Vidya and Jean-Michel

Analix Forever

For the past two years French artists Vidya and Jean-Michel have been collaborating on photographs, performances, videos, and installations. The team tackles the age-old problem of blurring the boundaries between art and life, with a youthful spirit that is equal parts post-adolescent ennui and romantic view of the ’70s, thus forming part of a wave of younger artists who appropriate earlier artistic strategies without engaging the political or ideological dimensions of the original movements.

Until recently, Vidya and Jean-Michel focused on transforming intimate facets of their daily lives into more public “aesthetic situations.” For a series of videos made in collaboration with a group of friends in 1995, for example, they installed a makeshift disco in a suburban basement, watched Charlie’s Angels while dressed in drag, and hung out on a snow-covered mountain. The pair have also created what they call “miniworlds”: arrangements of objects for which they often have an affective attachment, such as a handbag, mini disco balls, cartoonlike doodles, or old toys. They often place these items in a gallery or a similar art context, but unlike AC2K (The Artists Formerly Known as Art Club 2000), with whom they share a tribal mentality, Vidya and Jean-Michel don’t use social commentary as a pretext for their art-making; instead, they celebrate youth culture with intentional levity.

This exhibition represented a curious change of direction for the artists: rather than placing themselves at the center of the installation, they presented photographs, drawings, assisted readymades, and handcrafted objects that suggested an ideal domestic environment. Appearing on the floor in the middle of the gallery, the show’s centerpiece was a dollhouse-sized replica of a château, with some of its rooms decorated according to the artists’ image of a “dream” house, others modeled after photographs from French mainstream and design magazines. Throughout the gallery the team also distributed objects and images representing actual and imagined details not necessarily visible inside the house—including photographs of an elaborate flower garden, a music room, and interior and exterior architectural elements; small ink sketches of Japanese decorative motifs; and a chandelier draped with a cob-weblike paperclip chain. These elements were set up according to a network of references designed to be approached like a Website—with the viewer moving back and forth between the central object/homepage and various fragments of information.

This clever equation of the process of creation—and of looking—with surfing the Internet did little to illuminate Vidya and Jean-Michel’s position vis-à-vis the cozy bourgeois milieu they created. The only indication that the work might have been more than a fantasy version of one of their “miniworlds” was found in the château’s title, Le Chic gauchiste—a reference to Tom Wolfe’s idea of “radical chic” that suggested an underlying irony. Otherwise, one left the exhibition with the feeling that these pretty things were merely the remnants of a child’s game of house updated for a cyber-friendly public.

Elizabeth Janus