The diversification of communication media, the phenomenon of real-time information, and the convenience of international travel in the world today have allowed artists to readily form cross-border networks, and the same conditions have also opened great possibilities for artists to work anywhere in the world, beyond their regional foundations. Such global « migration »is spreading over and above the traditional political, cultural, economic, and geographical boundaries. In such a context, the idea of organizing an art exhibition that focuses on presenting a large number of artists from a single country may raise questions about its curatorial ramifications. Also, and more importantly, the geopolitical boundary of a « nation »cannot today – and never did in the past – determine the aesthetic or artistic value of the creative activities of artists. This is to say that, the current exhibition runs the risk of being misunderstood as one that attempts to define French contemporary art or to represent it as a whole. However, from the beginning, the exhibition was conceived of as an introduction of a cross-section of French contemporary art as it unfolds, to the Korean public, without a time delay.
As the curator of this exhibition, I focused on selecting individual projects that would highlight the intensity of the work and the originality and sensibility of the artist. In other words, an adherence to a particular curatorial theme or concept was abandoned. What was of ultmost importance was the originality of the artist and the distinctive quality of his or her work. Keeping this in mind, I surveyed and evaluated the methods and expressive forms of the different artists and invited those artists whose works I felt were valuable and significant in the context of today’s contemporary art in France. The subjective choices I made will no doubt be viewed as one possible perspective among many in evaluating the contemporary art scenes. In Korea, however, I hope that the sensibility and intellect of the invited artists and the variety and originality of their work will stimulate productive exchange of criticisms in the Korean art world.
Today it is nearly impossible to define the various scenes of contemporary art under a single common concept or a unified tendency. In the rapidly changing world, artists redefine the different realms in society, in terms of art and society and art and everyday life. They freely travel across the traditional borderline between art and reality and suggest unique and original views of the world. These artists have inherited diverse, complex, and hybrid artistic legacy. They make use of not only various art forms of the past but also further enhance them. Their interests float between image and time, uncertainty and certainty, the visible and the invisible, concentration and expansion, disconnection and connection, and the positive and the negative. As Marcel Duchamps has pointed out, artistic concepts are constantly rediscovered, and there is no exception today. In other words, no artist creates a completely new work. However, artists do continue to find new creative possibilities within their given reality, exploring the uncertainty of the concrete time and space known as ‘reality’, as they continue to experiment their desires in that reality.
Pierre Joseph experiments with to what extent the utopian dreams and desires of artists are possible to realize in reality. In the 1980s, he used a « personnage vivant a reactever »or « eactivated character », which was a performance character – as well as the title of his work – in an exhibition that became alive only to the extent that there was any reaction to it. The artist motive was to eliminate the distance between the viewer and the artwork in the exhibition context, to induce interactivity. Pierre Joseph is now engaged in experimenting, in real-life context, the possibility of the mutual exchange he experimented earlier in the exhibition context. To experience common knowledge and acquired knowledge and the difference between them, Pierre Joseph has launched projects to learn and personally experience about everything that exists in this world. Recently in a solo exhibition, the artist exhibited his « C.V. »and announced a ‘job wanted’ advertisement. The ‘job wanted advertisement’ (his art work) offers the artist’s resume and purports to respond to a job offer any time. It is a moment when an artistic activity becomes a ‘job’ in reality, and the ‘artist’ forever becomes an ‘apprentice’ in the world. At the end of the 80s, the personnage vivant a reactiver suggested new possibilities for art by attempting an ‘exchange’ between an artistic work and the public in the exhibition context. If this were the case, in recent days Pierre Joseph is suggesting new « possibilities of life »through acquiring knowledge and personal experience from everyday life and experiencing complex ‘exchanges’. Of course, artists reflecting their imagination or desire on their work is not a new concept. However, experimenting and experiencing imagination and desire in reality, under real conditions and the attendant contradicts, are meaningful ways of recognizing the world. It brings a new possibility for real exchange between art and reality. « Satisfait ou Rembrouse »is a work by Matthieu Laurette that turns the marketing gimmick around and suggests an alternative model to resist against the law of market economy. He also raises a question on what is a ‘nation’ today and studies ways to acquire as many nationalities as possible. The « Citizenship Project »is an on-line and off-line project for collecting and exchanging data on how to acquire a dual citizenship. The ultimate goal of the artist in this project is to acquire a citizenship of another country. Laurette’s such projects, which seem completely unrelated to art, are in fact the continuation of the ‘underground activities’ launched in the niches of economic, legal, mass media, and other fields of the modern capitalism. The Bauhaus utopia of improving quality of life through art brought us instead the equalization of standards of life through expansion in quantity, not improvement in quality. Mathieu Mercier utilizes this point in reverse in his work. The artist observes, classifies, accumulates, and applies the various forms of the equalization of life and attempts to change the somewhat disappointing modern environment. From the ordinary and cheap commodities that are mass produced (e.g., light bulbs one can buy from a supermarket, plastic wedges, chairs, and do-it-yourself furniture, etc.) to Flay and Rietveld furniture of the 1920s, everything of the modern environment becomes the object of the artist’s observation. With minimum intervention, the artist then transforms the ordinary commodities into unique objects and at the same time give them functional and decorative roles. In the background of such works of the artist, there is an aspect of resistant struggle against the condition of the life of the social class determined by economic environment. However, the artist does not use it as a slogan. Mathieu Mercier simply suggests new possibilities for wasted cultural environment brought on by the standardization and mass production of modern society. Artists today, as they have always, do not hesitate to intervene in and criticize social reality. Only, the method and process have changed from the past. Artists today use websites to exhibit their work in real-time, work with areas that deal with advanced technology, such as internet marketing, advertisement, video, and the works of disc-jockey and video-jockey. For example, Valery Grancher, who explores the relationship between reality and virtual reality, shows us through a symbolic means the relationship internet forms with our reality. The internet world no longer exists for us as a « virtual »reality. We are already used to the new realm of time and space that is real-time information and communication. Grancher uses the internet, the product of new technology, to visualizes the possibilities and limitations of the individual’s experience and perception in the face of another complex reality, i. e., the ‘virtual reality’.
