For A: In Remembrance of Things to Come (Le souvenir d’un avenir)
Once again I sit at my desk on one of these days and try to find the right words for what I want to say. My brain-eye is looking for the end of the road, where it becomes narrower and the view clearer. Recently, in one of the too many zoom conversations that are taking place at the moment, a friend said how he doesn't really like the phrase „these days,“ because it is so incredibly unspecific. And yet: „it's not about specifically dating a certain action, but about showing that certain things are happening regularly at the moment, not permanently, but irregularly recurring (and also alternating). Someone responded „These days everyone knows what these days means anyway.“
In Vienna under lockdown, Antoine Donzeaud's exhibition À l'endroit et à l'envers du temps / we've got time at Georg Kargl Permanent can only be viewed through the front windows of the gallery. However, I am lucky enough having only to stumble out of my hallway and walk 200 meters to the right in order to find myself standing in front of the gallery’s front windows. The glass panes reflect the sunlight and the image of my own face, which is covered with a mask and a pair of sunglasses. I shield my eyes by putting my hands up against my forehead, almost touching the cold, invisible border that prevents me from entering the interior.
These days, probably even more than usual, I recognize and accept my own splintered-ness. The many voices in my head, some of them my own, others foreign, tell me that I will not be able to write a stringently argued review of this exhibition.
Since I have recently experienced the bittersweet feeling of having to let go of someone possibly entering into my life armed with their being and thus disrupting and reassembling it, I have again turned to a dear literary friend whose writing has made my life brighter at times. In Fragments d’un Discours Amoureux, Roland Barthes uses the concept of figures to illustrate his fragments of discourse: „The word is to be understood, not in its rhetorical sense, but rather in its gymnastic or choreographic acceptation; in short, in the Greek meaning: σχέδιοis is not the ‚schema,‘ but, in a much livelier way, the body's gesture caught in action and not contemplated in repose: [...]“.
Comme une collectionneuse I find myself looking out for figures that illustrate the thoughts I want to express about Antoine’s exhibition. His way of mediating meaning through his artistic practice is a fragmented one, that comes together in the combination of modest and playful gestures, creating a framed but still ephemeral environment. I wish for the words I am writing now to mirror this artistic approach, for this text to remain gymnastic.
What we call day and daylight prevents me from seeing. I don’t want to see what is shown, I want to see what is secret. What is hidden between the visible. I want to see the skin of the light.
Fenêtre sur l’aube ou le crépuscule – „Window at Dawn or Dusk“ – is the first work I encounter looking inside the gallery space. The window in the window, fixed by a wooden construction, makes it difficult to look in from the outside, but does not completely prevent it, and thus makes the interior appear like a double-framed picture. The nonchalantly placed gesture in between spaces refers to the dialectic inherent in the window: it is not simply a pane of glass that allows us to look from inside to outside or vice versa, but above all it mediates between inside and outside. In art and literature since the Renaissance, accompanied by the invention of the central perspective, the window has been used as a metaphor for hope, longing, change and the unknown, but also as a structural element to point out moral implications and social order.
Donzeaud speaks to our desires and imaginations by revealing and hiding the world as it presents itself to us at once. By allowing us to see the same view simultaneously at dawn and dusk, past and future coincide, stand in close proximity to each other and become both: objects of desire and imagination, tools to conceal and unfold at once.
Floating in the middle of the room like a sunken chandelier, slightly inclined towards the (supposedly) entering visitor, Chandelier, dans la genre, hangs from the ceiling reminiscent of the smashed-in window of an abandoned beach or country house. Remnant of a social order that is obsolete but still haunting us like a ghost, its blue-soaked window panes are as reminiscent of vandalism as they are of a Gothic cathedral’s colourful windows, simultaneously evoking feelings of oppression and the sublime. The functionality of the window to protect the interior from cold and wind has been lost, the outside noises are no longer prevented from flowing inside, from disrupting the privacy of an intimate conversation.
I hear the cheering of young people, the roaring of the sea at night and the crashing sound of shattering glass.
TEMPORALITY / SPONTANEITY
A small collage of two pictures is placed above the window sill. The work, titled Réstistances affectives forever, consists of two overlapping postcards inside a wooden vintage frame. They feature reproductions of Caravaggio's Narcissus (which until recently was on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) and Douglas Gordon's photograph of his own forearm with the word 'Forever' tattooed on it (the work, in fact, is entitled Never, Never).
With reference to love letters, Barthes summarises their key message as being: „I've got nothing to say to you, but it's to you I want to say this nothing.“ Private letters are often full of „nothingness“: descriptions of ill-health, family gossip, the passing on of greetings – all about people of whom little other record is left, and whose lives still remain opaque. The „nothing“ in this sense consists in that which is insignificant for outsiders. From a historian’s perspective, the record of ordinary life is initially insignificant, as long as it does not refer to other historical facts or events. Rather than just reflect or communicate existing truths, letter or postcard writing can be seen as if the writer is not only providing insights into his or her inner world, but above all trying to establish the meaning of their life.
Postcards usually remain unanswered and capture a fleeting moment, a spontaneous thought, a certain mood, and can express something like:
IN THE HERE. I'M HERE AND I LOVE YOU. IN THIS SPACE AND TIME AND WHEREVER AND WHENEVER YOU ARE. THERE IS A SPACE BETWEEN THOSE SPACES THAT CONNECTS US AND ITS FULL OF LOVE. I'LL MEET YOU THERE.
By collecting postcards, Donzeaud establishes a personal archive that can be seen as a form of affective resistance: an act of resistance that shows itself in the (mostly) invisible refusal of the conventional, which in this case is the concept of a linear passage of time.
CONSTRUCTION / DESTRUCTION
The works linger in the space like a set of deconstructed architectural elements. They speak about how cities are universes that are constantly exploding; constantly reinventing themselves by throwing away their previous accomplishments and challenging the future. Donzeaud forces us, the ordinary practitioner of the city, to halt, to question our familiar ways of moving through and perceiving the architectural spaces surrounding us.
Sometimes an object of inquiry needs to be broken, cracked, in order for it to become recognizable in the first place. A crack in the surface allows us to see what is on the „other“ side, while simultaneously looking at ourselves.
As we stroll through the empty city, we witness our new and changing habits in it. The rush of our daily lives has been interrupted. We simply walk and follow the setting sun.
MELANCHOLY / NOSTALGIA
„Keep your mind in hell, and despair not,“ is a fragment from the sayings of the Russian monk Staretz Silouan. If you can weather in hell, he appears to be saying, and not despair in the process, you will be saved. Or: To be afraid of hell is to lose all practicable hope, to seek to avoid the dark violent moments that mark all real life.
Antoine’s exhibition offers a crack in the surface in order to confront our emotional worlds. Through the window as a metaphor, a site of communication, he mediates between our fears, desires, and aspirations, that often are so closely connected to each other.
Maybe there lies no secret behind the ruins. Let’s find it out though.
Moyra Davey, Elaine Scarry, Eric Rohmer, Alain Badiou, Roland Barthes, Hélène Cixous, Michel De Certeau, Gillian Rose, Plato