Grenoble

Paul-Armand Gette

MAGASIN - Centre National d'Art Contemporain

“Let us not separate art from science,” wrote Paul-Armand Gette in 1978. “For, as little effort as we make to understand scientific discourse, it does not seem lacking in poetry to us.” Emotion and poetry are not usually expected to be part of the sciences. Yet for 30 years, Gette has worked in this nearly deserted area. In particular, he explores the science of taxonomy, the ordering of reality's labyrinths through the flowing wisdom of a Latin that exoticizes everything: botany, entomology, mineralogy, etc.

There is no synthesizing order in Gette's universe, only possibly progressive shifts toward pleasure and desire. These most often occur in an area that the artist defines as the border state. This fascination with the border leads Gette to an exploration of the term “nymph,” both in its linguistic declensions and in its social and emotional resonances. Is Gette's cosmos a universe or itself a border? Whether he is involved with insects, plants, volcanic rocks, or little girls, it is always this metonymic shifting between two states that fascinates him. Thus, the gigantic enlargement in bronze of an insect in its second metamorphic phase (Cybister, 1964) is the one precisely designated by the zoologist as “nymph.” The artist also takes a sly pleasure in tracing and labeling exotic plants that grow in the borders of sidewalks, in the midst of our daily blindness (Exotik als Banalité [Berlin] [Exotica as banality (Berlin), 1980]). Similarly, when a large block of pebbles and dusty sand is reconstituted at the museum, it is as an image on a video screen showing a wave in motion. Gette often transplants blocks of volcanic stone into the exhibition space, using them to obscure the sight of video screens, which show images of electronic snow or rose petals. According to the artist, he does so in order to “respect the form the rock takes organically, whatever the causes of its fragmentation, and not to produce the form we want it to take.” The artist places himself at an equal distance from the sculptor “preoccupied with the figure” and from the geologist in search of “a sample.”

But the state that fascinates this would-be Lewis Carroll most is the one of little girls, who began to appear in the many photographic traces of his poetico-scientific endeavors around 1970. Never reduced to objects of lust, these heroines, themselves brief poems in image form, are always shown in fragmentary fashion, metonymically. Unfortunately, the artist sometimes loses his stand in all this fascination. Science, then, gives way to some rather heavy-handed metaphors—framed panties, for instance. Yet these landscapes in bad taste do not spoil the ensemble of the work, which manages to convey the mystery of that which exists at the interstices of things.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah