Valentin Carron

“Rellik,” the title of young Swiss artist Valentin Carron’s debut, refers to the English word “relic” with its span of connotations, from disdained leftover to religious veneration. Reading it backward, however, it becomes “Killer.” Apparently, “Rellik” is also the nickname of the first graffiti tagger from Martigny, Carron’s hometown in western Switzerland. The pun is typical of Carron’s practice, which draws on symbols of cultural identity—always with an awareness of their complex (sub)cultural recoding. Carron comes from the canton of Valais, typically thought of as the most authentic, “wild,” and traditional part of Switzerland—though these traditions turn out to have been fabricated in the nineteenth century out of a need for national identity. Carron makes copies of symbolically charged objects, not only from his own culture but also from many others, always questioning the meaning of tradition and authenticity. His hybrid, deeply ironic sculptures often have a martial character. Fetched from the abysms of cultural heritage and reformulated in synthetic materials, they slowly unveil their highly ambiguous symbolic meanings.

Eight replicas of eighteenth-century French cannons were displayed in the gallery’s first room. Made of painted polyester, they bear such titles as Le Conquérant (The Conqueror), Le Souffleteur (The Boxer of Ears), and Le Dédain (Contempt; all works 2005). Two leaned against the wall, six others rested on pedestals—unadorned, immobile, and functionless. The presentation was clearly in a museum-like minimal aesthetic, but the objects themselves, with their individual greenish faux-bronze patina, recall more the cheap replicas sold in souvenir shops or sitting on mantelpieces in certain living rooms.

A second room was divided by a structure made of rows of black imitation iron stakes with dangerously sharp teeth, resembling a dark sci-fi vision of a Gallic defensive rampart. This fence, titled Rance Club, obscured the other objects displayed in the room. Locked between the last row and the rear gallery wall stood the sculpture Lasciatemi vivere la mia vita (Let Me Live My Life), a reproduction of a Roman warrior from the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny—or rather, his sparse remains: one arm and a leg, fitted together by iron rods to reconstruct a human figure in the form of a cartoonlike modernist sculpture. The walls around the fence were decorated with psychedelic computer prints—not exactly the kind of art you expect to see in that kind of gallery. The prints were made by a friend of Carron from Martigny, an outsider artist. Gathering such heterogeneous objects moots discordant understandings of what defines art. Carron plays the role of a patron here, representing his hometown via its most diverse artistic wares.

Between the two rooms a little robot, Gloria, wandered like a funny outer-space creature. In truth, it was an automatic vacuum cleaner. While the cannons are fakes, this one was real, a readymade—and a winking quotation of various art-historical moments, from Duchamp to Jeff Koons.

Eva Scharrer

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