Patrick Corillon

Galerie Des Archives

At the heart of the recent so-called “fictionalist” tendency, Patrick Corillon, a young Belgian artist, has managed to achieve what is accomplished so perfectly in film: an understanding of the delectable connection between reality and narrative. It is not that Corillon’s work is cinematographic; rather he takes part in a distinctly Belgian tradition of surrealism, which explodes the categories of language and objective reality.

In Corillon’s work, the often difficult encounter between the realms of literature and reality, which animates so much of contemporary art, arises from a sort of ethnology of narrative. He guides our attention through new lands—cultural and scientific continents—that are absolutely astounding yet entirely probable. No one would believe his stories, although the material proof is right before our eyes; this, for Corillon, is the work of art.

This show is, in a way, the follow-up to “Souvenirs d’Oscar Serti” (Memories of Oscar Serti), an exhibition in Brussels in 1990, which was based on the adventures of a fictional writer born in Budapest in 1881, who died in 1959. There, the visitor walked about the exhibition with a Walkman, listening to anecdotes from the author’s life, recounted by an actor playing him. The commentary described the images on the gallery wall, which revealed the condition of the wall of Serti's abode in 1920.

Corillon thus creates this persona, emblematic of a great writer, for whom the most minor anecdote—the most insipid moment of daily life—can trigger universal revelations à la Proust’s madeleine. It is these “illuminations” that Oscar Serti has assiduously consigned to his diary, which Corillon presents here for our perusal.

Every extract of this journal, carefully typewritten by the author himself, tells the story of one of these instances of revelation, which, in each case, associates an object with a moment from the writer’s life. They are hysterical encounters with singularly banal quotidian objects (a stool, a box, a pedestal, a column, etc.), and they register the mental shock that this accidental reality can produce in the hypersensitive spirit of the literary genius. Each of these “illuminations” is thus associated with a geometric white form, scaled to the size of the object it represents and displayed in a vitrine. Finally, the book captures in French, in a very indirect style, the first person English text.

Each of these object-narratives is a double trap, tricking both the imagination of the reader and the gaze of the viewer. A sort of clash takes place between what is seen and what is read, without the resulting effect being limited to a simple joke. This fiction, however funny, borders on the credible. The “illuminations” of the writer find their resonance both in a few lines of the journal and in these white shapes displayed under glass. On the surface, Corilion’s narratives and objects play on the immaterial change that is produced in the mind. The encounter of a thing (even abstract) and a thought (even fictitious and comical) functions as a trigger for sensations.

This is where Corillon succeeds in leading us. In his very derision of discrete literary and artistic realms, he manages to infuse his objects with intimacy and his narrative with plasticity. The world of words and that of things begin to exchange properties via a surprising artistic chemistry.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.