Guillaume Paris

Peter Freeman | 59 rue Quincampoix

Guillaume Paris thinks of the gallery as a “place of reflection” and his exhibitions as systems in which apparently heterogeneous objects set one another in motion and generate meaning through their arrangement. At first, one might be confused by the diversity of media put to use, from sculptural objects to video images, photography, and painting. What link can actually be established between the hermetic and vaguely disturbing inscriptions engraved on resin and Styrofoam stelae (Epiphanie 91a and 91b, both 2002), a mannequin of a child/angel encased in plastic (Infinite Justice, 2003), and a video showing the evolutions of a mass with no clear form or substance (Object, 2002)? Gradually one does make out the message, for the works all possess the same power of fascination, bordering on the hypnotic, and explore the same domain—that of the relationships, at once direct and murky, between religion, commerce, and politics. Images and objects, from the simplest and most natural—the reddish glow of flame-shaped bulbs laid out like a fakir’s bed of nails (Carnival of Souls, 2003), a conflagration of thorny branches (Burning Bush, 2003)—to the most sophisticated, possess the power to intercept messages from the cultural atmosphere, and Paris exploits this ability. Often he uses the false transparency of language in sentences with double meanings, playing on an “ambiguous third degree, equidistant from the first and second,” at once accepting outward appearances and unveiling the springs and mechanisms that underlie them. Paris doesn’t denounce anything; he simply points out the power of certain discourses—for instance, certain pseudoscientific phrases, similar to those employed by sects, are strikingly peremptory and definitive in character, establishing hierarchies among individuals, opening the door to all variety of discrimination and fanaticism. Paris shows how, through their apparent innocence, they convey persistent cultural codes and factors of exclusion. An ordinary expression like “Pray it works” reclaims its underlying function of religious injunction in Sign, 2003, just as the anodyne image of a thicket in flames inevitably summons the biblical symbolism of Moses’s burning bush. A bar of soap sculpted in ivory so as to coincide with its brand name (Ivory, 1989–90) transmits, through its hyperbolic whiteness, not just the idea of purity associated with hygiene but the values of the dominant (white) fraction of contemporary Western society. And this is when we touch on the fascism of language that Roland Barthes denounced, whether in oral or visual communication.

The implications of Paris’s work, then, go well beyond a simple critique of consumer society. Certainly, he contrasts the eternal youth and happiness promised by advertising with age, death, and the recurrence of anxiety, but above all he explores the many current incarnations of the fetish. Religion, politics, commerce, and art find themselves inextricably linked by their common nature as lies or as illusions bearing truth—terms whose order, in Paris’s universe, one might just as well reverse.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.