Gennevilliers, France

Gyan Panchal

École Municipale des Beaux-Arts/Galerie Edouard Manet

The architect Louis Kahn used to say: “I asked the brick, ‘What do you like, brick?’ And brick said, ‘I like an arch.’” Citing Kahn’s devotion to material as the determinant of form, French sculptor Gyan Panchal likewise conceives structure as a response to its physical constituents. Using both industrial products including polystyrene and glass wool, and organic matter such as oyster shells and wood, Panchal tends to the unique physical demands of each object. In his knowing appropriation of both the natural ingredients often found in Arte Povera and the technical components of Minimalism, Panchal points to transformations of matter as well as of theory. The artist also proposes specific narratives of material, for example hanging a square of nori just below a sheet of black polyethylene. The unusual titles of his pieces, such as this one, nasci (all works 2008), a word El Lissitzky used for his edition of the journal Merz and a form of both the Latin and Italian verbs for “giving birth,” divulge Panchal’s references to the poetry and language of Dada as well as the idealistic urges of Constructivism. In this quasi-monochromatic composition, Panchal alludes to the anoxic process by which aquatic sediments become petroleum, the source polymer for the production of plastics.

Panchal realized most of the pieces in this exhibition while working at this public art space in the northern suburbs of Paris as an artist in residence. Although his practice is not strictly site-specific, Panchal often orients these works through references to their architectural context. Standen, a tower of white polystyrene panels, its shiny factory-cut edges mottled by the application of heat and flame, echoes the dimensions and position of the floating wall that marks the entrance to the gallery.

Like standen, gaet—consisting of three blue polystyrene blocks in a post-and-lintel configuration—is near monumental in size, but both appear light and ultimately attuned to human scale. Panchal has fixed the cornflower-blue portal to the exact dimensions of a standard doorway, using sandpaper to rub down the shiny surfaces and round blunt edges. He initiates a process of deterioration, leaving a layer of powdery dust on the sculpture’s surface. Static electricity and the slight breeze of a moving body draw the ephemeral particles into the air and onto the viewer.

While Panchal foregrounds material, he also activates the space surrounding his floor- and wall-based sculptures through the use of gesture. At times, he seems truly submissive to the object, leaving only simple traces of his presence—a small scratch, a simple cut, the light rub of sandpaper. Nonetheless, Panchal choreographs a poetic sense of visual coherence between the works. Melting a pattern of grooves in the form of the Fibonacci spiral into the shiny surface of a rectangular panel of amber polystyrene for metiri, Panchal references both Renaissance and modernist pursuits of harmonious design. Pinned to a wall nearby, as in an entomologist’s collection, anka, a sheath of bamboo, curls into a gentle approximation of the golden ratio. Panchal has cut one side of the browning swatch at a clean ninety-degree angle. With this incision, he draws the papery membrane into formal alignment with the surrounding works, while summoning the delicate response of sculptor to material.

Lillian Davies