May 4st 2015
It can be safely assumed that for now, Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou needs no introduction. Part of the Revue Noire stable from the early days – and to whom he dedicated the very aptly titled Gri-gri Revue Noire – the chatterful artist has emerged over the past two decades as one of the most recognized faces in contemporary art. Who else better than this heavyweight to celebrate the reincarnation – or rather, dynamic excroissance – of the Galerie Yvon Lambert into the (not so) fresh-faced VNH Gallery?
(Re)Birth is indeed the word of the day and Pascale’s work, in the image of his Tree of Life, is more akin to a series of benevolent crystal spells of new growth, rather than the assumed cliché the title of the exhibition could entice. In the words of the artist, it’s all about sharing, experimenting and embracing humanity. The separation between curator and artist, superior and subordinate, center and periphery, life and death are all notions that come in to play in Pascale’s work, tempting, defying and ultimately nourishing each other.
An African artist with a show titled Gri-gri might raise some eyebrows, all the more in this day and age and better yet, in this history-making Biennale year, but Pascale’s influence reaches far more than that. His work rooted in practice including sculpture, film, drawing, installation and more, is formally brought to life by found materials, neon lights, wood, cloth, porcelain, crystal and in this case, chalks and fusains. More than restrictions rooted in the idea of “the African artist” Magiciens-style, these materials that the artist uses, are chosen tools and playful toys. There is something powerful about this carefree way of approaching art-making in these critical days when all we read is Das Capital and where political turmoil, most recently in Baltimore and South Africa, is the talk of the town. The extensive use of classroom chalk sticks in the works Chalk Fresco, while a direct reference to this key period and institution where the lucky ones among us get to shape our biased view of the world, equally suggests the briefing rooms of war, finance, and business schools… He who draws the future shall own it.
Upon entering the gallery hall, chalk sticks are indeed the very first thing you see. Thousands of them are glued to form large panels of lively vibrations of white, pink, yellow, green and blue. These vivid colors are echoed in the large installation Douces Epines shown in the next room, where sharpened pieces of wood protrude from the wall in a contradiction of playfulness and threat. I can’t help but link it, among other things, to how the media forcefully “entertains” us everyday, with ads, news and various programs. Incessantly, the flesh is tempted, tormented and led to compulsively reach out for the illusion of safety that is accumulation. In the next room, the crystal sculpted, cloth wrapped Poupées Pascale, some obviously describing a state of arousal, are presiding over a cryptic installation of Chinese porcelain totems.
An accumulation is above everything else, a clash of eclectic ideas more or less constrained into a whole, a silent riot at worst and an awkward cohabitation at best, of conflicting emotions, functions and forms, much like our world today. Natives, passport holders, immigrants, settlers, white, black, all shades of “brown”, rich, poor, workers, unemployed, educated, uneducated, partially educated and the list could go on…
After all, what is a gri-gri meant for, if not to guide and protect one through the whirlwind of human existence?
The exhibition is on view at Galerie VNH Paris, until June 20th 2015.