Sfumato / Vertigo - from white to nothingness, Anthony Lenoir
Text for the exhibition in Flaine Art Center, 2015
White smoke and black curtains, from snow to nothingness, between sfumato and vertigo... an autonomous space has been created.
There are two processes at work here but they both produce the same effect - the loss of one's visual references. On the one hand we have sfumato, an artistic technique developed by Leonardo da Vinci in order to produce an atmospheric effect. This effect gives perspective by the progressive elimination of the elements in a chromatic haze, leaving the observer with an ill-defined concept of spatial dimensions. On the other hand we have vertigo, a syndrome which describes the apprehension that is felt by someone who can no longer define the space surrounding them.
Now this brief introduction is over, we can step inside. Almost straight away we find ourselves standing in front of a white wall on which two black and white drawings are hanging. Long corridors suggesting imposing bureaucracy have been put into movement by a checkers board which takes up most of the view in front of us. This checkers board projects us into an ever-changing space on which we are standing. The desired effect is unavoidable. The feeling is of a void but a very turbulent void. On the other side of this same wall are two other drawings. The floor across which we move is increasingly distorted by the transformation of part of the tiling from white to black.
To our right is a dark wall on which are hung eight picture frames filled with 'grey matter'. A diagram provides some clues as to what the explanation behind them might be. The eight images have been created by fusion, or is it the other way round? The time-line provides us with more information – each image is an 'independent unit', each created one after another from the same fusion. Look once again at the images, and more precisely at what they are composed of. The paper is a reference to the library which is also housed in the Flaine Art Center. This place actually provides the raw material for the exhibits that are presented here.
We can't help but notice something to our left. Several plants have been placed in this area in a somewhat incongruous way. Even more alarming are the series of black chairs which seem to have escaped from a small room at the far end of exhibition. A buzzing noise can be heard coming from this room. As we get closer we realize that this disturbing monotone is being emitted by a radio. On the wall is what looks to be a clock, given its position and its round shape. However this 'clock' cannot fulfil its function because the hands have been replaced by an opaque, white disk which displays the changes in the weather outside. Just like in a waiting room, time no longer exists; it has disappeared in a puff of smoke, or rather, given the location, in a winter snow-storm!
Nevertheless, in a way, things become clearer as we wander through the exhibition. Our presence is put into movement by the exhibits which welcome us in. But is this really welcoming? Motorized convex mirrors seem to follow our movements and their reflections continually remind us of our presence, the neon lights which illuminate the pictures are no longer connected to the electric grid, and when we push aside a black curtain to enter the last exhibit we come face to face with Fog, a video of a place which is similar to the one in which we have been wandering for the last few minutes. The only difference is our absence and this white smoke which comes out from behind the black curtain to progressively fill a space which has been freed of our necessary presence.
Asphalt, Jean-Marie Gallais
Published in Asphalt, Galeries Nomades 2012, Institut d'art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes, Supplément vol. X, Analogues, Arles
Translation by Simon Barnard
[...] Farbstein smoked in peace, smiling to himself, scarcely listening. The Commissioner left the radio on for so long that finally Hillis, wincing a little, asked him to turn it off, which he did with a shrug a short while later. “And all this proves?” asked Hillis, who knew damned well what it proved.“It seems obvious”, said Hardy. [...]
W. R. Burnett, Asphalt Jungle, 1950
An anthill always seems inert if you don't go near it. The curious mound of sand, soil and pine needles only reveals itself in two ways: you have to approach it or stop to see action—the frantic movement of the insects. Continuous but not strikingly perceptible effervescence, like that of
an anthill, like that of a city, the setting of Asphalt Jungle (1950), a dark film by John Huston, is precisely the situation and what is to be seen at Johan Parent's exhibition at La Serre in Saint-Étienne.
You first have to approach, or stop, to see the reflection of weather and time in the face of the mirror-clock hung above the entry. We have been warned: there is a half-absurd, half-sane universe behind the door, a half-contemplative, half-deceptive vision loaded with revealing insinuations.
Again, once you are in La Serre you have to approach or stop to understand everything that is going on and to perceive the real activity.
You are greeted by a gentle cacophony—motors start, machines spin, crackle and smoke and a carwash starts splashing... A mechanical ballet that is paradoxically discreet, even semi-secret, with no human presence.
