Alexandre Singh, Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Alfredo Arias) (detail), 2011, pencil on forty-seven ink-jet prints, dimensions variable.

Alexandre Singh, Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Alfredo Arias) (detail), 2011, pencil on forty-seven ink-jet prints, dimensions variable.

Alexandre Singh

Galerie Art: Concept

Alexandre Singh, Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Alfredo Arias) (detail), 2011, pencil on forty-seven ink-jet prints, dimensions variable.

The 2006 film based on British novelist Christopher Priest’s book The Prestige (1995) identifies three key moments of a magic trick: the pledge, when an object is presented; the “turn,” when that object is “disappeared”; and the prestige, the moment it reappears—the quarter drawn from a child’s ear, the rabbit pulled out of a hat. Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler asked artist Alexandre Singh, versed in storytelling and performance, to consider the first of these, the magician’s pledge, for the September 2011 issue of the institution’s magazine, PALAIS/. Granted carte blanche, Singh took the pages of the publication as a stage, presenting—in the form of theater scripts illustrated with his drawings and collages—his conversations with seven thinkers: theater director Alfredo Arias, artist Simon Fujiwara, filmmaker Michel Gondry, Proust scholar Donatien Grau, neuroscientist Leah Kelly, screenwriter Danny Rubin, and Wahler.

For his first solo exhibition at Art : Concept, Singh amplified and distorted the content of three of these exchanges, rendering quasi portraits in elaborate mappings of the words, thoughts, and personalities of his interviewees. Each work features Xeroxed collages, under glass and neatly surrounded by in a white painted wood frame. The photocopies yield flat, grainy images that equalize a diverse range of source material. Almost every image was linked to a larger visual network by precise rays of dotted pencil lines made directly on the gallery wall. The resulting matrix evoked detailed stage directions, instructions for the box step, or a corporate flowchart.

One of the forty-three images in Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Marc-Olivier Wahler) (all works 2011) pictures Lucio Fontana standing before a sliced canvas, a gesture Singh cites as a precedent for the surgical cuts that enable his collages. Two identical headshots of Wahler are labeled MONSIEUR L’ORIGINAL and MONSIEUR LE REPLICANT (Mr. Original and Mr. Copy). This example of formal doubling is one of many that define Singh’s works; the act of duplication creates space for what he calls “tangential logic.” For Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Leah Kelly), the artist presented thirty-seven black-and-white images of, among other things, mice, the human brain, Chinese porcelain, and two rather generic-looking fish, one marked ILLUSION, the other REALITY. This last pairing refers to the refraction of light rays as they pass through the water and the resulting shift in the creatures’ apparent locations. Also for this work, Singh embellished a copy of a Dürer print of Adam and Eve by drawing a tennis racket into Adam’s hand and inserted gorillas into the stands of a Big Ten basketball game. Sports are not an accidental reference for Singh, author of The Marque of the Third Stripe (2010), a book-length gothic fictionalization of the life of Adidas founder Adolf Dassler. Providing a system of regulated (almost scripted) interaction, sports are as neatly pinned to the playing field as cinema to the screen or performance to the stage.

Installed in the back room of the gallery, a separate, almost theatrical space, Assembly Instruction (The Pledge: Alfredo Arias) orchestrates forty-seven images, some of which depict scenes appropriated from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Richard II. Spotlights, masks, a penguin tagged with the term MYOPIA, and the cover of the Birds volume from the Life Nature Library round out the cast. In these works, Singh reveals as much about his sitters as he invents, weaving each character into his own universe. Singh will, as Shakespeare put it in Twelfth Night, his famous tale of deception and disguise, most certainly “draw the curtain and show you the picture.”

Lillian Davies