Today is the last occasion to visit Julie Béna’s solo exhibition Destiny at Galerie Édouard-Manet de Gennevilliers. In the gallery, an absurd feeling flatness is strongly present: the space has been transformed into a reminiscent of an office, whose aesthetics is predominantly borrowed from the turn of the millennium. A carpet with geometric shapes and figures against they grey background is occupying the floor leading the visitor to discover Béna’s introduction to corporate world, with a body of work solely conceived for the gallery space. With the current exhibition the artist reveals to be faithful to her previous production – that is, finding inspiration from the world of theatre and popular culture in a larger sense, simultaneously transforming and disturbing spatial forms and codes.
This false reality, by definition a corporate one in this particular case, starts right from the entry. As if introducing to a corporate zone, we can find a large TV screen on the wall welcoming the visitor, displaying a dialogue between Miss None and Mister Peanut. This exchange between the two cartoonish-like characters, lacks of meaning and sense: words are pronounced and repeated, forming an attempt for a dialogue. However, the identities are blurred, or rather, they don’t exist.
A large office desk occupies the second room of the gallery: this is presumably the main office space. Its design – this seems to be the apt term to employ in this context – is dominated by the use of steel and glass. In other words, sharpness and precision, almost that of sterility takes over: it resembles of a perfect composition of office decor taken afresh from a sales catalogue, one intended for enterprises. A perfect composition reigns in the space together with a cold and bright lighting guiding my vision: here you can’t find any coffee stains nor piles of papers waiting to be organised. Perhaps functionality and freshness would be suitable terms to be used here, however, perhaps it is exactly for this reason that the space feels primarily flat and empty.
A lack of flavour is the feeling that prevails: this is further enhanced by the vinyl labels that we can find glued on glass plates. These labels are displaying letters that compose words, whose selection seems somewhat arbitrary. This supplementary gesture allows us to contemplate on what is left for these linguistic symbols, once removed from their initial context. The same goes for the space’s interior design: what happens when linguistic references, material symbols and even entire spaces are removed from their original composition and then reselected, cut, copied and assembled in a new framework? This compositional style of Béna borrowed from catalogues continues in the last room of the gallery: a composition of plexy glass divides the space, whose starting point is indicated with a symbol of hand glued on the floor. We can spell letters from the glass, once again forming the word destiny.
A certain internet awareness is legible in Béna’s work: her aesthetic vocabulary finds its inspiration also from the world wide web, while using the components of a digital collage. Despite these multiple layers of symbols and references constructing this collage, simultaneously, a lot is left to be unsaid. Entire holes and symbols of insignificance can be traced throughout the gallery space. There are parts and pieces missing from the puzzle, or rather than missing, they’re unknown. Julié Béna plays extensively with spatial and temporal conditions, disturbing and challenging them. She offers a potentiality of multiple fictions to invent and various parts to be fulfilled. Here, a sole collection of individual portraits is not interesting, it is the whole pattern that characters, events and spaces knotted together that interests us – a potential definition for the word destiny, or alternatively, Destiny.
Béna’s way of treating the space is like looking at an uncharted territory, while pointing to an imaginary beyond. The texture of the real withdraws in front of artificiality, while the time span is strongly overlapping, even disappearing. The artist plays successfully with the idea of ordinary and expected, transforming these notions towards extraordinary and spectacular. Julie Béna treats the question of mise-en-scène almost in a sculptural way: here the strategic choice of corporate environment is particularly interesting. Being by definition a parapublic space, the question on the role reserved for visitors is left unanswered, when finding itself simultaneously accessible and inaccessible. Thus, the real question is whether we are invited to play an active role against the corporate background, or does the set-up rely solely on posthumanist mindset.
Julie Béna studied fine arts the Villa Arson in Nice, France, and at the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels, Belgium. She has exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian and Display Art Projects in Paris, Song Eun Art Space in Seoul, Korea, at Nettie Horn in London, Fonderie Darling in Montréal, and was a resident at Le Pavillon at the Palais de Tokyo in 2012-2013.