Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (play still⎽14), 2015, eight screen prints on paper, each 69 1/4 × 47 1/4". Installation view.

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (play still⎽14), 2015, eight screen prints on paper, each 69 1/4 × 47 1/4". Installation view.

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud

Galerie Art: Concept

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (play still⎽14), 2015, eight screen prints on paper, each 69 1/4 × 47 1/4". Installation view.

In Pierre-Olivier Arnaud’s most recent silk-screen series, “Play Still,” 2015–, photography is less a medium than a pretext for demonstrating his process for creating images. Removed from a public setting, these rephotographed and then silk-screened images bear witness to encounters with objects, mostly details of merchandise for sale in shops in cities such as Paris or Lyon. However, the form that this chance image-capturing gesture takes is Surrealist in spirit, and imponderable. Without artistic autonomy or intentionality, these photos are merely working material, the collection of a reality already offered to the gaze in the form of the original images. But the way Arnaud renders the objects unrecognizable and enigmatic—with a few exceptions, such as a blossoming flower in sans titre (play still⎽33), 2016—remains consistent with the organic forms and processes of germination that the artist investigated in the works in his previous show at this gallery, in 2014.

What the more recent works have in common is the diaphanous surface of the shopwindows that present them to the collective gaze and at the same time protect them from a more tactile relationship. The impulse to photograph display windows has a long genealogy in the history of photography, from Atget to Jeff Wall, who considers them “tableaux morts” rather than “tableaux vivants.” Arnaud prefers to allow the image to emerge to the detriment of the object, through transitions from one medium to another, enlarging and retouching (using Photoshop), desaturating colors, and printing in low definition. The final result has the graphic quality of a monochrome drawing, as if the historical figures of abstraction formed the basis for postproduction, a far cry from any high-definition technological reproduction of reality.

“Play Still” shows what the artist calls the “weak point” of the image, a spatial-temporal void that eludes the camera and projects the image into a world that has forgotten the facility of producing and manifesting the visual, and where creating an image has become as laborious a process as constructing a medieval cathedral. Another point of weakness is the support, a thin paper surface glued to the wall, which, like wallpaper, cannot be detached without being destroyed. This is an ephemeral image, circumscribed by the time frame of the exhibition—a theme also addressed in the artist’s text works, such as the neon The Next Show, 2005, or the photograph The Preview Was Tomorrow, 2007.

The exhibition culminated with Untitled (play still⎽14), 2015, a fresco composed of eight large silk screens of the same motif, meticulously and precisely glued next to one another to adapt to the length of the wall. Sparkling reflections on an undulating surface depict the backdrop of a theater set, but reduced to an abstract motif that brings to mind a toxic rain, a skin disease, or an astronomical constellation. It also recalls graffiti, similar to the images that Brassaï found in the vicinity of the opéra de Paris during his nocturnal strolls. “Ephemeral and primitive” traces such as those in the caves of the Dordogne, as he wrote in From Cave Wall to Factory Wall (1933), show the origin of writing in a world that existed prior to distinctions between the poetic and the trivial.

At the back of the gallery, suspended just below eye level, a playful light-blue sphere of paper broke up the homogeneous gray veil that softened the plastic force, if not the appeal, of the advertising images. Deliberately nonsensical, it punctuated the entire show with a question mark. Or perhaps it served as a gigantic pixel, an avatar of the digital era that had wandered in, no longer knowing which image it had been ripped from.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.