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In a unique presentation, Berlin-based French artist Cyprien Gaillard showcased his practice in a two-part exhibition. Titled Humpty / Dumpty, the exhibition presents a diverse range of work from sculptures to hologram installations. With one part of the exhibition situated at the Lafayette Anticipations and the other part at Palais de Tokyo—both iconic venues in Paris—the artist encourages viewers to physically engage with the city itself, referencing an individual’s relationship to the metropolis, a significant topic within the artist’s practice. Curator Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel speaks to STIR about the motivations that powered the creation of this exhibition.
The works showcased at Humpty / Dumpty are based in large parts upon the artist’s contemplation of the socio-cultural effects of the upcoming Olympic Games, set to be hosted in Paris in July, 2024. As the artist reflects on the nature of his native city, he explores ideas of age, time, and entropy. The title of the exhibition, a reference to Lewis Carroll’s 18th century nursery rhyme from the novel Through The Looking Glass, reiterates this idea of cyclical destruction and recreation. For the Olympics, the French government has dedicated an entire team, as well as expended a large fund, to the restoration of significant monuments in Paris like the Eiffel Tower and Place de la Concorde. Curator Lamarche-Vadel says, “Humpty \ Dumpty refers to a character whose story is that of his fragmentation, fracture and decomposition… Even though put back together, he will never be the same again; it is the idea of the spiral that performs the same movement as the loop, but never returns to its starting point. This title seemed particularly appropriate in relation to this great restoration campaign of Paris for the Olympic Games, and to evoke the preservation issues which are involved.” Through his art installations, Gaillard comments on the intrinsic nature of time and its effects, which stand in contrast to the human tendency to avoid and conceal the same.
In his process of research and exploration, Gaillard deepened his own relationship with the city. Lamarche-Vadel shares, “In preparation for the Humpty / Dumpty exhibition, he roamed incessantly across the city of Paris.” Exploring his own relationship to the city, the artist asks questions, curious to understand the human need for permanence and our subsequent relationships with conservation and destruction. Lamarche-Vadel explains further saying, "His work manages to point out our struggles, the paradoxes and ambiguities of our values, beliefs, and behaviours. What do we love and why do we love it? What are we ready to let go and what will we preserve? What do we think is worth living? His whole work, yet very seductive, is research on life and death.”
Through these distinct philosophical threads, Gaillard presents contrasting ideologies. This is reflected in the curation of the dual exhibitions, as well as the nature of works presented. While some are made in traditional formats like brass sculpture, others are presented through modern media like video and hologram. Gaillard uses the hologram to reference 20th century German artist and pioneer of Dadaism, Max Ernst. Lamarche-Vadel says, “In the hologram L’Ange du Foyer, a ghostly form that appears and disappears according to our position in space, is inspired by a work by Max Ernst: Der Hausangel (1937). It is also an evocation of a certain relationship to time, which takes the form of a spiral. This vision of cyclical time is opposed to the linear path towards progress or a triumphant form of history often advocated in the West. Cyprien’s idea was to continue the movement of Max Ernst’s monster, which in the original painting is frozen in the air, this angel who, once again, has a double, ambiguous identity.”
At Lafayette Anticipations, Gaillard works with a monumental abandoned sculpture—again referencing entropy and the unstoppable aspect of time. The site-specific work ties together the artist’s inquiry, the outcome creating a public intervention. Lamarche-Vadel adds, “There is a symbiotic and emotional relationship between the artist and the city. Questions of architectural and cultural conservation are interesting to Cyprien when connected to our instinct to preserve beings, to preserve ourselves. By working on the rebirth of Le Défenseur du Temps, Cyprien puts it into perspective with the death of his dear friend Gaël who will never be reborn.”
The exhibition came at a time when much controversy had surrounded the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the abuse of human rights that occurred in the process of building the stadiums. In fact, the history of the Olympics itself is ridden with exploitation of human and natural resources. Such massive events have a dark side, and their tremendous celebrations come at a consequential price. Humpty \ Dumpty encourages the viewer to see ‘through the looking glass’ and straight at the reality of these phenomenons.
The exhibition is on view until January 8, 2023.
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