When visiting Julie Béna’s solo exhibition Destiny at Galerie Édouard-Manet de Gennevilliers, an absurd feeling of flatness takes over right from the beginning: the gallery has been transformed into a reminiscent of an office space, whose aesthetics is predominantly borrowed from the turn of the millennium. A carpet with geometric shapes and figures against a 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 her exhibition Destiny, this French artist reveals to be faithful to her previous production, that is, finding inspiration from the world of theatre and popular culture, simultaneously transforming and disturbing spatial forms and codes.
This false reality, by definition a corporate one this time, 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 conversation between Miss None and Mister Peanut. An absurd exchange between the two cartoonish-like characters takes place, however, it is deprived of meaning and logic: words are pronounced and repeated, forming an attempt for a dialogue. Yet, 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. Respectively, sharpness and precision, even sterility are the dominating visual stimuli: the space reminds me of a perfect composition of an 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 the vision: here you can’t find any coffee stains nor piles of papers waiting to be organised. Functionality and freshness could be suitable terms to use here, however, perhaps it is exactly for this reason that the space feels primarily flat and empty.
This lack of flavour with a certain clinical approach is further enhanced by the vinyl labels found on glass plates. Eyes are able to spell letters composing words, yet their selection seems somewhat arbitrary. This supplementary gesture allows us to contemplate on what is left for linguistic symbols when removed from their initial context. The same goes for the space’s interior design: what happens when 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 continues in the last room of the gallery: a plexiglass divides the space, whose starting point is indicated with a symbol of a hand glued on the floor. Once again the letters form the word destiny.
A certain internet awareness is legible in Béna’s work: her aesthetic vocabulary finds its inspiration from the world wide web, while using the components of a digital collage. Despite these multiple layers of symbols and references constructing the puzzle, much is left unsaid: entire holes and symbols of insignificance can be traced throughout the exhibition. There are parts and pieces missing, or rather, they’re unknown. The artist plays extensively with spatial and temporal conditions, disturbing and challenging them, at the same time offering the potential for multiple fictions to be invented and various roles 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 form – a potential definition for the word destiny, or alternatively, Destiny.
Béna’s way of treating the space is like looking at an uncharted territory and imaginary beyond, 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, and treats the question of mise-en-scène 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. Thus, the question lingers, 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.