From 10 May to 15 August 2003, the Centre Pompidou will be showing À mort l’Infini, an exhibition by Philippe Mayaux, sixth winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp, painter of iconoclastic icons, plaster-caster of the obverse of space, engineer of indecency and geneticist of the grotesque, designer of arsenals and optician of non-being, caterer for cannibals. Often described as kitsch, he only makes jokes in bad taste to vindicate his freedom. Bastard child of the improbable coupling of Magritte and Rrose Selavy, nourished on metaphysical painting, Philippe Mayaux today can only feel, as he says, exotic!!! Invited by the Centre Pompidou, with the financial support of the ADIAF, Mayaux has made novel use of Espace 315 for an exhibition that take us from war to love, from the rational to the chimerical, from science to fiction, an exhibition based on the very painterly idea of the simultaneous contrast engendered by the juxtaposition of contraries. In discussing the artist,
Didier Ottinger – author, with Jean-Yves Jouannais and Jean-Pierre Bordaz, of one of the catalogue essays – turns to Schrödinger's famous cat, the guinea-pig of a quantum thought-experiment that implies an animal simultaneously dead and alive. It is into a world of such paradox, engendered by the relativising power of duality, that Mayaux invites his visitors.
They are greeted by a red carpet, stretching from one end of the room to another, that marks out the path through the show.
At the near end flutters an allegorical monochrome (Quickly White), a white sheet on white suspended from an undulatory mechanism that seems to strain, over and over again, to reanimate or resuscitate an anaemic peace.
In front of it, sardonic as soldiers on parade, are six glass cases (Angry White) stuffed with plaster casts recalling innocuous blister packs, forming a guard of horror on either side of the carpet. Four serve to display an extravagant arsenal: heaped up in battlefield disorder are trenches and fortifications, big guns and missiles, antennae and radar screens, aeroplanes and tanks, the delicately constructed elements of a monochromatic and almost burlesque disaster. Here too is oxymoron: the fragility of arms.
The two others are covered by the quasi-decorative geometry of a miniature field of crosses, a sinister cemetery, deathly white, whose grave-monuments could have come straight out of a silicone ice-cube tray. What fascinates Mayaux in casting as a technique is both the metamorphosis of the material – which starts off as powder to become liquid, and the turns from liquid to solid – and the fact that void becomes solid, revealing its form, as Duchamp demonstrated so well with his « Objet dard ». On the right as one enters, pasted onto the very wall, a poster has a pair of chimeras, all unaware of the drama of the vitrines, conversing beside a heap of firewood. Thoughtful, the monkey-donkey asks the donkey-monkey: "You got a light ?" Might these be the ancestors of a humanity that now knows the answer?
On the right-hand wall, ranked like trees at the edge of a wood, are thirteen paintings of bark, the bark of thirteen trees, evocatively named: Aube, Epine, Tremble, Charme, Putier, Pleureur, If, Houx, Bouleau, Sapin, Marronnier, Arbre de Judas. The name of the species appears on each as if carved into the bark with the point of a knife, but not without transformation. "Houx" (holly) becomes "OU" (or); "bouleau" (birch) becomes BOULOT (work), while "if" (yew) suggests "SI" (if) and "pleureur" (weeping [willow]) LARMES (tears). Through such metaphor nature succeeds in speaking to humankind about vanity and fear of a time that passes too quickly. And might it by such canting secretly hope to survive in its diversity ?
At the very centre of the exhibition sits a mirrored construction, a space within a space. On going in, the visitor quits the austerity and belligerence of the opening section to enter into a more sensual, more voluptuous environment.
The glittering jewel supports one in the metamorphosis, serving as a mediating lock, or teleporter, as the artist has it. It is a parallelepiped covered in mirror, through whose silver appear from time to time, in characters of light, the letters "JTM" and "TUM." Is it the world of reflection that speaks to us now?
Place Georges Pompidou
01 44 78 12 33
Report Sabine Morandini
" A mort l'infini "
Prix Marcel Duchamp 2006
Centre Pompidou - Paris
May 10th - Auguste 15th 2007.