Radical experiments in the field of exhibitions are all too rare, at least in French institutions, as are spaces in which meaning and orientation are prescribed in advance. Therefore Jason Dodge’s presentation at the IAC de Villeurbanne was among the most important exhibitions of 2016. Here, no explanatory text, and no one to lead you by the hand through a well-regulated scenario that substitutes, with a different show1, the so-called void – the space finally left free for the workings of the senses and movements of the body. Here, the riddle is not stated aloud and anyone who doesn’t wish to be attentive to this scene brought down to floor level can leave (an arid landscape extends from one room to the next, dispersing packaging, newspapers, coins, empty bottle, and other detritus from a public trashcan that might have been scattered there). Yet the title, Behind this machine, anyone with a mind who cares can enter,2 as often with Dodge, presents itself as a clue, if not a promise that the situation, in one place or one moment, has been elevated to poetic spheres. Also, the hypothesis whereby all that lies herein would be the result of a random gesture is excluded for anyone who is slightly familiar with Dodge’s work. For instance, we recall that heap of reels of all kinds, Above the Weather (2005), with its unreeled threads placed end to end measuring the exact density of the troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere) at the precise latitude of the exhibition space. It is also disturbing to consider that the signs, in this work that manifests itself almost always in the indexical mode, often refer to a bygone era or a remote or even unattainable place (such as the poles) and to think about them while stepping on the residues of lives that strongly resemble our own.
The “elsewhere” referred to here could be located just behind the door. And suddenly the air that penetrates the art centre through the window left open in the glass roof is experienced as a strange phenomenon. Does it have the same origin as the tornado that was sucked in here, sweeping the remains of a past life along with it, delivering its stigmata to an archaeological investigation? Verging on apocalyptic fiction, these elements belong by definition to a past – that of their consumption, their use, and their ownership – within which they became more deeply entrenched when we retrace our steps, unless between then and now our perceptual regime has been overturned.
Where the exhibition outlines an impasse, it is more the method of to-and-fro and the theme of the double that reigns, and this is done under the control of false resemblances and truncated symmetries.3 So the spectators, sniffing out a trail on the floor, find themselves warned against the illusion of knowledge through sight. As their reflection watches over them without them seeing it in the mirrors hung over the doorways, each visitor thus pursues their quest of the senses while looking at their feet. As the text warns: “Everything is important, everything is content, and therefore everything can be read.” 4 What can be read in the installation What the Living Do is the portrait of a human life, most likely an urban and European one, given what it regurgitates. Among the errant identities on postal envelopes or expired transport cards, there is a sum of desires and aspirations conveyed by the packaging of cosmetic products or union tracts. When a butterfly arises out of these ruins, promising the return of a loved one, the whole ensemble appears to encompass a vast system of beliefs that individuals preoccupied with their shells seem to have walled themselves up in. However, the flow of air blows through again and draws our attention to the few elements that could portend a flame or a small emancipatory depressurisation, such as boxes of firecrackers or all of those capsules we find in Chantilly cream bottles.
An offer of escape is provided via the passageway that traverses the middle of the exhibition, but we’d have to get on our hands and knees to pass through this series of low openings whose hatches have been pulled down and which strongly resemble kennels. Do they show the way to the path leading behind this machine mentioned in the title, a truth whose access is reserved for attentive minds? In the last room, lower down, this escape route is finally presented at eye level. Our quest and errancy end here, with an image that appears to confirm this canine version of the allegory. In this cavern, two wicker baskets sit back to back, their circumference large enough to accommodate a human body. They are a twofold reminiscence of the jar that was apparently the sleeping place of the scandalous Diogenes the Cynic, condemning artifice and advocating destitution in the Athens of Alexander the Great, which he roamed with his lantern, shouting at the philosophers: “I am just looking for a human.”
- Cf. Carte blanche to Tino Sehgal at the Palais de Tokyo, from 10 October to 18 December 2016.
- It repeats the last verses of a poem by Matthew Zapruder, Come on All You Ghosts (2010).
- The two plates that appear twinned placed at the centre of the second to last room, respectively labelled “Lindel” and “Apple”, which, when seen up close, do not come from the same branch.
- A text by poet Valentina Desideri, in a somewhat new age tone, accompanies the visit. Other texts produced for the exhibition are brought together in the Jason Dodge publication, Ready to Get Bleeding, Jason Dodge / IAC-Villeurbanne, 2016.