Stéphane Magnin

With back-to-back solo shows, Stéphane Magnin, a young artist working in a vein similar to that of Philippe Parreno, Pierre Joseph, and Paul Devautour, creates “behavioral décors” conceived as artistic responses to Guy Debord’s universe of the “integrated spectacle.”

While the Situationists worked out participatory stagings that aimed at getting past spectacular alienation, Magnin’s exhibitions are alienated spectacles. The spectator is immediately integrated into the spectacle and becomes one of its components, an actor in spite of himself confronted with a universe of artificially generated behaviors, hyperviolence, and playfulness. This is why his shows—true “alienation arrays” whose visual interest is undeniable—can also be unpleasant, further proof of their irrefutable resemblance to the worldwide development of falsification, which according to Debord, is also the “becoming false of the world.”

His Nice show, entitled “Double Blind,” set forth a variegated panorama of Magnin’s language. The Paris show “Double Blindage ou la taverne de Platoon,” (“Double Armor, or Platoon’s [Plato’s] Cave,” a pun on the title of the other show) was more focused on the theme of speculative and virtual warfare (war on the screen). In the middle of the gallery one was welcomed by a chandelier in the shape of an atomic blast (Nuclear Supervision, 1993). Wall drawings fired off playful instructions on the order of “Shoot them up,” “Beat them all,” over drawings made of wool depicting an eagle, Mickey Mouse, or some character from a comic strip. In the corners of the gallery there were Airwick dispensers, which looked like those night-lights for kids, making the air suffocatingly antiseptic. In a corner, an automated penguin—the mascot for an exhibition understood to he a terrain of mental alienation and virtual cynicism—knitted with red wool.

Throughout, violence was rendered unreal and made into some gadget throughwhich the image of war shifts into a set of playful procedures that use it as a psychic spring ( a video game) while the spectacular drive to war remains intact.

In reality it is the context that has changed. Magnin is not giving any post-Marxist lessons, nor is he a cynical and complacent player. In order to understand his position, one has to refer to Debord’s latest essay. Debord is now content to comment on what the media say about him, that is, what the “society of the spectacle” can still say about itself, with the understanding that in the era of the integrated spectacle, the very name Debord, stands for a point of no return; its endless recycling into the field of the spectacle takes on the value of a special effect. Magnin works in the same way in the visual arts. To the critique of alienation via the spectacular, he replies with the spectacle of alienation and the feedback effect.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.