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Translated by Anna Knight

Jean-Damien Charmoille

by Paul Bernard

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A Spectral Presence of Spectacle

On 2 June 1967, Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni, created their Manifestation 3. In the auditorium of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris, the public, who had paid for their admission, patiently awaited the start of a show. An abstract painting by each of the four painters was hung at the back of the stage. After an hour, a flyer was handed out on which could be read: “it was obviously only about looking at the canvases of Buren-Mosset-Parmentier-Toroni”.

Performed for the first time in Paris in 1994, translated into thirty-five languages, staged in London, Tokyo, Chicago, Saint-Petersburg, Bombay, and Buenos Aires, the play « Art » by Yasmina Reza remains the French contemporary drama work that is the most frequently performed worldwide. The synopsis: three friends debate a white monochrome that one of them has bought. Between disdain and incomprehension, the painting crystallises the feelings of each of the characters with respect to the other two.

Two examples among many others to recall the extent to which, since the latter half of the twentieth century, the relationship between painting and theatre has been tumultuous. Like a pair of ceramic dogs in a stand off, each art, each academy seems to judge the other, mutually levelling accusations of conservatism or snobbery. 

Are we well and truly lost here? Forever? 

Considered against the yardstick of this conflict, the strange title of Jean-Damien Charmoille’s exhibition at the Centre d’art de Flaine promises from the outset to call off the proceedings. Or rather it encourages us to return to a period prior to these divisions among the arts, before painting was put on trial by painters themselves, before it was mainly reduced to this flat surface covered in colours, assembled in a certain order. On walls, we see anonymous paintings of landscapes. On the floor, the remains of a theatre set, “the deserted space of a fiction”. The intermingling of the two representational worlds is immersed in background music, from which a litany of dialogue is emitted. These returns to neutrality are thus considered a return to the utopia of a fusion of the arts, like the Gesamtkunstwerk the symbolists were so fond of. All the more so in that the landscapes of Jean-Damien Charmoille possess the kind of mysterious calm present in Böcklin’s paintings. Island, clouds, forest, river: “Here, we are all as though projected from within a dream” hums a voice. The artist has once again taken charge of the exhibition’s para-textual apparatus: the text of the visitor’s guide or the exhibition posters. We also learn that the broadcast of the exhibition’s soundtrack relies on the whims of the wind blowing across the Flaine station. What is happening outside influences what happens inside, the torment of the weather modifies the dramaturgy of the exhibition. Countering the distanciation processes evoked above, everything is designed to place the visitor in the best possible position to cross the threshold into this pictorial-theatrical fiction.

However… It is as though this place was exerting a strange power… 

There is something that resists nonetheless – first of all because these hyperrealist landscapes skim the surface of green depths. Besides the glinting effect procured by the painting, this particular green invokes filmic inlay techniques, since it can be replaced by any image, any setting; a colour that has become, through performance, a fictional paradigm. Also, these views have not been painted on site but derive from the artist’s databases, including personal photos and search engine iconography. Similar to a thousand others, these landscapes are generic, without identity, unplaceable…

Where does nature begin? Where does the show end? 

Figuring more sprightly colours, the painting Réflexions vertes #8 [Green reflections] manifests its fiction more than the others do. The clouds deployed there are as much reminiscent of classical painting as they are of film credits (Warner Bros.), or cloud computing. This painting alone allows the debate pertaining to the notion of “picturesque” that emerged in the early nineteenth century to be reformulated. Is it because it already evokes a painting for us that a landscape deserves to be painted? Is landscape not simply the intensification of a painting that preceded it? These aesthetic considerations take on a new dimension in this era of computer screensavers and Google street views. Will we one day describe a landscape as screenesque? Incidentally, how many views of Flaine, “an exceptional site offering picture-postcard landscapes” as the tourism brochure boasts, are already used as smartphone backdrops? 

Plunged into an uncertain night, will we grow accustomed to it?

Born in 1990 in Cannes, Jean-Damien Charmoille lives and works in Leipzig (Germany), since obtaining his DNSEP at the ESAAA (Annecy) in 2017. In 2018, after Disillusions in a French Garden at the Galerie Dukan in Leipzig, Retours au non-lieu is his first solo exhibition at an institution. His artistic practice also extends to writing and exhibition curatorship, which he signs under the pseudonym of Pierre Edmond (1ère Biennale du Réel in 2017). He was also invested in the platform for artists Fugitif, based in Leipzig.

Jean-Damien Charmoille, Retours au non-lieu

December 20, 2018 – January 26, 2019

Centre d’art de Flaine, Flaine

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