Friday, 12 August 2011

Partial Eclipse

Alex Farquharson
 By Alex Farquharson, Director Nottingham Contemporary

I went to Tate Britain on Saturday to see a room of works by Marc Camille Chaimowicz from the 1980s. It’s part of an exhibition based on Tate’s collection called 'Has the Film Already Started?' It considers performance in the visual arts, directly and indirectly.

The exhibition opened a fortnight or so before Marc Camille’s exhibition here dedicated to Jean Genet. The two make for a fascinating comparison. His room at Tate is centred on a group of works called ‘Partial Eclipse’, begun in 1980, which consists of a slide projection, paravents, painted panels, collages and an occasional subtle performance. It established a vocabulary he has been working with to this day – as is soon evident to visitors of both exhibitions.

Chaimowicz plays with the two meanings of interior – interior meaning the domestic interior, and interior meaning one’s inner life. For Chaimowicz, one’s rooms should be intensely personal environments. He doesn’t have a studio, instead his south London flat is the fulcrum of his work. Its precise arrangements of eclectic objects relating to different periods of his life and the lives of others is expressive of a very particular sensibility. His own art works, which also resemble furniture, furnishings and objets d’art, retain a sense of belonging and personal significance despite the publicness of their exhibition settings. For that reason the experience of being in one of his exhibitions has the intimacy of literature. ‘The Courtesy of Objects’, the subtitle of his exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary (and before that, at Norwich Gallery), conveys this: how can objects be courteous, unless they are somehow imbued with the personality traits of certain people? In Nottingham, one thinks of Genet, naturally. ‘Partial Eclipse’ evokes fragments of Proust, transferred from the Bourgeois interiors of late 19th century Paris to more cramped quarters in London in the 80s.

Each Saturday at 3pm, the slide projector comes on, Kraftwerk’s primitive synths can be heard, and the lights go down. Eventually, a man, simply dressed, enters the exhibition. He does next to nothing. He paces around and around the space between projector and screen, preoccupied. His shadow becomes part of the images Marc Camille took in his home in the early 80s, reanimating memories in our present; at the same time, fragments of these images appear on the man’s shirt, which acts as a moving distorted screen. At one point he smokes a cigarette (a surprising event these days). A woman’s and a man’s voice are heard reciting lines from the ‘Partial Eclipse’ collages in the exhibition. Their words are monologues on desire prior to consummation. We also see black and white photographs of the couple in question on the paravents and the decorated panels that lean against the wall. A dreamlike atmosphere pervades the scene, and we are left uncertain as to whether or not the piece is recounting an affair between two people or one person’s fantasy of a possible affair. Moreover the man and woman don’t appear sufficiently differentiated; perhaps they refer to male and female aspects of the same individual. In Proust too there is often the same sense of desire infinitely suspended, postponed or sublimated, as the first person narrator recalls his difficulties finding true fulfilment of the self through relations with others (a quest he’d abandoned prior to beginning writing the monumental In Search of Lost Time). In Chaimowicz’s work desire can be found amongst the thickets of ornamentation. Stencilled patterns, like creeping ivy, leave their mark on all manner of objects. The Modernist architect, Adolf Loos, notoriously declared ornament a crime in the early 20th century. There’s the sense in Chaimowicz’s work that he enacts crimes that ornamentation might engender: his work’s etiquette may be immaculate, but it harbours unspoken and ambiguous desires.

Has the Film Already Started?’ continues until 26 February, 2012 at Tate Britain. ‘Jean Genet… The Courtesy of Objects’ at Nottingham Contemporary continues until 2 October 2011.

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