The exhibition Notorious at FRAC - le Plateau presents the acquisitions the institution has made over the last two years, but you wouldn't know it just by looking around. It has the feel of an immaculately curated group show, harmoniously grouped together under the title. A couple works stand out as not quite fitting the theme, but for the most part I was swept into the gallery by the allure of mystery and concealed identity, espionage and subterfuge, as promised by the Hitchcockian title.
Keren Cytter's video Nightmare begins the exhibition, setting a tone of violence and mystery. In it we see two brutal stranglings occur, both times ending in death, between the same two people. The scenes start in extreme banality and suddenly escalate into a hideous murder committed twice. Which murder is the Nightmare and which is the reality? Where is the starting point? The video is disorienting and seductive, disturbing in its portrayal of the cycle of domestic violence where there is no distinguishable beginning, no discernible cause, and no redemption.
We are further confronted with mystery by an untitled piece by Jimmy Robert consisting of a print of an old portrait, cut apart with strips of paper inserted, obscuring the visage; a cloud of graphite on the wall, an erased text; and a photograph of a crumpled piece of paper on the floor, laid right over the spot where that piece of paper allegedly lay. The piece seems like a crime scene, and each element a clue, yet we don't know what mystery we must solve.
The most riveting piece in the show is Morgan Fisher's (), a masterful display of 16mm film editing of footage from vintage Hollywood movie reels. It's mesmerizing to watch--we see no faces, only hands, hands pulling ropes, manipulating projectors, gripping handles, playing checkers, triangulating on a map, handling guns; we see love notes, telegrams, photos, evidence; we see sinister hands, loving hands; we infer international intrigue, murder, hidden identities. The entire film is made up of "inserts", or those shots in a movie "used to home in on a detail so as to stress its role in the plot". These are shots that carry high importance, integral to the story, and mashing them up, one after another, keeps the viewer in a constant state of extreme alertness. We are conditioned to pay strict attention. Each insert holds great significance to the story, and from this montage of inserts we can't help but try and follow the story, deriving meaning from what we can, trying to make connections between them. It's absolutely exhausting. John Stezaker's surrealist photo collages are placed right outside, heightening the mystery, the case of missing identities and hidden faces.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing and atmospheric effects of the exhibition is how the viewer travels through the exhibition, through light and dark spaces, between darkened video rooms and the bright gallery walls. Mark Geffriaud's installation Polka Dot is unusual in that the lights are off in the gallery, creating a darkened space, somewhat sinister and mysterious, illumined by a roving spotlight beaming from a projector at the opposite end of the room. Slowly the spotlight passes over the wall, over posters and prints positioned so the light hits a row of faces, or misses the poster altogether. At the end of the spotlight's arc the light hits a round hand mirror on the side of the projector, focusing the beam on an open page of a book. The installation is very poetic, clever and atmospheric, especially when you note that the spotlight is a slide reproduction of the first image ever made of the sun, in 1845.
Notorious is a remarkable show with some incredible work; it takes quite a bit of time to explore the exhibition, especially with all the film and video works. This is however the perfect season to spend some time indoors, going to galleries and museums, and watching films. So stop by FRAC and try to solve the mystery, the real mystery to Notorious (and don't be thrown off by Flavien's two pencil drawings) - its complete and utter lack of a single painting! Not that I'm complaining...
(*Images from top to bottom: John Stezaker, Mask XXXVIII, 2007, collage de photographie et de carte postale, collection Frac Île-de-France. Jimmy Robert, Sans titre, 2005, impression jet d’encre, collage, papiers pliés, graphite, plinthe, dimensions variables, collection Frac Île-de-France. Morgan Fisher, (), 2003, Film 16 mm, 21’, muet, couleur et noir et blanc, ed. 2/10 + 1EA, collection Frac Île-de-France. Mark Geffriaud, Polka Dot, 2008, installation, projection diapositive sur support motorisé, diapositive, livre, miroirs, dimensions variables, collection Frac Ile-de-France.)