Behind the fields, Pougues-les-Eaux is a testament to the faded glory of what was once a spa town. Its houses evoke the burgeoning bourgeoisie of 1900 and its taste for pavilions and tree-lined parks. In the heart of this village, reigns the Parc Saint Léger art centre. Perhaps it was this dated casino atmosphere that was the inroad for the exhibition Fun House by curator Cristina Ricupero, revisiting the sombre hours of amusement parks with largesse, but that’s not all… The exhibition room is haunted and the artworks tinged with horrific, terrific, or phantasmagorical references. Its organisation stems from desolate, haunting narratives told in fits and starts, like the ‘jump-scares’ that delight fans of horror films. Firstly, we note the soundtrack designed by film critic Thierry Jousse, which wreathes the space in an unsettling atmosphere based on giallo synthesisers and dissonant notes, contributing to the dramatisation effects that all of the participants enjoy. Then we are introduced to Anna Solal, by way of a bathroom, reconstructed using urban waste, the stumps of sneakers and iPad debris. The walls of her sculptures are sewn together with a teetering and sometimes grimacing elegance, when they are adorned with the Gucci trademark. Is this a site of ablutions? A place to cleanse our wounds? It calls to mind Robert Gober, Louise Bourgeois, but through its refusal of solemnity, a concrete humility marked by the labour of cities, the artworks appear divorced from a kind of sentimentalism. Further on, characters with shadowy contours cover the many slit windows. They are Oscar Chan Yik Long’s painted curtains, reproducing the degenerating silhouettes from Carpenter’s film Prince of Darkness.
The main room multiplies surprises and points of attack, particularly with the diabolical and media-infused paintings by Jean-Luc Blanc, reproducing stills from films, magazines, or album covers. Now occupying central positions in the manner of the portraits of owners hung over the mantelpieces of Sunset Boulevard, now placed in more incongruous places, raised like stardust nymphs, his paintings exude the scent of Hammer films, dark Victorian woods, and even the odour of the sequined suits of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Horror, here, is camp, powdered, full of glitter and oozing decline, acknowledging its share of absurdity. At the heart of the exhibition lie Mimosa Echard’s sculptures and ‘hasty’ paintings. Dried flowers consort with synthetic or even toxic materials and we observe the presence of puzzles and objects whose electronic lives have been sacrificed, such as a dildo turned criminal weapon. Her herbariums rot, riddled with mushrooms. Plastic traditions cannibalise one another: Eva Hesse’s process-art is combined with the bionic excesses of the likes of Tetsumi Kudo. We never know what is truly alive or dead, since the materials are left in a state of stupefaction. And then there is a black leather couch, its ashtray overflowing with ash, its gloved clay hands in ecstatic or authoritarian poses, and sometimes holding a long cigarette like a vamp. All of which are clues accorded by Émilie Pitoiset to denounce a party, perhaps in an abandoned home, an onanist’s ritual, or the shooting of a film noir directed by a pornographer.
The stairs lead to the most confidential room of the exhibition, in which several films created by the same artist play in a smutty tone. Short sequences are presented in series: a horse turning in circles under the threat of a gun; blurry and crazed characters swept up in a saraband; costumes in black and white as though at a no-wave concert. His world is fetishistic, modernist, taboo, and icicle-cold. The sound pulses powerfully. It is in this reclusive room that we undergo an almost martial experience, marked by the incessant noise of what could be military boots. Fun House abandons us here to its lugubrious backstage and its ‘final girl’, which clearly neither the laughter of children playing near the swamp nor its false airs of Coney Island could diminish… and so there is a whiff of rat in this beautiful park, in the midst of this charming city.