Jutta Koether, Laurent Joubert

Galerie Laage-Solomon

It would seem almost impossible—both conflictual and contradictory—to bring together two artists such as Jutta Koether and Laurent Joubert. Having said that, this exhibition, entitled “Lettres à Démocède” (Letters to Démocède), with its politically-correct alibi (a “peaceful art” of struggle against strategy), was permeated with an intuition about painting as social affect—as a language of the minority, a decentralized expression of self, marginal, a kind of savagery, or “wild parade” as Koether puts it.

Joubert’s pieces, in the form of painted panels, are the result of the juxtaposition and superimposition of colonial imagery (carvings, heraldic insignias, fragments of text)that recall the violence of ethnocentrism and Western hegemony—subjected to the power and the symbolism of signs. “Right from the start, these insignias—usually thought of as aggressive, offensive—become ”pretty“ paintings,” remarks Joubert, “because here they are put into a sympathetic relationship with sign systems that do not belong to Western Europe.” If the decorative character of this work is unquestionable, its capacity to upset the order of the Western discourse that it reproduces is in no way evident. On first contact with these works, you get the impression that this heraldic post-Modernism does nothing other than reinforce the visual power and authority of the pictorial medium, in which history itself is intrinsically linked with the thing it claims to denounce.

By contrast, the recent green canvases by Koether, turbulent monochromes, grapple with a pictorial anarchy that mocks both its means and its ends—a pictorial agitation that nevertheless immediately carries you into its flux, its existential embroilments. Because for Koether, painting is a space of transit, a zone of raw tension, a field of vibrations, rhythms, and affects, into which she plunges headlong in order that we, in turn, can throw ourselves into the work as into green, torrential waters. In order that we may establish ourselves in and merge with the blurring of senses and colors, we are invited to penetrate, to cross, to live the pictorial space in a catharsis that might be termed “grunge,” neo-Expressionist, or Situationist. This pictorial catharsis is often associated with readings, performances, writings, sound recordings, etc., in which the conflict of affects itself provides the opportunity to be free of them, to displace them, to go elsewhere. A place of subjectification and momentary self-transformation, essentially decentralized, fragile, always inchoate and without any assurance of success.

But this pictorial prodding also goes beyond subjectivity, it is aimed at an “overindividual effect: something like a collective and anonymous imagination.” This practice of destabilizing power (pictorial, political, phallic, or of the media) does not make painting into an underground counterforce, a commodity, and certainly not into a mediatic spectacle. Rather, it becomes a “medium, not alternative, but brought to ecstasy—like a special trip in a special place.” One could say that Koether’s pictorial saturation is not self-referential, rather, it wolfs itself down voraciously: it’s a round-trip in a dreamed reality, disarrayed and generous, as well as derisory, fake, uncertain, in which are entangled ideas and meaning, Madonna’s breasts and Jackson Pollock’s painting, the agitation of brushstrokes and the confusion of emotions, as well as the idiotic naiveté of liquor ads mixed with a vigorous monochromatic utopia in which one is unsure whether or not to believe.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stall.