Réve FantaisiE

La Galerie du Mois

Rêve, fantaisiE” (Dream, fantasy) was not only the title of this show, but, according to the three organizers (two French artists, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Bernard Joisten, and a young publisher, Elein Fleiss) the agenda of this new Parisian gallery. “Rêve, fantaisiE” resembles a magic bag from which every trick triggers a dreamlike effect post-psychedelic music, a Brazilian butterfly pinned to the wall, the play of shimmering light, furniture in the form of translucent clouds. It was an exhibition in which everything partook of the fluency of dreams—where the familiar was made strange.

An innocuous chair emits a brutal cry of laughter when one sits on it (Angela Bulloch), a pink Cadillac swerves in an electric green sky (poster by Martin Kippenberger), an educational “Meccano” toy turns the brain into a singular kind of machine for children (Patrick von Caeckenbergh), the gulf war, AIDS, and ecology make for eye-catching film-posters (Joisten), the minuscule back of a stool burgeons into a bouquet of circular mirrors on the wall (Jean Luc Vilmouth), documentary photos waft imperceptibly into the realm of fiction (Daniel Faust), and a life-size penguin and dormouse seem engaged in some kind of intimate exchange (Xavier Velihan).

Joisten’s work, which is concerned with the spectacular derealizations that characterize the representations of “extreme phenomena,” partakes most explicitly of a new “fictionalist” approach emerging in France. Yet, the same impulse also inflects the practice of Gonzalez-Foerster, who has realized a piece entitled Les Écrans du Rêve (The dream screens, 1991), which is very much in keeping with her previous explorations of individual subjectivity. For her the individual is neither a purely autonomous subject nor a social atom.

Beyond a ubiquitous superficiality—an ephemeral quality—this exhibition points to the misconception that the notion of contemporary experience as an increasingly synthetic dream, a hybrid mix of genres (cartoons, media images, news, various illusions), cuts us off more and more from hidden contents. The mad, the frustrated, the unconscious still speak to us, it is just that they no longer seem like final truths. Their purely signifying dimension can no longer lay claim to any meaning other than the game-related and the synthetic. With a few exceptions (the Pruitt-Early videos, for example), this exhibition was the site for a French “New Deal.” The initiative is in no way a reaction to irony or to a critical simulation of commercial devices that dominated the ’80s, of which the French have given us some sterile examples (Présence Panchounette). For the artists represented here, it is about intervening in precisely this existing context, creating reference points and extemporizing attitudes, such as skirting the “psychologizing” propensity of French artists (Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, etc.), to attain intimate illusions through the expedient of dreams.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll