When starting my visit to Bruno Pélassy’s exhibition at Crédac, my expectations were quite straightforward: a retrospective homage to the late artist, together with a documentation of the decade surrounding Pélassy – this was the sketch in my head. However, the curatorial practice realised by Claire Le Restif with the use of space turned the ensemble into something much more: under the seeming superficiality, the exhibition’s final seduction finds itself embedded in multiple surfaces, thus revealing an ambivalent study of encoded cultural and historic references.
Bruno Pélassy didn’t receive a formal artist training: instead he finished his degree in clothing and jewellery design. This stands out often in his works, with a recurrent use of haute couture and jewellery: the series entitled “Créatures” (2000-2001), features organisms trapped in aquariums, adorned with strips of silk and lace. These elements go far beyond their accessory status with a careful study of shapes and movements: a restful optical movement, yet never-ending in a confined space. Pélassy’s style is often quoted first and foremost as baroque and romantic: what I found impressive is the artist’s pertinent observation of the surrounding world, be it mythology, popular culture, religions and cults. These elements were central to Pélassy, and come full circle in the exhibition, where the artist’s work composes an ambivalent poetics of life and death.
For Pélassy, the study of mythology served as a starting point to reflect the surrounding world as a value system: from an excerpt of Hesiod’s Theogony to a sculpture imitating Medusa’s head, the artist explored widely the origins of the universe, mirrored against his deeply personal experience. “Le Temple” (1994-1995) is a great example of this: a piece of wooden sculpture adorned with artisanal details, accompanied by a poem entitled “Nocete Ipsum”, which is a derivation of ancient Greece meaning “Know yourself“. The poem itself mixes expressions in French, English and Latin together with material and erotic evocations and prophetic adages. The temple, shaped in a form of an altar, echoes the troubling cultural background of the artist himself, wresting with chaos and multiple identities, the ones given and created.
The exhibition offers an instinctive transition from the personal space of the artist to the broader framework: it outlines a testimony of an episode of history, the one of a fractured decade. Deeply affected not only by a political, social and economic crisis, the artist also drew widely inspiration from popular culture and its cultural codifications. The video entitled “Sans titre, Sang titre, Cent titres” (1995) forms the central piece in the second room. It offers an ongoing projection of a VHS tape, consisting of extracts of recorded documentaries, films and publicities. The support of the record turns simultaneously into a channel of diffusion: the work represents at once its own device of destruction and recreation. In many ways, the exhibition ends up mirroring the artist as a fractured subject and object, while the ensemble turns to a study of a construction of artist identities.
Through his work Pélassy provided also seeds of a social protest: his production reveals to be very grounded in the social reality of his time. His works play an organic role in the critical play, the one constructed at Crédac’s space. The artistic figure of Pélassy reveals to be peculiar for his time: at once, his works are in the very heart of socially engaged action, that one could define as relational aesthetics. However, Pélassy’s choice lies on imaginary and utopian realities instead of opting for realistic direction. This is also explicit through a careful combination of different media employed by the artist: installations, videos, sketches, the use of manufactured and utilitarian objects together with the work on exquisite material… These highly diverse materials and works are put into a perfect composition in the space, which develops the exhibition into a mnemonic itinerary.
It is interesting that this exhibition devoted to Pélassy’s work and life finds itself at Crédac, a center of contemporary art – Pélassys’s exhibition being the first retrospective one at the center. This choice reveals to be a powerful one, when the work of Pélassy succeeds in imposing its presence at Crédac’s industrial site: the entity is not only a documentation of the work of Pélassy, but manages to be in a constant reconstruction, a (re)making of the artist. Even though the works on display gather together ten years of artistic production, the approach towards his work refuses to be a historic one: instead, it leaves the artist’s body of work open-ended and attached to our time.
The Crédac, with the able assistance of Marie Canet, Air de Paris and Pélassy’s family, presents a monographic show devoted to the French artist Bruno Pélassy, running through 22 March, 2015. The artist was born in Vientiane, Laos, in 1966, he died in Nice, in 2002. His work is represented by Air de Paris, Paris. Realized with the support of the artist’s family, the project brings together several art venues, Crédac, Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain in Brest (7 February – 2 May 2015), the Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon in Sète (autumn 2015) and Mamco (Musée d’art moderne et contemporain) in Geneva (February 2016), for a series of exhibitions devoted to Bruno Pélassy and his work.