‘Grand Magasin’ @ French Riviera reviewed

, 6 December 2013

An exhibition and shop, in an art gallery and shopfront, French Riviera draws its title from its own Gallic origins to convey the ‘department store’ concept of Grand Magasin. It playfully examines, not just the links between art and commerce but the shaky tenets on which these apparent distinctions exist. Exploring and ultimately deconstructing these divisions, or ‘departments’, across “artists” and “non-artists”, artworks and objects, curator Nat Breitenstein presents work by 50-plus contributors in the tiny Bethnal Green space. It’s one you could hardly fit in to at its opening, being packed with people and objects; a mass of ‘things’ bundled on tables, shelves and walls. Artists and gallery owners Samuel Levack & Jennifer Lewandowski’s light blue ‘One Minute Disco’ caps are occasionally knocked off their hooks, while Harry Burden’s glazed ceramic pun of ‘Potential Accidents’ (Banana Skins 2013) are scattered around the floor and as precarious as the notion of permanence at an event described by its own press release as a “fluid process that develops, changes and grows as it goes along”.

Commodified and re-contextualised, with no information beyond a price tag, you might then miss concepts drawing from Virilio’s “integral accident” in Burden’s practice, or Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto in Leslie Kulesh‘s framed print,As long as you love me’. Red-nailed fingers suspend a tablet featuring a hyper-realised Dakota Rose and remediating the “multiplicities of being defined” originally illustrated in the 2012 video ‘As Long As You Love Me: A love letter from Dakota to Donna’: “if you want to see me. Leslie. Just go online”.

Perspective and its reproduction is explored in Yuri Pattison’s reformatting of a reformatted format (about formats), in ‘Ways of Seeing PDF’. Here he reproduces his online PDF ‘ways of seeing WAYS OF SEEING’ in physical book form. Online, photocopies and scans, zoom in and re-present the original 1972 publication across windows and scroll bars, while sections of pages are outlined and underlined, drawing attention to passages like, “men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. It’s a self-perpetuating loop of focus on established cultural norms that the John Berger-presented BBC series the book is based on, purports to challenge (“a large part of seeing is based on habit and convention”). But, in drawing attention to the ways in which technologies mediate these established habits, they only propagate them further. As technologies evolve, whether through photography or .pdf, these old formats and ideas persist, not only as the digital or a broadcast medium reapplied to the book form but in the question of what it is you’re paying for when you buy it: is it the information or the card it’s printed on?

Framing, perspective and the lexical shifts that come with it emerge on the silk surface of Fabienne Hess’s Unknown Face Fragments prints series. Here, artworks and familiar popular cultural portraits are fractured almost but not quite beyond recognition. Because archetypes persist and that’s mirrored by the protruding eyes of Levack and Lewandowski’s totemic Jesmonite and plaster ‘Pilgrim Shells’. The mystical connotations of their titles echo the primal impulse that Kulesh identifies as being behind the “cyborg stand in” of a social media avatar in the ‘As Long As You Love Me’ print, hung among them. Will Cruickshank’s ‘Logs for Sale’ wood-cut print not only identifies the advertisement as the actual point of value in goods exchange, but mirrors the model of ‘artificial scarcity’ by making it available as one of only 14 editions –a sales model shared by art galleries and the Disney Vault alike.

'Grand Magasin' @ French Riviera. Image courtesy of the gallery.
‘Grand Magasin’ @ French Riviera. Image courtesy of the gallery.

The consumables at Grand Magasin aren’t limited to products though. There are edibles from Kitty TraversCandied Citrus Fruit’ and services from Daniel Kelly’s DKUK pop up salon, coming on Saturday December 7. Another Kelly work, ‘Tunisia riots see 3, set to fly home’ reflects the distance, degradation and disconnection with the realities of a country from the voyeur’s perspective, virtual or otherwise. It’s an account of tourists being evacuated during civil unrest in the country through a browser view of a Daily Mirror headline partly obscured by a Google image of a burning resort, courtesy of Getty Images.

While the Grand Magasin press release speaks not of the “difference but rather of divergence” of its unquantifiable conceptual and material elements, what’s more interesting is where they converge. Didactic panels give way to sales tags, the information limited to the name of its creator and a price arbitrarily applied by any number of nebulous considerations. Here, the distinction between artist and artwork, person and product collapses; context vanishes, and all that’s left is some things you can pay for. **

Grand Magasin is running at French Riviera from November 30 to December 15, 2013.