When I visited Julie Sas’s exhibition “OK OK K.O” at Treignac Projet, I was in denial of anger. I rejected the feeling, believing it was truly a waste of energy, resisting that tension rising from within, that starts deep in the belly, that creeps slowly upwards towards the throat, whilst repressing the remnants and ruins of loss, injustice, and fear brewing before the rage.
“OK OK K.O”1 is part of ongoing research that Julie Sas has been conducting on rage rooms – the spaces rented out by businesses allowing people to vent their anger by destroying objects – and how society capitalizes on the emotions that it itself is often the source of. The exhibition is thus a mise-en-scene of this form of therapeutic entertainment, all the while integrating forms and symbols of resistance.
From its installation to the forms that inhabit it, the exhibition emanates this sensation of rising anger. Upon entry, we are confronted with silence and remnants: a bare space bearing crowbars with fake, polished nails (a beautification of violence) and objects that recall scenes of manifestation and rebellion (Sans titre, 2021; Sans titre (Louise), 2022; Sans titre (chant du cygne), 2022). What follows are other forms evoking injustice, fear, as well as thoughts that consume us. For example, a receipt finds itself imprisoned behind a metal plate pinned on the wall from which hangs brass knuckles, coupled with an image of a man in dishevelled attire, as if he had just exited some kind of brawl (Sans titre (invoice/receipt), 2022). The questions triggered are several: how can our sentiments (in this case, anger) be valued, measured, legitimized, and perceived? Why has rage been equated to virility for men and hysteria for women? And perhaps, most importantly, how can a mere transaction that entices violence resolve our suffering from systemic issues?
If the accumulating anger unfolds across the works, this gnawing feeling comes only to a partial head in the final installation. Sans titre (shoot, shot, shot) (2022) is the aftermath in suspension: slightly tampered with, yet still awaiting the detonation. On the floor, packing material is strewn about, as if someone angrily opened a series of parcels, while shooting targets in the form of male silhouettes lean against the wall, staring us down. The gnawing metaphor is given form in a series of clay teeth that lay amongst the Styrofoam and scraps as symbols of aggressivity, of mastication, suggesting an imminent crack, bite. Julie Sas gives shape to the incubation phase of the rage, while leading us to imagine the real wrath, which is perhaps our own.
These images and forms are not only ones that recall anger, but also conflict. “Conflict: The result of opposing tensions, internal or external, which can reach a critical degree, the conflict symbolises the possibility of going from one opposite to the other, of a reversal of tendency, for good or for bad: independence-servitude, pain-joy, illness-health, war-peace, prejudice-wisdom, revenge-forgiveness, division-reconciliation, depression-enthusiasm, guilt-innocence, etc. The image is a crossroads. Conflict is at once the symbol of reality, of moral instability due to circumstances or to the person, as well as of psychic incoherence, individual or collective.”2 The exhibition thus performs as a crossroads, an undetermined space where a choice is to be made, and in which conflict is the symbol of our instability.
If I entered the space in denial, I left realising that I am, in fact, angry. Angry at the systems that frame our ways of living aestheticize and capitalize on anger for commercial purposes. Angry at how a sentiment is transformed into entertainment. Angry at the condemnation of emotions, angry at the systems that constantly try to offer so-called solutions of adaptation, acceptance or rehabilitation, but which keep perpetuating overwhelming injustice.
Julie Sas delicately (curious to employ such a word when speaking of such a topic, but the gesture is such) stages these injustices, pushing where it hurts, leading viewers to question not only our behaviour and emotions, but also the entrapping we find ourselves in. The artist seeks to determine what to do with that which cannot be indefinitely kept suppressed: rage.
- Author's note: as a non-French speaker, when I first heard the phrase "Je suis K.O.” which translates to “I’m exhausted,” I understood it to mean “Je suis chaos,” or “I am chaos", which I find rather appropriate in the context of this exhibition. Is rage not just a kind of inner, exhausting chaos?
- Jean Chevalier et Alain Gheerbrant, Dictionnaire des symboles, Robert Laffont/Jupiter, coll. Bouquins, 2020, p. 318. Translated from the French: “Conflit: Résultat de tensions opposes, intérieures ou extérieures, pouvant atteindre un degré critique, le conflit symbolise la possibilité de passage d’un contraire à l’autre, d’un renversement de tendance, en bien ou en mal : indépendance-servitude, douleur-joie, maladie-santé, guerre-paix, préjugés-sagesse, vengeance-pardon, division-réconciliation, dépression-enthousiasme, culpabilité-innocence, etc. Le carrefour en est l’image. Le conflit est le symbole de la réalité, en même temps, de l’instabilité morale due aux circonstances ou à la personne, ainsi que de l’incohérence psychique, individuelle ou collective.”