Margaux Foucret and Harlan Whittingham discuss the exhibition The Royal Standard at Le Temple Du Gout in Nantes (FR) organized by art collective Back&Forth.
Margaux Foucret: The Royal Standard presents artists working within the gallery, studios and social workspace of the same name in Liverpool (UK) in the listed building come exhibition space Le Temple Du Gout in Nantes (FR)
Harlan Whittingham: I think especially within this context the title could be literally read as a tongue in cheek reference to the English monarchy – poking fun at any left over historic tensions between the two countries. This playful (perhaps very English) sense of humour permeated a lot of the exhibition.
MF: I agree. The TV show Friends (I know it’s not English!) was referenced in ‘Porsche II-VII’ – a collection of satin covered plinths by the artist James Harper. In Friends there is no Porsche but only cardboard under the satin. James therefore implies there is a risk of emptiness under the surface. These plinths are a sham!
HW: Yeah, I’m not sure how often we question the material integrity of a plinth… Part of the problem with the work for me was the small collections of ‘Fragments – Remnants I-III’ by Madeline Hall displayed on top of them. They didn’t really do this sculptural trickery any justice – each collection of fragments was too small and weightless to really give us reason to doubt the structural weight of what was underneath the satin. Perhaps if these plinths as artworks also doubled up as an experiment in curating; then a more interesting range of objects would have better underlined the works intention.
MF: I think the potentials of surfaces and representation were more cleverly explored in Greg Herbert’s work ‘Tutti Frutti’ – a photoshopped drawing of a fruit basket printed onto fabric, hiding behind it a tutti frutti scent dispenser and small ventilator. I liked how the comic ‘nature morte’ was depicted in the most un-natural and synthetic way possible. The strong odour and constant movement of the fabric also gave the work real presence whilst allowing it to maintain a visual simplicity.
HW: I agree, ‘Untitled’ by Greg was also simple yet effective. Here he made a subtle visual reference to the decorative plaster Rococo reliefs in Le Temple Du Gout with an irreverent yet intricate plaster relief of a Lucky Buddha beer bottle – The cultural symbol of the Buddha appropriated by the consumer product comes full circle as the consumer product is re-appropriated into the cultural object. High and low culture (especially as viewed by the French) are intertwined to the point of being inseparable. Joe Cotgraves’ ‘Elite Controller 1.5’ similarly toyed with the buildings architectural features with his plaster casts of deformed condoms – mounted again, almost as faux decorative reliefs on the walls.
MF: Haha, the very pink walls yeah! These formal experiments formed a bridge to ‘Elite Controller 1.6’ a video on an iPhone showing interactions on the homosexual social networking site Grinder. Here we are immersed in intimate discussions on sexual protection and HIV (elite controller is the name given to HIV patients whose bodies can control the virus from replicating) these then give the context for ‘Elite Controller 1.4.’ another material exploration of the same subject matter – a composition of leather plaques mounted on the wall of the following room.
HW: The most engaging part of these works for me was the way in which the conversations appeared so awkward as Joe tries earnestly to educate people on the dangers of HIV in the context of a hook up site. Perhaps this awkwardness reveals something more general about our ignorance of or difficulty with discussing these subjects.
MF: Totally. Joe also managed to successfully weave a very hard subject matter into the context of his formal and material explorations, bringing an interesting diversity to the exhibition, yet avoiding a total incoherency with the rest of the artists on show. Becky Peach also attempted to bring diversity to the shows formal and material focus, through her interactive work ‘Space, Time and You’ inviting the spectator to photograph (with a polaroid camera) a range of colourful abstract objects, before altering their position in the works overall composition. The foam surfaces and wide range of colours echo childhood playground and games – however, as a spectator I couldn’t help feeling a little patronised. The dissonant colours were also difficult for me to access, but maybe this was just down to me having a different visual culture.
HW: It’s interesting you say that because I found a lot of the themes and explorations in this exhibition very familiar. Perhaps in the UK this hyperactive, colourful aesthetic is reaching a saturation point? Either way, I think these artists definitely succeeded in finding a temporary home at Le Temple Du Gout – I don’t think anyone has ever painted their walls bright pink before! Lets finish with the performance ‘Everything can always be something else’ by Mark Simmonds, which I think we can agree was one of our favourite works.
MF: That’s right. Marks account of the group’s time in Nantes, delivered almost as a stream of consciousness monologue, brought another perspective to the exhibition. It was full of cultural references (both English and French) reflections on the visual environment of the show, the architecture of Le Temple Du Gout and The Royal Standard. He even tried speaking French to bridge these two cultural contexts. You really liked this part as well right?
HW: Yeah. I think if his humorous cultural reference to Faulty Towers was maybe lost on the French audience, Marks casual switch into (completely incomprehensible) French definitely wasn’t. Perhaps everything can’t always be something else – but this doesn’t stop these attempted transformations and exchanges from being any less interesting and insightful.
Margaux Foucret is an artist and curator from Montpellier. She currently runs Pas Le Temps in Nantes.
Harlan Whittingham is an artist and curator from Leeds He currently runs À CÔTÉ DU 69 in Nantes.
Image courtesy of Becky Peach.