I really like Suzanne Tarasiève's Loft 19 space. Tucked away on a dead-end street behind Belleville it has the feel of a genuinely alternative art space, something different and away from the rest of the galleries. There's nothing like it in Paris. I always look forward to openings there as you get to see some good art and there's normally an interesting crowd and something nice to drink.
This wasn't the case yesterday.
‘Forcément on pense au rouge’ by Chloé Tallot is based around a conversation with Jérôme Clément, the president of the Franco-German TV station 'Arte'. She asked him to assign a colour to thirty-three words that she took from his books, words like 'love', 'laughter' and 'honour'. She then took footage from the interview and these colours and turned them into an art show: there were photographs of skies, bridges, roads and open books all saturated with colour; there was a video installation of headlights driving down a deserted road, again saturated by colours, surrounded by videos of the interview; a sculpture of mannequins' hands suspended and wrapped with a red ribbon (red was apparently the colour he referenced most often).
What were the problems? Well, to begin with it wasn't visually interesting. The images and video were well shot, but just incredibly unremarkable, flat and lifeless. And worse, they were shown self-importantly—we weren't pointed to the unoriginality of this kind of image, we weren't made to look at it again, it didn't show us these aspects inside itself. As for the concept of the show, saturating the images with colour neither added nor detracted, it was just there; it connected with neither the interview, nor the words, nor with my emotions. The photographs of books suffered from all the same problems but felt even more mannered and pompous; I mean, I'm very happy that you can take a photo of Nietzsche’s ...Zarathustra and juxtapose it with a medical text book but so what? Why does it matter? What am I supposed to take from that?
On top of this the entire thing was wrapped up in the most spurious kind of art-speak nonsense where one wonders either how much the writer was paid, or if he actually looked at the work before he wrote it, and this is from Jean Luc Monterosso, Directeur de la Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The work did not, as his essay claimed, push the experience of Rimbaud to an extreme, the infinite complexity of 'I' did not spring forth, and it was not 'a poetic meditation on the inscrutable mystery of being'.
Overall the show felt lazy and conceited, it did none of the things good work should do, it posed no questions, it didn't open or make any space. There was no uncertainty. It was not engaging. It was neither pretty nor ugly. And it neither presented nor elucidated its subject. There are few things that will kill art more effectively than pretention. When we look at really good work, it's us the viewer who says it's important. Or at least, it should be.
This feeling was exacerbated by the focus on Jérôme Clément, who, as a kind of arch-cultural bureaucrat, meant the whole thing had an elitist feel to it. This was kind of confirmed at the opening, and my problem with it in this context is that the collective value judgement of this dynamic brings about a crazy inversion: since we are all wonderful, talented, brilliant people, anything that is created by one of us has to also be wonderful and brilliant and talented. And then everyone has to agree and congratulate one another otherwise not only is the work no good but we all also become less special. And the problem is that it's just not true, as perfectly demonstrated by this exhibition.
(Image on top: CHLOE TALLOT, Ciels rouges, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève.)