Hong Kong

Cédric Maridet, Rise, Fall (detail), 2016, acrylic tank, distilled water, ethanol, camphor, potassium nitrate, ammonium chloride, LED, wooden pedestal, 57 × 21 1/4 × 11 3/4".

Cédric Maridet, Rise, Fall (detail), 2016, acrylic tank, distilled water, ethanol, camphor, potassium nitrate, ammonium chloride, LED, wooden pedestal, 57 × 21 1/4 × 11 3/4".

Cédric Maridet

Blindspot Gallery

Cédric Maridet, Rise, Fall (detail), 2016, acrylic tank, distilled water, ethanol, camphor, potassium nitrate, ammonium chloride, LED, wooden pedestal, 57 × 21 1/4 × 11 3/4".

Cédric Maridet’s “Fragments of Future Histories” felt like a slick steampunk take on contemporary exploration. The exhibition of photographs, videos, assemblages, and kinetic sculptures opened with Rise, Fall, 2016, an acrylic tank, placed on a wooden pedestal, comprising four compartments filled with distilled water, ethanol, camphor, potassium nitrate, and ammonium chloride. This chemical admixture resulted in white, snowflake-like formations of crystals that adhered to the acrylic walls, sat on the surface of the water, and gathered at the bottom of the tank. An LED placed in the vessel’s interior illuminated the flakes; its cold glow called to mind the light of the Arctic Circle. Indeed, the entire exhibition was framed by the artist’s travels to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, where he visited the abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden, the Ny-Ålesund research base, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The seed vault, a storage facility that was built inside a mountain and houses the world’s largest and most diverse collection of seeds, is represented in a photographic series called “Interventions,” 2014. In one image, Maridet projected the words WE THOUGHT IT WOULD NOT MATTER onto the vault’s entryway, a Brutalist concrete wall that juts out of the barren landscape. In another, texts projected onto a long wooden hut read TO PRODUCE IS A PASSION and TO CONSUME IS A TASTE. Some of these phrases were invented, but others were borrowed from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” or The Underground Man, a nineteenth-century postapocalyptic novella by Gabriel Tarde, a French sociologist who rejected grand theories of society in favor of explaining societal patterns through “the accumulation of elementary actions.” In other words, he understood “the large by the small, the big by the detail.”

Considering German theorist Ernest Mandel’s observation about Marx’s notion of the contradictory capitalist machine—that the forces of production are steadily transforming into forces of destruction—it’s fitting that Maridet sites his project in the Arctic Circle, where the environmental consequences of globalism are so starkly evident. In another photo from the series, the words WE THOUGHT WE HAD TIME are projected inside an underground glacier; the stark and unnervingly straightforward warning leans toward cliché. Maridet also evokes the elasticity of temporality in a series of text-based works on paper titled “Last Words,” 2016. These pages, featuring printed quotes taken from nineteenth- and twentieth-century science-fiction novels, are covered in crystallized sodium tetraborate; each effectively looks like a frozen letter from the distant past.

Maridet’s romantic, dystopian landscape was completed with the 2015 “Parhelia” series: a handsome trio of tall metal machines that resemble minimalist totems or pylons. Each has a tripod-like base, on top of which an elegant metal rod rotates. At the ends of each rod are geometric forms based on the architectural shapes (a pyramid, a crescent) the artist observed in Svalbard; these projected light onto the walls, simulating, as the description said, “sun halos created by spinning ice crystals in the atmosphere.” The artist describes the effect created by “Parhelia” as “a new land, an in-between territory” with “a possibility to linger.” The sculptures recall—among other things—the experiments of László Moholy-Nagy and the light rooms of the Zero artists—producers who understood art, science, and poetry, as Tarde did, to be “the true needs of society,” which “spring from a necessity to produce and not from a necessity to consume.” Maridet brings these needs together through the telling of his arctic experience, articulated as an abstract feeling rather than a concrete statement.

Stephanie Bailey