New York

Anne And Patrick Poirier

Sonnabend Gallery

Ruins are debris through which original plans become visible. Their uncertain status—partaking of idea and actuality, before and after—continues to inspire the phenomenological research of Anne and Patrick Poirier, a poetic speculation of gathering complexity, its stages marked by periodic shifts of attention from one architectural site to another. The recent work involves a turn to the fictitious and the bizarre: visions of Greek myths, featuring fragmented human bodies, monsters, arrows, swords, eyes, snakes, and ruined cities. Unsystematic yet regular cross-referencing of images occurs. A sword threatens a Gorgon’s head, while in another work snakes curl around a hand that grasps a hilt. An embedded arrow is juxtaposed with a ruin and a bronze eye mechanically weeping into the black water in which it stands. Elsewhere another bronze eye is supported by the bronze tears it sheds, and above another set of ruins a blue horse looms. Quotations from Hesiod, inscribed on canvas in the original Greek, confirm the impression of singleness of purpose. Yet that coherence is more easily felt than located.

For daring the gods of Greek myth, Giants had both eyes put out, like Ephialtes, or were hit by a lightning bolt and an arrow simultaneously, like Porphyrion. Others turned into places: Mimas, whom Hephaestus buried beneath a mass of hot metal, now Vesuvius; Enceladus, at whom Athena hurled Sicily and whose hot breath is now the volcano Etna; Polybotes, whom Poseidon buried under part of the island of Cos. Similarly, Medusa’s head became a weapon, both because it was incorporated into Athena’s breastplate and because one version of the Perseus legend has the hero turning Atlas into a mountain by showing him the head. At her death Medusa, pregnant by Poseidon, gave birth to Chrysaor, a warrior, and Pegasus, the packhorse for Zeus thunderbolts. Then, committing the very misdemeanor for which the Giants had been punished, Bellerophon used Pegasus to soar up to the heavens, with predictable results. The Poiriers have attempted a montage of myths that reveal an eternal cycle of birth, death, and warfare.

However, we have lost the ease with which the Greeks could conceive of the “spirit” of a place as a giant buried beneath a volcano. Another loss is the apparent familiarity with split anatomies—half human, half animal—or split identities, half mortal, half god. These hint at the sheer power of conception in Greek myth, where drops of blood become mountains or people, where a floating male organ, severed from its owner, can still bring forth a goddess. This is profligacy of imagination greater than our minds can encompass. The Poiriers offer only relics. A spirit of defeat invests the works: time and again the gods are challenged, and they invariably win. We see no more than scorched plains and broken weapons.

Yet this is enough to summon up the dimensions of the battle, the forces in conflict, their purposeless drive to fight on. What is the fighting about? Death and birth. Vision and blindness. Meetings with gods and monsters, the sublime and the grotesque. Speculation, spectacle, speculum: a mirror. Like Perseus, we must fight our battles by looking at ourselves, since that is where the battle takes place. The region the Poiriers map is the unconscious; their theme, the creation of art.

Stuart Morgan