As is my way, I didn't do any research on Julia Rometti and Victor Costales before I went to see the show. I knew that they'd won a prize at the last edition of ARCO Madrid (the illy SustainArt prize) and I knew they were young and pretty successful. That was it. I'm also a fan of Jousse Entreprise as a gallery; they're definitely one of the most interesting smaller galleries in Paris and they represent a few artists of whom I'm a fan (Superflex, Matthew Derbyshire, and Philippe Meste if you want to know). It looked like a good combination.
My problem was that on entering the show I walked around and looked at the work and felt a bit rejected. I felt like it didn't want to open up to me. I know this sensation and it isn't exclusive to either this show – or exhibitions in general – but still I've had a brush with education, I've a few grey cells sticking around. I looked at some projections of rocks, three squares of 'tumbling block' optical illusion that looked interlaced, photos of Antonin Artaud with paperclips arranged on it, photos of sagging plants in the jungle, photos of wild scenes crossed with metal strut-work, a little anarchist flag made from laced beans, another 'tumbling block' pattern on the floor on which two rocks were placed. The title of the show seemed like a clue and I stood in the room and gave it time to come together. Fortunately, I was interrupted at this point by Sophie Vigourous, who runs Jousse and she gave me a guided tour.
What we're looking at is Art anthropology: the tumbling blocks are three large-format survey photographs of the jungle interlaced; the beans are seeds from a rare tree in the jungle and they're not painted they're naturally pigmented; the sagging plants, that I'd initially thought were people disguising themselves in the jungle, were Agave plants, incredibly important to the local shaman; Artaud had travelled to Mexico at one period and the paperclips had a name in Mexican that was significant, although it eludes me now, and so on. The threads were connected, the work was explained and all was good in the world. My conclusion after all was that the work was successful in its goal of shaking our perspective, it was an interesting exploration and I now understand both the prize and the high regard for the artists.
I still have to question the necessity for the exegesis, and you can call me lazy but I don't know how much research should be required before you feel the impact of work; in my heart I think its power should be in its presence. The problem is maybe that the artist is trying to do so many things, it's didactic, it's analytic (in its own way), cross cultural, and also trying to achieve all the goals of art, meaning an impact, an encounter. These things all pull in different directions: too didactic you nail it down and lose the magic; too analytic and it becomes leaden/boring; too culturally remote and people fail to understand; too familiar it's insensitive/hegemonic; and too much of the above and it loses its artistic impact. It seems too easy for the work to fall between the cracks.
In the end I found this show rewarding, and will certainly return for part two that opens 23rd May.
P.S. As a caveat I'll add that it could be that these things are so remote from me; I've never been to Mexico or anywhere in South America, and this could be why at first I didn't get it and someone who was more familiar could well understand immediately.
(All images: Victor Costales, Julia Rometti: El Perspectivista; Courtesy Jousse Enterprise-Saint Claude)