As I found myself in Paris during the European Elections (that was actually unpremeditated), I decided that visiting the exhibition “Jeunes Artistes en Europe. Les Métamorphoses” at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain was a suitable way to embrace the European spirit.
The exhibition gathers artists from my generation (qualifying as millennials, I suppose), born between 1980 and 1994. Other than being young, the main thing they have in common is coming from all over Europe, from Estonia to Greece and from Portugal to Georgia. Grouping together artists based on their geographical provenance is perhaps a simplistic curatorial approach, but surprisingly effective. It prompts one to reflect on the manifold identity of Europe, but also on the common strands that tie us together – especially in the current political situation.
There is a strong sense of dynamism in the works displayed, a product of the tangible mobility enjoyed by our generation. Notably, most of the artists have studied or live in a country other than where they were born, and this multiculturalism exudes from their artworks. What emerges is hybridisation, juxtaposition of contrasting materials and concepts, poli-mediality. Drawing from a plurality of sources, the artists show an keen interest in making a point: diversity creates richness.
In Hendrickje Schimmel’s artistic practice, called Tenant of Culture, second-hand clothes and accessories are combined into patchwork sculptures, reflecting on our society’s overproduction and waste. Meanwhile, Kostas Lambridis takes a more overtly aesthetic stance, by blending sophisticated Florentine interior design from the 18th century with Robert Rauschenberg’s seemingly haphazard Elemental Pantings. The outcome is a conceptual tessellation of interior décor, featuring wood, glass, 3D printing, plastic, concrete), as in The Elemental Cabinet (2017). In her assembled columns Achronies, Marion Verboom also draws from archaeology, geology, and human objects, showing how millennial culture is all about being “multi.”
Kostas Lambridis, ‘The Elemental Cabinet’ (2017)
The show is conceived as a three-movement display, like a symphony. Again, the approach could be seen as quite basic, but is actually to the point. Firstly, there’s a room about shared space and architecture. Then we focus on the human figure and private space (in a pretty wide sense). And finally, almost like a small appendix, a third room explores our dialogue with the nonhuman world, in particular the animal realm.
Interestingly, I expected the richest section to be the second, seeing how much art these days derives from personal, intimate experiences. I was actually most impressed with the works reflecting on architecture and space, which I felt had really something to say about our “European” identity. I thought that something could have been said about how human beings interact with the über human, the spiritual and the supernatural. But then again, it is probably significant that this was left out, as not an priority in young generations’ artistic practice.
I spent several minutes in front of Alexandros Vasmoulakis’s large canvases, which explore the idea of pareidolia (love a bit of Ancient Greek). Pareidolia is the phenomenon of perceiving recognisable forms in what might look like purely abstract compositions. With a somewhat Freudian flavour, his canvases invite the viewers’ eyes to wander, ponder, linger, until they find whatever we are supposed to find in the artworks. This is not dissimilar Friedrich Schlegel’s approach to the ancient world, when he claims: “We have always managed to find in the Ancients what each of us needed or desired.” Indeed, one of the main features of the world we live in, made of fake news and omnipresent relativism, is the ability each of us has to bring their own perspective, their own view to the bigger picture.
Alexandros Vasmoulakis, ‘Untitled’ (2019)
Among the works, I was pleased to spot Kris Lemsalu’s art, which I saw a few weeks ago in the Estonian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. While in Venice I had the impression her works were excessive, tacky and frankly grotesque, here they had a special ring, speaking in a deeper, more philosophical way. Gently Down The Stream (2017) for instance is a boat sailing through some blue balloons; the sculpture is made even more delicate by two porcelain feet coming out from either side, which add a touch of lightness to the piece.
Meanwhile, in the Ore Streams project Formafantasma (i.e. Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin) make art by up-cycling electronic objects such as keyboards, cell-phone cases and microwave grids, turning them into shiny office furniture. Far from having the aesthetics of what we’d normally associate with recycled devices, their pieces are sleek, elegant and polished. In addition, behind their practice lies extensive research, as they apply the same rationale that tech giants use when producing their goods. The idea of having a highly efficient production chain to make environmentally friendly objects is refreshing and, one would hope, not too far from becoming standard practice.
Also about contrasts are Raphaela Vogel’s installations in the last room. We are presented two huge white silhouettes, surrounded by an aura of fragility and precariousness. Learning that they are actually cast from two bronze lions by a 19th century German artist, they take up a sense of physical strength and action. Indeed, “the work explore the opposing dynamics of force and fragility, dependency and independence.” The power of the two wild beasts is here downgraded one level and deprived of its original impact. There is emptiness and fullness, solidity and absence, enhanced by a recording of the artist herself singing “Hurra, wir leben noch” (“We are still alive”).
Raphaela Vogel, ‘In festen Händen III’ (2018)