An Enlightened Gothic Mix-up at Le Plateau

Prisonniers du soleil (“Prisoners of the Sun”) is the second part of the Erudition Concrète programme at Le Plateau, and is a adventure through time, space and innovative curating.

In two parts, the exhibition leads us from quirky 19th century bourgeoise interior, through what looks like a door from Bilbo Baggins’ Shire, into the dark mystery land of the Corey McCorkle’s take on the Désert de Retz.

The Désert de Retz is not, as the name would imply, a desert but an anglo-chinois landscaped garden, complete with follies and architectural fantasies, designed by aristocrat François Racine de Monville in the 18th century. The largest structure, “la colonne détruite”, is the base of an oversized ruined antique column. This flippant disregard for scale lends the garden a fanciful atmosphere and is one of the focal points of McCorkle’s film.

Entitled Zootrope, the film installation was commissioned especially for the Plateau. It consists of a series of projections in which stationary cameras capture different views of the Désert de Retz and the interior of “la colonne détruite”. Beyond these projections a short film follows a solitary figure, who is supposed to be de Monville, through different seasons and into secret corners of the garden. According to the accompanying information, de Monville was in equal measures libertine and philosophically enlightened, an 18th century dandy enjoying everything the pre-revolutionary decadence of the aristocracy had to offer.

It is the stuff of fantastical 19th century fiction. Designed according to philosophical principles, it is also gothic and luxurious, mysterious and decadent – an ambiance captured in McCorkle’s films.

The bizarre melange in the first part of the show (the “Antichambre”), makes more sense in the light of McCorkle’s film. The theme is not fully apparent but the flamboyant mixture of painting, landscape architectural experiments, sculpture made of crystals, cabinets de curiosité and parlour games come together in an enlighted yet whimsical show.

A free newspaper that accompanies the show (only available in French as far as I could tell) provides information on the artists in the show and some academic underpinnings to the themes. The beauty of the show is the way it illudes definition and floats somewhere in the gap between fantasy and reality. As the curator, Guillaume Désanges writes:

“Obviously all of this is too complicated to make up a strict thematic to Prisoners of the Sun. It is more about the atmosphere that inspired it. The exhibition is deliberately undefined, evasive, even illegible in parts, as the choice of works is based on intuition and effect rather than on discourse and demonstration.”

Et voilà. The ensemble reflects the contradictions inherent to the rise of Modernity, with its mixture of rational thought and esoteric sensibilities. But lets not try to define it.

Pablo Bronstein, Horological Promenade, 2008

Félicien Rops, Pornokratès, 1896

Window of “la colonne détruit” in Désert de Retz

Prisoners of the Sun is ONLY ON UNTIL 09/05/10on at Le Plateau, so hurry on down! Free entry

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