Galerie Crousel-Hussenot

Lately I’ve had a good feeling on entering certain shows—I’ve had to wonder what they’ve been about, what’s been standing there, what the point of the display might have been and what the reasons behind it. The Bazile-Bustamante show gave me this feeling, a feeling that the viewer, without being deceived by the work, has lost the points of reference one usually possesses on entering a gallery. An original Sonia Delaunay carpet lay on the floor, partly covering two lit fluorescent light tubes; on the carpet rested iron plates arranged in the silhouette of two chairs and a table. Facing this a wall piece reproduced soldiers silhouettes cut from 18th-century engravings and applied to Formica colored with a shadowy, transparent, reddish dye. Elsewhere was an imitation of an African mask or expressionist sculpture, modeled in plaster and painted green. Before the door, a yellow fiberglass display case supported by three iron columns contained the name “Francis Ford Coppola” cut from imitation blue felt. On the back wall was a color photograph of a table in Paris Camondo furniture museum; the light falls on the table in such a way that it seems to emerge three-dimensionally from the photograph, while the surrounding environment is as flat as the paper it is painted on.

This display of disparate objects did not pretend to bring anything new to the market. And though the viewer might desire a generous artistic presence, or alternatively the kind of rigorous absence that many shows offered in the ’70s, neither was offered here. Rarely have I found myself in a situation like this show’s, in which not only was nothing given to the viewer, but nothing was taken away.

If these thoughts sound too abstract to a reader who didn’t see the show, they are even more so for someone who did. The works are both so obvious and so unexpected that describing them might demand a Rabelais, who saw “the world in Pantagruel’s mouth.” Everything in the show was exactly like what was outside it, what was there was like what was here, except for the fact that it was there. Nothing was given to or taken from the viewer, but that didn’t mean that there was nothing there to be given or taken away. This violent concentration on the thinnest surface of exchange had little to do with a market situation. It wasn’t as if you had either to pay or to leave; the place was not a store, though neither was it a home.

Again, the association of the names of the two artists (Bernard Bazile and Jean Marc Bustamante, who have worked together only since 1982) connotes neither an affective relationship (as it does with Marina Abramović and Ulay) nor a married couple (like Bernd and Hilla Becher). This isn’t even aspiritual wedding under a Surrealist cupola, as in the case of André Breton and Philippe Soupault. This usage is more like a trademark. In France, when you register a trademark you always need a third partner; Bazile-Bustamante often refer to a third person (Delaunay, Coppola), a kind of straw person in the group. Truths can be shared by two people; to complete an exchange, the fiction of a third is necessary. This is perhaps the truth these artists share.

There is a strong analogy between the fundamental structure of Bazile-Bustamante’s work and the system of exchange in our society, as it is projected in the visual arts not as esthetic phenomena but as cultural exchanges. This aspect of their work is structurally linked with the production of disparate objects and their display, though it does not limit itself to a socioeconomic level. The inflationary aspect of an economy, the arbitrariness of a society, are presented here mostly poetically; rather than relating image to background, consumer to product, position to ideology, these objects turn away from the role of being “usual” or “unusual” to coexist in groundlessness. If nothing was “known” to the viewer of this show, neither was there any relation to an “unknown.” If everything seemed a little known and a little unknown, this was because there was no more than a little here of everything that makes a world possible. If the world in question was no more than what was here, this was because anything more would immediately mean inflation and arbitrariness, not only as a socioeconomic effect but as a desire for an economy, a social system. If Archimedes found physics in his bath, and Einstein worked out relativity on his violin, Bazile-Bustamante found art on a Delaunay carpet and worked out the relativity of this precious meeting place.

Denys Zacharopoulos