This place you see has no size at all…
Kadist Art Foundation
Michael Portnoy, Foreplay (indexical voyage), 2009; electric blue flashlight and video; performance title: Mets ton doigt quelque part! said Theo.; courtesy the artist and IBID Projects, London
France Fiction, Et vous, que cherchez–vous?, 2009; courtesy the artists
Curator-in-residence Jennifer Teets’ exhibition at the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris unites thirteen artists, a performance program and a parallel presentation by the collective France Fiction into an investigation of context and visibility. Attempting to spring the project from a static, singular reading, Teets conceived This place you see has no size at all… as a decentralized and evolving site and a mysterious chain of events. Appropriately, all of the works—except Pietro Roccasalva’s acrylic drawing, Study for the Skeleton Key (Here is the Man Looking at the Glass); David Adamo’s bronze slipper, Untitled; and Kate Costello’s large-scale drawing Untitled (Cup) and aluminum sculpture Razor—were produced specifically for the show. Mark Aerial Waller’s infrared video, White Stag, and his installation, White Stag enters the Casseopeia plan, are new versions of previous works. The remaining contributions from Mariana Castillo Deball, Aslı Çavusoglu, Alex Cecchetti, France Fiction, Darius Miksys, Michael Portnoy, Tania Pérez Córdova, Alex Waterman and Mark von Schlegell were created in direct response to an “alternate reality game” that Teets initiated last summer.
On the afternoon of July 22, 2009, at exactly the same moment the opposite side of the planet experienced a solar eclipse, Teets convened the exhibition’s artists in Parc de Saint-Cloud. They were led there by science-fiction writer Mark von Schlegell’s enigmatic time-space map, part of a paper guide designed by Mariana Castillo Deball. The pamphlet also featured Von Schlegell’s A-through-R list of “WARNINGS”: a tangle of historical and contemporary references to characters such as French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (responsible for the design of the park under Louis XIV), Napoleon I (inhabitant of Château de Saint-Cloud before its destruction in 1870), Amelia Earhart (who Von Schlegell purports lives in the park’s forest, though now deaf and armed with a gun) and local cocaine dealers. Teets’ plan was to “gather these individuals” (presumably both the artists and the evoked historical figures) “in a simultaneous experience of which they contributed to, though they had little knowledge about.”
That afternoon, Alex Cecchetti made a series of interventions with the crumbling neoclassical sculptures scattered throughout the park—sticking globs of red Play-Doh over the ends of Socrates’ broken limbs, for example. According to Cecchetti, Mark Aerial Waller rolled past on a golf cart and France Fiction set up a viewing apparatus to frame an “invisible” mountain. However, the specific activities of July 22 are not recorded in the exhibition. Nor is Von Schlegell and Castillo Deball’s guide present.
This spring, the Kadist Art Foundation will produce a book revealing the guide and documentation of the Parc de Saint-Cloud activities. But for now, the exhibition only offers a series of clues or prompts. By hiding such details, Teets dodges their status as fact, achieving what she describes as “a consistency of opacity and non-linearity.” Teets’ own extremely veiled exhibition “guide” embeds references to the works on view in a fictionalized letter concerning “Parc de Saint-Cloud on a late summer afternoon.” Von Schlegell has also authored an additional text, Love the Clear Dark, a haunting and at times comic narrative that incorporates images and actions from the artists’ day in the park, as well as references to specific works presented in the show.
David Adamo, Untitled, 2009; bronze, painted shoe
Tania Pérez Córdova, (left) Things posing as if they were calling times to come, part 1, 2009; (right) Develop & Deliver (Things posing as if they were calling times to come), 2009; color photograph and silkscreen and drawing
The installation at Kadist follows suit, with objects placed like disparate pieces of evidence. And, like Parc de Saint-Cloud, whose historical center, Château de Saint-Cloud, no longer exists, Teets’ exhibition lacks a clear nexus. Alex Waterman’s musical score written for Love the Clear Dark plays from a small radio just inside the entrance. A framed snapshot of Teets meeting DJ Gilles Peterson—a contribution by Lithuanian artist Darius Miksys—is propped up in the front window. Miksys also invited a so-called non-artist, “Sunday afternoon painter” Roger Worms, to participate in the show. Worms’ Le Lys, from 1986, stands out for its allegorical legibility. However, appropriated by Miksys, it is subordinated to more enigmatic purposes. Miksys’ own Shroud of Gilles Peterson is an immaterial work, existing only as a title. Four plaster sculptures by Alex Cecchetti represent some of the exhibition’s most compelling research. Working with the lost-wax bronze sculpture studio of the Musée du Louvre, he cast the insides of classical molds, revealing the typically invisible variations each craftsman renders on the interior of iconic sculptures.
The exhibition expands spatially and temporally through a parallel exhibition, Et vous, que cherchez-vous?, and the performance program. At their space in the Marais, France Fiction presented the instruments they used to portray an “invisible” mountain as seen through a mirrored viewing apparatus at Kadist. Referencing René Daumal’s novel Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing and the idea of the mountain as a “peradam” (an object visible only to those who seek it), the collective succinctly interprets Teets’ intentions: “an awkward simulation,” she explains, “that is both personal and responsive to our own notions of fictive imagination, truth and illusion.”
The performance program began at the Kadist opening, with Michael Portnoy’s Mets ton doigt quelque part! said Theo. Documentation of his performance, a frantic choreography of an index finger dipped in blue paint making its way through Montmartre and into the gallery, is looped on a video screen at Kadist. In early January, Von Schlegell, Waterman and Teets performed Love the Clear Dark as a live radio play. And in February, Alex Cecchetti led a guided tour, Awakening the Spirit of Eternal Rest, of the Mazarin marble sculptures in the Louvre, therein linking the evolution of the museum’s collection to the constantly evolving interiority of his cast plaster sculptures.
By fostering a dynamic exhibition site and an ongoing interpretation of events, Teets challenges the static, potentially reductive framework of the traditional group exhibition. But by keeping the active structure of her project concealed, she keeps viewers locked into the habitual position of audience—as outsiders. The exhibition could have been more successful, and come closer to achieving a stated goal of “motion,” if the artists’ starting point of the Parc de Saint-Cloud afternoon had been made more visible. Like she did with the terrain of the park, Teets could have pushed the gallery space further into the realm of the imaginary. The most magical and profound invisibility is realized when our vision and awareness are expanded, not hindered.
Lillian Davies is a freelance critic based in Paris.