Mark Geffriaud

Following his “module” at the Palais de Tokyo in 2008, Mark Geffriaud’s first solo gallery exhibition was marked by a change of scale. In 2007– 2008, Geffriaud participated as one of four artists in Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel’s exhibition cycle “220 jours” (220 Days)—a kind of gestation tank for young French art that went so far toward defining a new tendency that its name has begun to double as an epithet. It was thus easy to look to his wistfully titled debut “Si l’on pouvait être un Peau-Rouge” (If One Were Only an Indian) for a perspective on the future of this tendency, if not of French art itself.

“If one were only an Indian” is the first clause in a sentence-long story by Franz Kafka, a parable of impotence that proceeds to dismantle every promise vouchsafed by those first six words. This is an unsettling place for an exhibition to begin, and in the context of Geffriaud’s somewhat ascetic, self-abstracting constructions, the words appeared almost confessional. Three MDF walls, hinged like giant books whose eaves sheltered bookish works partitioned the exhibition space; in an adjoining room, an enormous drafting table, Si l’on pouvait être un Peau-Rouge/table d’orientation (all works 2009), constructed from more boards, was arrayed with pages suggesting blank galley proofs. Huddled on the floor beside the first partition was Si l’on pouvait être un Peau-Rouge/cross dissolve. Three large, jewel-toned papers underlay two white pages, separated by a framed glass pane from a third sheet that was scrunched into a ball. From a certain angle, real pages ramified into phantasmic reflections, like a hologram partly spoiled by the lighting. A projector beamed a square of unmarked magazine print through the glass, whose etiolated rectangle cast another specter of nullity into the composition.

On a second partition, a framed postcard (Si l’on pouvait être un Peau-Rouge/looking forward) swung loose from its inset, disclosing what appeared to be white mat board but was actually a postcard- shaped peephole looking onto the white wall several feet beyond it, producing a short-lived moment of revelation whose real effect was to equate two perceptions of emptiness. Slumped in the angle of the third partition was Si l’on pouvait être un Peau-Rouge/for Henri, a jumbo sheet of paper marked with an X. Though dedicated to Henri Poincaré, the work is less a tribute to the mathematician than a loose demonstration of his conjecture about relativity: A cross marked on a page seems to designate a point in space until the paper is scaled up, and though its proportions remain the same, the point becomes a cluster of graphite speckles—saying less about the axiom than the incapacity of its representation to get, as it were, to the point.

Geffriaud’s interest in frames, folds, and perspectives trades in the aesthetic restraint of Conceptualism, but in the end its allegiance is to forms and not ideas. Still, there is an unexpected pathos in blank pages so eager to expose their own groundlessness and insubstantiality. Geffriaud’s work remains too formal and self-contained to achieve Kafka’s invigorating free fall, but the annulling impulse is similar. In his will, Kafka enjoined his executor, Max Brod, to destroy the majority of his oeuvre, though there’s good reason to believe he secretly wished the command to be disobeyed. Perhaps for Geffriaud, the will to undo all but the lineaments of composition will someday defy itself with content.

Joanna Fiduccia