Koo Jeong A’s work, which makes visible what is trivial and insignificant and gives meaning to it always brings unexpected surprises. First and foremost, her keen perception and interpretation of situation, context, and space surprise us. In contemporary art, it is not easy to meet a painting on a ceiling. However, in Koo Jeong A’s case, one looks up the ceiling, and there the viewer sees blinding traces of circles reflected by light. Koo Jeong A’s works start from the realm that exists between the visible and invisible, the psychological and physical, the fragile and strong, and the complete and incomplete. The artist usually uses ordinary and trivial materials and works on unnoticed spaces. The fragility of her work infiltrate us quietly but spreads deeply. The faint, modest, and almost invisible attitude of the artist seems to question our fixed perceptions and our behaviors and thoughts trained by habit. The small pile of sugar cubes haphazardly strewn about at the entrance of the museum, the act of filling up a hole in a garden wall with blue prescription pills, the snow-white aspirin powder, and the huge hemisphere of naphthalene may seem at first glance that they are there by accident. However, it soon becomes clear that the selection of particular objects for particular spaces form the value and significance of the artist’s works. The artist’s selections allow us to experience and meet the unexpected. Bruno Serralongue works with photography. He has photographed immigrated workers in France on demonstration to receive residence permit, the « Free Tibet »concert held in support of the Tibetan independence cause, the return ceremony of Hong Kong to China, the anti-globalization and pro-human rights meeting held in Mexico, the symbolic burial ceremony of Che Guevara in Cuba, and the scenes of labor conditions in Korea. He has used these photographs and ‘reported’ on the social, political, and economic realities of modern capitalist society. The approach of the work is similar to that of journalism, but the artist stands opposed to the conditions under which the mass media communication images are produced. Thus, the artist makes the order for himself for the « news coverage », and the news scenes are selected not from pre-made images but exclusively from the choice of the artist. Moreover, the artist uses a large-format camera, which means that he has to take photographs from a fixed camera point and that the number of fast-photography images is limited. In other words, the artist takes photographs having intentionally eliminated the reporting privileges, terms, and environment of photojournalists. For this reason, the images the artist can select are not the kind of scenes that are generally thought of as important in news events and expected as such. We are flooded with the images of mass media sensationalism and spectacle, and Serralongue’s images suggest a reality apart from the cliche of the news report. The dry and impersonal images in front of our view are the images of undeniable reality, even if they are unexpected images, and they raise the question of the « truth »of images.
