By Emiliano Battista
The exhibition Locus Solus Domesticus at the Institut de Carton coincided perfectly, and purely coincidentally, with Fall season, opening on 22 September and closing three months later, on 22 December 2012. The exhibition, the first in the young history of the Institut to feature works by non-member artists, was collectively curated by Henri Jacobs, Marij Elias, Aglaia Konrad, Willem Oorebeek and Paul van der Eerden.
Locus Solus Domesticus bills itself as a ‘contemporary interpretation’ of Raymond Roussel’s book Locus Solus, which describes a guided tour of the country estate Locus Solus, where the scientist Martial Canterel ‘has assembled a large number of extraordinary works’. These works are not related through their content, but rather share ‘the idea that each work is a phenomenal example of a nearly impossible task’. What is at stake, in the book as well as in the exhibition, is the notion of procedure, of process, something Roussel foregrounds by making the guided tour the central narrative device. A guided visit always wavers between the sense of plenitude and emptiness; it now gives the impression that it can answer and anticipate every question, and now that it raises more questions than it can ever answer. As such, it mirrors the ‘impossible task’ of the works in the estate: the tour and the works are two sides of the same coin.
The show at the Institut de Carton retains this framework and can (could) only be visited in guided tours. In the spirit of the show, Le Salon asked me (I was myself one of the guides), not to write up a text about Locus Solus Domesticus, but to obtain from each guide a short description of their tour: some have chosen to speak only about one work, others about running themes (like dots, spots and points), others about how they approached their task as guides, and so on. We hope that, between them, they can take readers on a collective tour of the exhibition.
Guide: Mitja Tusek
While working, I mostly listen to a public radio station or, more rarely, to some music. In fact, when I listen to music, I listen to the same song over and over again: ‘My Sweet Lord’, the best song ever written by a guy with a brain tumor. Maybe the voices and tunes filling the air make me feel less lonely facing the missing black matter in my studio. Possibly, but they also give a certain rhythm to a day's work. Sometimes, when I look at a painting or a detail of a painting of mine, I can remember a certain discussion, or tune or news, important or not, that was on the air when I was working on it. Or I just think: ‘Oh-uuh-uh, hare hare …’
When I was asked to be a guide for the exhibition Locus Solus Domesticus, I decided to give some no bullshit information about each work and artist, followed by the date for the work and an event that happened the same year the work was made.
For example: speaking about Suchan Kinoshita's Isofollies – shiny black sculptures made from waste that is impossible to identify since it is tightly wrapped in many layers of retractable and opaque plastic – I added, at the end of my description: ‘This work was made in 2007, the year Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union. The artist is probably not commenting on this event’.
I chose an event for each work in the show. Some of these events had global repercussions (the official end of the Cold War, for example), while others were of no importance at all (like the Schiffer and Copperfield wedding). Of course, these events didn't explain the work, nor were they necessarily related to the work. Still, they were, and remain, something the artist and the spectator or visitor to the exhibition most probably share.
Guide: Paul van der Eerden
Kinoshita’s Isofollies and Bambara Bolis
When I first saw the Kinoshita’s Isofollies, they seemed familiar to me even though I had never seen them before. They reminded me of the objects the Bambara from Mali call Boli.
Bolis are sacred objects that are seen as the accumulations of secret knowledge accessible only to the initiated. They are containers for the collective memory and for the history of the tribe. The Bambara take care of them, ‘nourishing’ them with libations of blood, millet beer and other substances that enhance the Boli’s power. Their surface is a closed and impregnable crust of different materials. To the initiated, they have a presence that goes beyond the object itself: they are real, and as such they not only take up their actual space, as objects, they also occupy a mental space in the memory and ideas of the people.
Kinoshita’s Isofollies have the same closed appearance: they look like mysterious aliens. And, when you encounter them for the first time, you only can guess about the actual content of the work, or about its meaning. The Isofollies are containers of debris, leftovers from previous shows that Kinoshita has now wrapped in plastic. Like the Bolis, they are accumulations of material, and they capture their own space. They clearly don’t want to be realistic sculptures, but they are what sculptor Tony Smith calls ‘presences’. They don’t question the nature of sculpture, just as the Bolis don’t question ‘art’, but they are present, they occupy their own space, in reality and in the memory or conscience of the viewer.
And so, in my memory, I had an image of a Boli I had seen somewhere. And although memory isn’t reality, it is felt or experienced as real. I had never seen the Isofollies before, but, in the associations they prompted in my mind with objects of a different nature, they became familiar, real.
