To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Mac Val museum opens its doors on a dizzying exhibition: “The Vertigo Effect,” inspired by Alfred Hitchock’s masterfully directed film “Vertigo.” If you follow the progression of this article, you’ll understand the purpose of this title, which serves as an homage to the famous film’s recursive nature.
It’s also a reference to the game of mirrors of “La Dame de Shanghai” (Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth). The visit begins powerfully: we enter François Morellet’s maze, “Seven Corridors,” an in situ sculpture with a boxy form connecting the letters of the alphabet by way of 7 corridors and 14 entrances where we lose and later find ourselves again in a rather random manner.
Like Scottie (James Stewart) in “Vertigo,” we climb the stairs, we open the doors of an infinite corridor, and we feel a kind of vertigo in front of these great, white, immaculate corridors that lack a beginning and an end.
Remember the famous tracking shot in black and white in the Jean-Luc Godard’s film “Alphaville,” where we see a man opening doors one after another in a long corridor, a scene reprised in the opening sequence of the mythical television program “Cinéma, Cinémas”…you cannot have forgotten that!
I greatly enjoyed this walk through a place dedicated to contemporary art, though at times it can be confusing. I feel an energy in this museum, transmitted by both the location and by the dynamism of the team.
The director, Alexia Fabre, really shows us her passion, and we could have listened to her for hours. In front of each work, she stops and gives us a summary, just like a storyteller, of its origin, the thought process of the artist, and how one comprehends it. Art becomes a fun discovery in its accessibility to all, and it then loses its sometimes intimidating nature.
We are quite literally blinded by Renaud Auguste-Dormeuil’s work “Night Writing” (2006), all done in braille, where he addresses the concept of illusion.
This white light that causes glare and dizziness for the viewer serves to illuminate the braille writings that run along the walls, just like a fleeting bolt of lightning. The artist could not better represent the concepts of vision and blindness.
In a moving tale, we have the story of Jean-Luc Vilmouth that unearths a building undertaken by a Cambodian disciple of Le Corbusier. In the 1960s, the artist wanted to offer the population of his country a style of architecture considered as the ultimate in functional modernity. However, this program was interrupted after Khmers Rouges takes power. As a result, the project remains inactive, but creates a symbiosis between humans and this great mineral building, whose completion was so far unrealized. The artist then displays how human life and inert material fit together and are formed as colonies of living organisms in bottomless depths. Families settled in there, and organized human life is developed without any elements of comfort planned in the early diagrams: there was no running water, and to address that problem, the inhabitants used buckets. Chains of buckets appear and draw veins on the “skin” of the walls and the buildings. With these water installations, nature and humanity intertwine and fertilize the concrete as a living earth. This is then the artist’s narrative with his drawings of facades decorated with blue lianas, which are truly the great circulators of water, and his minimalist shelves decorated with plants.
Farther away, a piece by Germaine Richier entitled “Trio / Ou la Place” (1954) is drawn close to a painted paper work by Aurélien Froment; both artworks, though quite different (one is a sculpture and one is paint on paper), use recycled objects as their raw materials. Germaine Richier retrieves objects that have been thrown away and uses them in her work; Aurélien Froment uses the motifs of the scientist Fröbel for his work “Paysage de dominos” (2011).
Then, we move on to the painting by the duo “We are the painters” founded in 2004: two artists, who met each other at the Nantes Ecole des Beaux-Arts, are “pleinairistes” because they rediscover landscape and utilize it as a part of the process of their work. Three landscapes were selected, but the subject of their current work is a representation of a goddess, decorated with gorgeous black hair, a flower, and something they refer to as a “garniture.”
This piece corresponds with another model, that of Jakob Gautel, which involves a reinterpretation of a personal story: the life of one of his grandmothers, Maria Theodora, born in Sumatra, who had to leave her home country to live in Germany. Jakob Gautel then finds himself in Indonesia photographing women dressed like his grandmother: it’s an act of memory that is presented here. There is also a question of history and memory in the work of Agnès Geoffray during the French Liberation, but also manifests itself in the violence involved in purification, especially with regard to women. A first photo of a woman stripped and shaved, followed by a second retouched by the artist where the woman is dressed and seems rather unremarkable, as any nudity serves to express the harshness of the scene. This photographic work suggests, more than any other document of the time, the social violence of these years, which is also during the Liberation. In addition, “The Vertigo Effect” is also created by the juxtaposition of a documentary photograph and a retouched photograph; this type of repetition questions us with respect to the photographic medium.
I love this journey replete with surprises, beauty, history, travel, and cinema with the masterful “Paramour” (in Old French, “The Lover”), which is a motif of Jean-Luc Verna. Vanity, a sign of passing time, these drawings are ghosts, highlights of makeup, the form of a circular tableau turned into a dressing room mirror. I continue in the cinematic universe with the poetic Sarkis showing his treasures of memory: 11 photos taken from films produced between 1927 and 1992, punctuated by blinks interrupted by neon red. Sarkis discovered art through images, he and his wife having envisioned, in the cinemas of the time, hundreds of films in the 1960s when they arrive from Istabul to Paris, the world capital of movie theaters and of the Cinémathèque d’Henri Langlois.
Then…I’m in disbelief! I learn that our movements may be filed in a U.S. agency, like trademarks at the INPI: it’s the “Pinch to Zoom” that we perform on our screens. Julien Prévieux presents “What Shall We Do Next: Sequence 2,” a project that he has directed for 10 years; it’s an inventory project of archives of our actions to come: for this “Mundaneum” of human gestures, he films choreography that we are then able to view on a screen.
To finish the visit, I meet Yeondoo Jung who during the France-Korea year spent the summer at Mac Val. With great passion, he spoke to us about Monet and his water lilies at Giverny that he was able to visit for a morning. He manages to transcribe it in 3D by using a technique of cut photography. The result of this strange, painstaking work moves us, and we are able to enter the landscape with a rather striking perspective.
Before leaving, I admire Xavier Veilhan’s mobile that crosses the museum by the roof terrace with dark green spheres held by rods whose colors bring gardens to mind.
A piece of advice: take a trip to Mac Val
Florence Briat Soulie
Translated by Erica DeMichiel , Wesleyan University, Vassar Wesleyan Program in Paris Fall 2015.
François Morellet « Seven corridors » 24 october 2015 – 6 march 2016
Yeondoo Jung « D’ici et d’ailleurs » 24 october 2015 – 6 march 2016
MAC VAL – Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne
Place de la Libération – CS10022 – 94404 Vitry-sur-Seine cedex
Tél. : 01 43 91 64 20