Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz at Marcelle Alix Paris 08/01/11-05/03/11

Nothing Personal

Mathieu K. Abonnenc, Michael Dean, Ian Kiaer, Chosil Kil, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa
Nothing personal: the title is misleading, since the personal is what the works in the show are all about. We want to pack away the Modernist belief in the autonomy of the artwork, and we also want to celebrate contradiction. Marcelle Alix’s inaugural show (Moon Star Love, 14.11.09 – 23.01.10) explored the poetry of the fragmentary form. Here the fragment encounters a generative and powerful idea inherited from feminism: “the personal is political.”

We are interested in what “adventurous coherences” (to paraphrase Roger Caillois) the fact of bringing together works by seven very different artists might produce. The artists are diverse, but their work shares a common concern: namely an ability to rework their sources and an interest in the mechanics of art circulation.

How Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz appropriate the historical document to make it resonate with contemporary issues is fascinating. How their film Normal Work (2007)—shown together with a photo archive— relates the complex imagery surrounding two Victorian lovers, divided by class, to contemporary queer culture is startling.

The resistance to standardization, which Hannah Cullwick’s character (in its updated version by Boudry & Lorenz) comes to symbolize, necessitates different reinventions of the self. While the duo employs primary figures, such as the dandy to construct a mise-en-scène that celebrates artificiality (as opposed to a natural state), Mathieu K. Abonnenc and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa soberly show sequences of situations from which untypical and hard-to-reconstruct family stories originate. Abonnenc uses the bodies of others to exhibit a piece of jewellery which, despite his lengthy research, still resists him and stands for the expression of power’s secret existence. The object is the reproduction of his great-grandfather’s ring, which he inherited and lost. The silver ring, ornate with a skull, links the past of a free-mason who lived in Guyana, to the following menacing ideal: “I will maintain through reason or strength” (motto of Counani, the independent Republic of Guyana which attempted to exist outside of the colonial system between 1886 and 1891). The sentence progressively disappears as the material is recast every time the ring is bestowed to a new person, in the present case, the gallery-owner.
Penderosa by Wolukau-Wanambwa is the first formal realization of the artist’s recent research in Uganda. This installation recalls a miniature cinema house, as it offers the beholder to look at an image, an almost naïve landscape (much like a Douanier Rousseau’s painting), accompanied by a text which underlines the gap between historical knowledge and personal stories. It also subtly evokes the difficulty to produce images.

Chosil Kil, on the other hand, disturbed Korean creeds during an exhibition showcasing different objects belonging to shamans. This endeavour was quite badly interpreted by the Korean public, and, facing growing tension, the artist decided to return the sacred objects and to show their prints instead. The shaman’s bell gave way to different works, which were made in the aftermath of the first show: among them, prints on paper (The Second Impressions, 2010) and an unpolished bronze (His Daughter, 2011). Both these works construct the image of an absent object that is voided of its magical function and becomes vulnerable. The acquired sensitivity of the material of the work also makes it quite vulnerable to a formalist interpretation.

In her seminal essay entitled “Minimalism and Biography”[1], Anna C. Chave deconstructs Minimalist orthodoxy by showing that biographical elements were voluntarily left out of 60’s art criticism, for political reasons. While Carl Andre would boast “matter matters” and Mel Bochner would insist on the solipsistic character of his works—which more or less constituted the prevailing interpretations of Minimalism until now—Chave suggests that Andre’s supposedly impersonal sculptures were tightly linked to his grandfather’s history, a mason in Massachusetts. According to Chave, the artist had mentioned his grandfather at several occasions and even claimed that the brick had become a personal emblem.
Michael Dean’s dense and tactile sculptures concur with the hypothesis of biographical minimalism. Born in an industrial city in northern England, Dean comes to terms with the origin of his attachment to concrete, quite a history-loaded material. The texts he writes and reads in public express a poetics of an industrial wasteland, and a romanticism of contemporary ruins. They also inform his sculptures, which could be interpreted as immobilized and tense bodies.
On another note, the origin of Ian Kiaer’s work can be traced to a form of cultural nomadism, insistent readings of art history and architecture, and to structural obsessions, around which he weaves a reflection on painting. His installation Endless House project: Horta/ Van Eetveld (2008) rearranges a project realised at the Horta House in Brussels, into an anachronistic display which combines desire and fantasy.

To point out working methods which are anchored into social, political and bio-political realities and which express themselves through forms that fully belong to the realm of art.

To understand that an artwork doesn’t need to be “politically committed” to be considered life-altering, but that its author’s acknowledgement of its integration into a specific social and political context makes it a conscious work, like a mirror which sends everyone back to their own responsibility.

Not to let an artwork leave the studio without any purpose. To feel fully conscious of what type of issue(s) it raises. To be able to hold it, to come to terms with it. This is the role of the artist, but also of the gallery.


[1] The Art Bulletin, mars 2000, p.149-163

Special thanks to: Ben Borthwick, Kate Briggs, castillo/corrales, Julia Mon Cureno, Vanessa Desclaux, Vincent Honoré, Ernesto Sartori, Didier Semin, Chris Sharp, Jessica Vaughan and Alison Jacques Gallery.