Inclined circular mirrors fixed to the ceiling turn slowly and reveal unexpected fragments of space, giving vertiginous perspectives. You can hear a bumblebee circling and approaching insistently, but the attentive observer will have understood that it is an old radio that has been fiddled with somewhat and is crackling towards the end of the room. Further, a closed site hut releases enigmatic smoke.
Here, records replace fan blades, and there neon lights function even though they are disconnected, ringing sounds are heard and flashes and vibrations assail the visitor but not brutally. We are still in the midst of the dysfunctional and the completely paradoxical.
Objects and machines finally recover their autonomy: electronic programs or cogwheels have taken vengeance on human domination and the whole of this little mechanical society now seems to decide its fate in a sovereign manner. In a series of drawings, Johan Parent had previously freed the objects from their condition by showing them mimicking human postures and gestures; this is perhaps the core of his work—making paranoiac objects and hypochondriac machines speak, letting them say more to us, revealing their conditions and, by a mirror effect, our own conditions, obviously.
In the way that animals are preserved in jars of formalin, Johan Parent keeps mechanical parts in jars filled with oil. Using failure and dysfunctioning as raw materials, he reveals and challenges not only our relations with objects, habits and appearances but in the exhibition also includes an echo of a precise context. His most spectacular action in La Serre is doubtless the setting of a giant 'sandglass' behind the walls; this gives intermittent flows of sparkling black sand through a hole in the wall; it is impossible to know what the sand is timing. Little by little, sliding sand makes a black wave that invades the exhibition space, making an improvised beach for the palm trees in La Serre.
The encroaching black mound obviously brings to mind the slag heaps of Saint-Étienne while a series of drawings of industrial buildings built in Saint-Étienne serves
On the Edge of the Abyss, The feeling of vertigo in «Laboratoire Vertigo» (Extracts), by Marie Griffay
Full version on www.portraits-lagalerie.fr, 2016
You know this place. You've been here once, twice... a hundred times before. You know it without recognizing it. You don't recognize it because it doesn't exist. It's a fusion of a thousand similar places; school corridors, offices, administrative buildings, hospitals, court rooms... Above all else it is the corridor that you walked down in the night when, with closed eyes, you drifted aimlessly in this deserted place, without ever finding a way out of your entranced wanderings. Your eyes roam around this familiar, intermediary place and discover a vanishing point, an exit on the left, but it turns out to be a closed loop. There is no exit; you are in a labyrinth. There is no escape from this loop of space and time. Will you dare open one of the doors of this mysterious administrative building?
[...] As you approach one of them you lose your balance. The feeling of vertigo that grips you is real – a section of the floor has collapsed under your feet. You hadn't noticed that the white tiles were actually abysses. The familiarity of the surroundings meant that your vision had only selected a few of the elements necessary to comprehend the space around you.
Your visual imagination had then automatically completed the scene, making you fall into an optical illusion. Now you feel reassured by the fact that this must be a dream. This situation cannot be real; this checkered board reminds you of a game of chess. There is no possibility of escape. You are trapped on the board - but are you a pawn, a knight or a king ?
[...] Johan Parent's 'Laboratoire Vertigo' drawings refer explicitly to the real world in order to introduce a disturbing element - a floor with an impossible pattern. The process of 'strangifying' objects involves complicating shape and form and thereby increasing the difficulty and the duration of perception. This misappropriation of a familiar object allows Johan Parent to restore the initial strangeness of a place which, over time, had become routine.
The illusion that is 'Laboratoire Vertigo' can be revealed; the floor of this perfectly credible public place is incomplete. Either the body loses its balance, obeying the law of gravity and leading inexorably to a fall, one of humankind's primal fears which awakens dreamers with a start, or the body maintains its dream-like consistency and floats to the surface like a spirit. Events - so radically different from objects - are not sought for deep down, but rather on the surface, in that thin immaterial vapor that the body exudes and which surrounds it like an invisible film; the mirror that reflects them, the chess-board that maps out their future .
[...] The moves within the four drawings of the 'Laboratoire Vertigo' exhibit are also limited. Each player goes from square to square on this chessboard/ video game/ board-game while trying not to fall down any of the holes. The confined space implies a limited number of moves. The rules which function in these drawings evoke those which determine movement along the corridor of an administrative building. People stay close to the walls, walking towards their objective by a pre-determined route which is marked by signs. They conform to an unwritten social code. These places have been totally depersonalized and encourage neither relaxation nor idleness. Each person follows their route with a definite objective and unplanned events which disturb their purpose are not welcome. Nothing could be more absurd than to be in this place without knowing why. [...]