Before entering the project room of the Parisian gallery Chez Valentin to see the latest group exhibition You will find me if you want me in the garden, I take a quick look at the press release. A short presentation of Epicureanism is included, a school also known as “The Garden”. The main idea behind this philosophy was to reach the state of tranquility: Epicurus himself believed that the highest good in life is pleasure (!δον) and that only the senses are true and infallible and should therefore be cared for constantly. These ideas vaguely going through my mind I enter the space, to see how the curator behind the exhibition, Domenico de Chirico, has turned this idea upside down in a playful way: through a coherent visual selection of the works, the exhibition translates and adopts the idea of a garden, or that of tranquility, pleasure and sensibility, into a logic-driven language of the 21st century.
Sleek surfaces are dominating the overall look of the space, which seems like a promise of serenity. I directly lay my eyes on a woman figure, which is occupying the center of the gallery floor: in my mind, a female figure sitting in a garden refers inevitably to the idea of fertility and sexuality. However, this work of a Danish artist Simon Dybbroe Moller, entitled Sporting #3 (2013), reveals to be a mannequin, sprayed concrete together with her baseball mats. Immediately, thanks to this figure, devoid of any expression, I begin to observe the exhibition in a different way. Placed right next to Moller’s work, The Metaphysics of the Runner (2014) is to be found: this work of Pakui Hardware, made in collaboration with Jeannine Han, consists of clothing made of synthetic fabric, reworked with acrylic. The shirt is hanging from the roof; pants are casually placed on the chair. This layout constitutes a straightforward gesture together with the title: through an almost careless composition, the work retraces not only the physical pleasure and its achievement, but also its strong union with the signification process that is created through visually attractive design.
A garden can also be understood as a space free of all anxiety: it’s a source of growth and vitality. These ideas are turned around in the work of Carson Fisk-Vittori, whose work Sponsored by Aide, An, Asiaq, Dodola, Mari, Pakhet, Saranya, Tamar, Tempestas (2015), a print on dibond, puts bluntly forward the question on the relationship between the world of consumerism and marketing on the one hand, and the quest for pleasure on the other hand. The work constitutes a repetition of images and words, which reminds us of a marketing language, that of logos and sponsorships. However, these names present actually names of goddesses of weather, against a leaf-like print, reminding us of vitality and growth, yet in an extremely glossy way.
Next to this, a work entitled Company (2012) of Ditte Gantriis is on display: an A-print and oil sticks on poly banner, continues the sheer aesthetics that is occupying the space. Here once again, through a digitally processed imagery, a publicity-driven image of a garden is at the reach of our hands. However, it is only a flat banner, whose role is to hide or reveal: the garden is only a distant idea on this white, clean surface. Right beneath it, we can find the works of Spencer Longo, entitled Mud Dynasty (Fennel and Fresh Laundry and Fennel and Flowers), both works dating from 2015. With different materials, the artist has constructed reminiscent of candles, using portable spittoons and scented wax. With a combination of these highly contrary elements, the work puts forward an idea of a hide-and-seek. A complementary layer to the exhibition is presented through the work of Alessandro Agudio: the work of this Milanese artist, Kaleenji (2012), made of resin, iron and toulipier wood, seems to find its place, with its persuading sleek surface, somewhere between design and object-fetishism. The medium here is a customized training board for climbing, which seems as a highly abstract object as such: the idea is to use meticulous objects to illustrate the appreciation that we have for them as status symbols, while their usage is left in parenthesis. This is how Agudio retraces a new kind of domestic scenery, and ends up observing the determining role of design while constructing a certain lifestyle.
The exhibition points out the conditionality in which we find ourselves today: abstract words such well-being, performance and quality, construct in an active way an impersonal public narrative. We get easily hung up on artificial texture of things and surfaces, while commercial language has become part of our self-understanding. A garden, a pre-determined space for serenity and vitality per se, turns out to be in the exhibition indebted to corporate determined aesthetics, where additional devices are needed in the quest for pleasure. At the end, it seems it is to be found underneath sleek surfaces, with constant, yet very subtle innuendos of primary elements.
You will find me if you want me in the garden on view at Galerie Chez Valentin until May 16.
Together with: Alessandro AGUDIO, Stefania BATOEVA, Sol CALERO, Simon DYBBROE MØLLER, Carson FISK-VITTORI, Ditte GANTRIIS, Pakui HARDWARE (in collaboration with Jeannine HAN), Daniel KELLER, Spencer LONGO, Matthew SMITH, Anna VIRNICH, Andrew NORMAN WILSON.