need to be as strong as the other installations and sculptures in the show, and these are not.

The Seaway, Joris Henne et Natasha Lacroix 2016
The Seaway, Joris Henne et Natasha Lacroix 2016

What I do like over on this part of the floor is Joris Henne’s and Natasha Lacroix’s piece “The Seaway,”.  It’s a big clear box, around 2 meters high, imprinted with a geological map of Europe encasing an archeological find, the skull of a dinosaur — a mastodon, a mammoth, or a mythological creature… because something’s not quite what I remember from natural history museums, but then I’m not an expert… and the piece forces you to question your own knowledge, what you take for granted, what you think you know but find out that you really don’t — a lot like the things you are confronted with when you travel and explore.  But apart from being a curiosity, it’s also quite beautiful, the lines and curves of the skull echoing and interplaying with the lines and curves of the land on the map, and there is something calm and quiet about all of it, as though it’s meant to be.

Dominating the middle of the loft is a wall of carved wooden birds, by Raphael Lopez, perched on roosts that ladder up the wall.  They are painted the muddy gray and browns and blacks of pigeons, complete with white dappled collars and all.  But they are carved in the form of birds of paradise, parrots, toucans, exotic birds in dull pigeon colors…  At first when I saw these, I couldn’t figure out what they had to do with anything, why they were in this show.  But Raphael Lopez’s work is a play on homing pigeons. A visual pun, because what do pigeons do?  They flock, they return home… and these pigeons have returned home — to terra cognita — transformed from their voyage, a little exotic, a little alien, a little weird.  They don’t fit in, which is a good embodiment of that aspect that is almost always true of coming home again after traveling, exploring, spreading your wings.

When I left Paris, what I didn’t know I was leaving behind is the innovative movement in France among young artists and curators away from the traditional networks and platforms of the art market.  I think the way the very young art scene in Paris is evolving is something to keep an eye on.

The exhibit Explorers, in search of terra cognita, is an impressive debut show for its curator, Raphael Giannesini.  The concept is clever and is a great expression of the nomadic lives of people in their 20s, whether in the actual or the digital, or both.  And I’m impressed by the organization and big picture approach to this show: 4 London artists have traveled to Paris to participate in the exhibition with 4 French artists; in June, with the addition of 5 more participants, the English artists will return to Terra Cognita, and it’s the French artists who will travel, setting up Chapter 2 of the exhibit in London.  I’m impressed with the website design, I’m impressed with the Instagram, I’m impressed with the partners this group has secured for itself — Monkey Shoulder gin, Heineken, Eurostar, ArtPress… to name a few. That’s excellent work, and a great example of young curators knowing their crowd, what appeals, what sells, how to sell it.  They’re really good at it.

What I’m not impressed with is the details.  I don’t understand why, for an exhibit that is a dialog between Paris and London, the literature is either completely in French, or only in a very poor English translation.  I don’t know why, when I sent a press inquiry asking one question, I received an answer to something I hadn’t asked…  maybe it was from the 4th Dimension.  Communication always seems to fizzle out at the final details, like a failed Christmas popper.  Of course, that’s the collateral damage when most communication is done via Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and text messaging — meaning is so often in the details, but there is no room for details in this type of digital exchange.  Maybe it’s not a generational gap, though.  Maybe it’s dimensional.  Maybe it’s part of the experience.

Mostly, though, what I didn’t like was that I only saw one perspective — the returned voyager, the one who has changed.  As though change doesn’t happen on both sides, as though terra cognita remains ever faithfully the same, only waiting for the explorer to return, like Mom.

But the details do change, and in Paris that’s where life happens.  My corner grocery store has been renovated — the same people still work there, but now they’re all wearing bright new uniforms.  The annoying trend in other European cities of selling wine by the glass in point 2 centiliter or point 5 centiliter portions is starting to take root.  My favorite candy, which for some inexplicable reason is not available at all in Berlin, where I live now, is almost no longer available in Paris either — the company introduced a new sour flavor, relegating the original to tiny little packets.  But I don’t want sour, and I don’t want tiny packets, I want big balls of chewy flavored sugar that get stuck in my teeth.  Which I guess will now last a little bit longer since I have no more candy to eat.  Dammit.  I want things as they were!

That’s the real price that every traveler has to pay: it’s not only you who changes from travel, but the place you left doesn’t stay the same either.  It’s a risk.  Will you fit in when you return, will terra cognita really be remain cognita or, once you leave home, will everything always be, in some way, terre inconnue?

Explorers: A la recherche de la Terra Cognita is on view until the 25th of May at Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve’s Loft 19, PASSAGE DE L’ATLAS / 5, VILLA MARCEL LODS in the 19th arrondissement in paris, and from the 24th to the 30th of June at London Newcastle Project Space, The Courtyard Building 17 Evelyn Yard in London. For more information and the interactive site, visit www.e-x-p-l-o-r-e-r-s.com.

That’s all for Artipoeus this week.  Artipoeus, like octopus, because art is everywhere.  I’m Susie Kahlich, see you around town.

From Susie Kahlich originally posted on Artipoeus


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s