Thus today’s artists, who produce images of reality, visualize the uncertain realms of reality, often believed to be certain and firm. These images make visible what is invisible and form various trajectories between the real and imaginary territories. Melik Ohanian’s images are, for example, such images. His work provides various time zones through which a viewer can form his own images. « Island of an Island », for example is a work that films the remote island in Iceland that was formed in the 1960s when a volcano erupted. The island exists only as a research object for scientists. The images of the island filmed from various angles in the sky are simultaneously projected onto three separate screens. On the floor, as 950 tiny light bulbs slowly begin to render a drawing of the flowers that once existed in the island, the viewer realizes that she can see the whole image of the flowers through the reflection of four semicircular mirrors installed on the ceiling. And through a book of scientific data, which took three years to collect, the viewer can visualize another image of the island. There are then the images of the island fast playing on the screen, the images of the flowers on the floor that appear as they disappear and vice versa, and the images in the book, which require another time zone. One cannot experience these three realms simultaneously, nor can one have a completed image. However, as the viewer sees the images in sequence, the viewer forms her own images about the island. « sland of an Island »works like a well-made film in which various time zones and appearances co-exist without cancelling each other out. In this way the work allows the viewer to experience and understand the realms between the real and the imaginary, the present and future, etc. This work objectifies concrete and firm images, inducing the viewer’s reaction to them and prompting the viewer at the same time to rethink about making images today.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s trilogy of films « Riyo », « Central », and « Plage », suggests another possibility for experiencing images. The images in the three films are from the artist’s travel to Kyoto, Hong Kong, and Rio de Janeiro, respectively, and they are images of feelings. « Riyo »has the image of Kamo riverside and the sound track of the telephone conversation of a young couple. « Central »has the images of Hong Kong and a women? monologue, while « Plage »has the images of Copacabana reminiscent of the festival period and three different stories on the sound track. On the surface, these films are composed of image, text (subtitles), and sound that one is used to seeing in other films. However, in Gonzalez-Foerster’s work, the three elements form a space where the past, present, and future co-exist and cross each other. « Plage »is a film made while travelling in Rio de Janiero, and it films the sea-side festival. In this film, the sound which seems to be coming from a specific source, i. e., the beach, changes into the voice of a man. The time zone of the beach-side festival and that of the voices heard on the sound track cross each other, giving the viewer a possibility to experience the images that are different from what’s shown or experienced by other viewers. Thus the viewer could form his or her own image from the film. Going forth and back between the realms of the real and the imaginary through the film? parallel image and sound, the viewer travels to a realm that « does not exist »anywhere else.
The artists in this exhibition explore uncertain and incomplete realms, traveling back and forth between the past and the future. It is the way of life for the artists as well as a suggestion to the public of a « possibility of life ». Alain Bublex’s works, which seek for the time and images that do not exist in real world, do not so much look for a new or absolute form of utopia. Rather, the artist is seeking for future possibilities from the standpoint of today, which exists in the present and past. For example, « Aerofiat is Bublex’s future car. He combines a Fiat, the automobile from the 1970s, and an airplane model from the 40s. There is also the work « Tentatives », a collection of the artist’s exhibition ideas which « could have been possible but never realized ». In the « Glooscap »project, the artist draws the images of non-existent, imaginary cities on the map of Canada. The territories of these projects are where non-real time and places co-exist. Alain Bublex’s works seek future possibilities from within history, and most of his projects are incomplete. They remain as a « model »or a « project »and exist as future possibilities that could continue to evolve and change from the present. Marine Hugonnier has been working on projects that merge future into the present. To do so, she visualizes « the sensation of the moment »when we instantly recognize an object or its image. As the titles « Flower », « Candle », « Tree », « Still », and « Interlude »suggest, these are typical still-life subjects. However, the moment we smell the dying candle while it is still burning, or when a viewer recognizes that a flower which has to wither with time does not, then we can cast away the images of still life and enter into a different time and space. The still life projects by Hugonnier suggest that the viewer transcend the formal images of the objects and that she enter into a zone of infinite time. In other words, in Hugonnier’s work the fixed and concrete images of still-life objects become the uncertain and abstract « moments of sensation »where we experience the present and future at the same time. The absolute and restrained images of Marine Hugonnier, which remind one of 17th-century still-life paintings, appeal to the viewer’s olfactory, visual, and perceptual senses to succinctly introduce the viewer to the realm of the metaphysical. The splendid and grotesque body images of Natacha Lesueur address duality in a realm different from, or perhaps less metaphysical than, that of Hugonnier. Lesueur separates human body parts, such as the leg, mouth, face, etc., decorates them with food, and photographically renders them with the sophisticated sensibility of a fashion photographer. In most of the artist’s body photographs, which are covered with beautifully colored and shaped food, the images of beauty and disgust, curiosity and rejection, dissatisfaction and satisfaction, and humor and criticism coexist. The reactions of the strongly contrasting emotions to the artist’s work are in fact the reactions we have to the images of the body in general, including our own. Lesueur’s images seem horrible but playful, sophisticated yet grotesque, and erotic and disgusting at the same time. The images of such contradictions are both the reality of the bodies we have as well as the images we experience as such.
Lastly, I invited two curators active in France to participate in this exhibition. I suggested that Alexandre Pollazzon bring his DVD project, « Video Traffic », which he recently produced. The DVD project suggests a possibility for a new form of exhibition that overcomes the space-time limitations of art exhibitions today. Also, the 15 video artists introduced in « Video Traffic »further add to and expand the French contemporary art scenes introduced by the invited artists in Less Ordinary. To Alexis Vaillant, I have asked that he introduce in writing the contemporary trend in art, design, fashion, magazine, internet, music, etc. for this catalogue. Vaillant’s on-paper exhibition presents the curator’s unique personal perspectives as well as various visual materials to expand on the contemporary art scenes not introduced in, but are closely related to, this exhibition.
Artists : Alain Bublex, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Valery Grancher, Marine Hugonnier, Pierre Joseph, Koo Jeong-A, Matthieu Laurette, Natacha Lesueur, Mathieu Mercier, Melik Ohanian, Alexandre Pollazzon, Bruno Serralongue