Guide: Peter Nijenhuis
My intention was to discuss a number of questions with the attending visitors. Two years ago Hans Esmeijer, a provincial politician from the Dutch Christian Democratic Party, organised a symposium in Nijmegen when he retired from politics. Central argument of this symposium was Esmeijer’s remarkable thesis that contemporary art has developed into a multiform clutter that no longer speaks in any way to the general. Contemporary art lost its legitimacy because the public at large is out of touch with it. Is this thesis an attack on complexity and a plea for its reduction to simplicity? Apart from the question of whether art has ever drawn its legitimacy from its direct and uncomplicated understanding by the public (has that ever been the case?), one can ask if Hans Esmeijer’s understanding of complexity isn’t one sided. Is complexity a nuisance, or a gift? Or is it, at the very least, a Janus-faced reality we have to accept because it is an inevitable outcome of modernization and specialization, as Jürgen Habermas argues? Is an exhibition such as Locus Solus Domesticus, conceived by five curators and based on their personal associations with a rather strange novel by Raymond Roussel, not an attempt to heighten complexity to its zenith? Isn’t that the fun of this exhibition? Can we learn something practical from this exhibition, considering that, at least to me, everyday reality has the traits of an exhibition shaped by the whims of countless curators based on an unknown novel? We could not answer all these questions thoroughly during my guided tour of the exhibition at the Institut de Carton, in Brussels.
Guide: Marie-José Burki
For my guided visit, I deliberately chose to say nothing about a work of mine in the exhibition; to be especially attentively to the pieces I didn’t know well or at all; to speak about all the works exhibited.
A guided tour is an exercise of and for the gaze, and guiding the visitors means establishing the tempo of that exercise. I wanted to point things out with my finger, to highlight surface qualities, to use our accumulated knowledges to understand what the works offer to vision and how they present themselves to the gaze. I wanted to confront matter and its recalcitrance.
Roussel would have us believe that the (incongruous) objects on view to the visitors of his garden are the fruits of a procedure, a quasi-mechanical sleight of hand designed in order to make a literature. But the fruits of this supposedly self-evident procedure are in fact more complex. So, too, are the works presented in the exhibition at the Institut de Carton. All the works are the fruit of some labour, of the meticulous application and singular methods of each artist. In other words: the works in the exhibition are not incongruous objects.
Guide: Moritz Küng
Genius Locus - Focus Solus
Guiding a surprisingly large group of people – friends and strangers, all curious and maybe, even, devoted to art – on a late Saturday afternoon through a temporary collection of (very subjectively chosen) artworks in the private home of a Brussels-based artist, was a true pleasure. It wasn’t that I was swept away by the past – I had myself initiated a similar private venture some twenty years earlier. It was, rather, that I found myself confronted with a most unexpected and decidedly fresh and inspiring selection. The artworks and course they wove through the house felt so perfect that it seemed as if this was the right place for any kind of artwork to be. The place is warm, enchanting and – perhaps strange to say – full of love for art. There show had too many works for me to be able to comment on all of them in one guided visit, so I focused mostly on the ones unknown to me. This challenged me to think afresh about the right, or most adequate, place for an artwork ... and for a moment, this place, this environment and this very collection seemed to me ideal. The locus was ingenious and the solus in focus, and the guide himself became guided by the artworks.
Guide: Emiliano Battista
The Shield of Achilles
For my guided tour, I thought it would be interesting to play the ‘ignorant’ guide, who discovers the exhibition along with the visitors, who reads out loud the descriptions of the works, who poses questions to the curators (Willem and Henri were present) or of the artists (Mitja Tusek was there), so that we could all venture forth into the show and trace, collectively, our singular paths, sharing the associations, reflections and ideas produced by each work. Of this, one has stayed with me: Christoph Fink’s disks struck me as beautifully economic attempts to embrace the entire cosmos and reminded me of the description of the Shield of Achilles in the Iliad, another circle whose depictions strive to contain all that ever was in its diameter.
Guide: Henri Jacobs
Dots, Spots and Points
Johan van Oord’s painting;
Bernard Voïta’s photograph;
Adrien Lucca’s two drawings;
The bouncing ball in Marie-José Burki’s video;
Michel Gouéry two ceramic sculptures;
Henri Jacobs’ Jacquard tapestry;
Christoph Fink’s ceramic discs.
The circle wanders through the exhibition Locus Solus Domesticus in seven different forms. As raw material for a potential image, for a skin reluctantly hoping not to be saddled with meaning. Large or small, white or black, overlapping or just kissing, striped, coloured or composed: circles, dots, spots and points seem to obey easily, but they are as savage, untamed and brute as sun, earth and moon.