Philippe Cazal


Philippe Cazal represents a new French neo-Conceptualism, which focuses analysis less on the specific language of art, than on the system that legitimizes the very existence of art as a specialized activity. In comparing the art system with information systems in general, these artists acknowledge the differences, but more importantly they emphasize analogies. If the mass media remove experience from the realm of the real, transforming reality into spectacle, then these artists foreground the unreality of the spectacle through an ironic transmigration of signs.

In 1982 Philippe Cazal entrusted an advertising agency with the creation of a logo to be used in place of his signature. The logo constitutes the greatest degree of depersonalization, but at the same time achieves the greatest level of visibility. The significance of Cazal’s gesture lies in the fact that one cannot recognize a subject but rather a manner of working; the subject is eclipsed. It is an act of hiding oneself in order to reveal oneself. Playing with the rules of the “society of the spectacle,” and examining them in relation to the microsociety of the art world, Cazal focuses on the most gratifying spectacles of life as a star: success, wealth, fame, and worldliness. One of the pieces shown here consists of the photographic enlargement of gilded paper, of the sort usually wrapped around champagne bottles; here it is intended as a symbol of a grand life-style. Cazal manipulates different sign systems, with the intention of subverting any fixed relationship to meaning. The work opens onto readings that are irresolvably multiple. The phrase L’artiste dans son milieu, (The artist in his milieu) is repeated on six panels that were previously exhibited in a shop window. Cazal plays off the fact that in French the term “milieu” has numerous meanings: ambit, environment, and particularly “low life.”

The installation ZIP, (all works 1990), is another meditation on the contingent nature of communication. On the wall, some green panels contain short Arabic phrases written in white. In the same room, above a small table, corresponding labels bear the translations of the phrases into a Western-sounding language. These are purely onomatopoeic words, like “bang” or “plouff.” The Arabic language, which seems to evoke the great visual culture of Islam, so distant from our own “milieu,” is familiarized through a banal series of comic strip expressions. Every element of ZIP refers to something else: the Arabic writing to its translation, and the translation to its corresponding reality—the sound that it imperfectly represents. In general, Cazal’s work seems to refer specifically to the breaks and imperfections upon which the implicitly ideological representation is based.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.