Richard Venlet

Elisa Platteau Galerie

Walking through the door of Elisa Platteau Galerie, one saw Richard Venlet’s Untitled (Claustra) (all works 2009), a monumental white grille that stretched from the
 floor nearly to the ceiling, immediately to the right and parallel to the wall.
 Behind its bars was a large map, square
 in format and obviously aged, pre-
served within a frame, apparently 
showing a neighborhood in Rome.
 Across from this single adornment, a
 narrow and steep staircase led to the 
second floor. The character of the
 space there was completely different:
 The floor was covered with the aptly 
subtitled Untitled (40 hexagon floor
 elements)—carpeted wooden modules, randomly arranged. At times, 
they formed piles of two or three; there 
were gaps between them, but these 
were too short to constitute passage-
ways, and the hexagonal platforms
 were too wide to step over, so that you 
had to climb over them when neces
sary. Moving gingerly in order to get
 around the room, you came upon the 
presence of another white grille, also
 Untitled (Claustra), hung on the wall
 corresponding to the one on which its twin was seen on the floor below.

The contrast between these two floors, augmented by the difference in lighting (muted downstairs, abundant upstairs), was striking—two distinct modes of perception were elicited. Yet both were similarly subjected to stumbling blocks: The entire environment had been placed under the sign of impediment. Access was not prohibited but diverted; both the eye and the body were constrained along the way, thereby suggesting a narrative reading of the exhibition, doubly encouraged by the return of the grille at the end of the course. This was a story in two acts, in which the protagonist, after so many detours, perceived that the initial object of his quest had evaporated.

The map displayed on the ground floor, a drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, dates from 1762. It is not the property of the artist, but was lent to him by the University of Ghent; it was fascinating but held at a distance by the intervening grille. Thus the focal point of the exhibition proved an ephemeral center. Or, as Roland Barthes said of another map, one referring to the presence of the Imperial Palace at the heart of Tokyo: “an empty center,” an ideal space, closed and protected, requiring eternal detours.

To the attentive viewer, a third part of the exhibition appeared later, in the form of an artist’s book published for the occasion. In this volume, the patterns of the grid and the hexagon are united in a trellis that stretches over each page. Only one textual passage comes to disrupt the tireless repetition of the graphic structure: an excerpt from the journal of the German chemist August Kekulé, who, while living in Ghent, supposedly discovered the annular structure of benzene after a vision of a snake biting its own tail appeared to him during a day-dream. The retrospective devoted to Venlet by MuHKA in Antwerp in 2002 already testified to the importance of a body of work that bears the legacy of Minimalism and institutional critique with remarkable lightness and relevance. Here, Venlet continued his exploration of the distribution of space—the hollow, the void, and their limits—with a self-consuming structure of his own.

Olivier Mignon

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.