The Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume is an national gallery of contemporary art with a focus on images and moving images. The building was originally built for real tennis courts (jeu de paume) but it was later renovated to become a museum. It has actually had a checquered past with it having been used to store Jewish cultural property that had been looted by the Nazis during the years 1940-1944. Later, after World War II, it was used to display the biggest collection of Impressionist works which later moved to the Musee d’Orsay in 1986. Currently it seems to focus a lot on moving images and contemporary media arts/installations, so it was well worth the trip down to see.
Currently one can see exhibitions and works from 3 artists at the Jeu de Paume:
– Rosa Barba, “Vu de la porte du fond”
– Eva Besnyö, “The Sensuous Image”
– Laurent Grasso, “Uraniborg”
All three shows run from 22 may to 23 september.
Rosa Barba – “Vu de la porte du fond”
Rosa Barba‘s work is sited in an interstitial space of the gallery that was not originally meant for exhibition use, and the work appears as a series of works that the visitor stumbles across as they walk around, without prior explanation. Playing with the idea of the film as a physical material and fractures in narratives; some of the works feel more like conceptual exercises involving film, such as “Coupez ici”, which is a “moving sculpture” with celluloid strips spinning and rolling within a lightbox. These “exercises” feel a little abstracted and a bit distant for me. But the most immersive work was the one where the entire cinema had been converted into a strange theatre of film. “The Hidden Conference: A Fractured Play” is one of those things you walk into and then have no idea what is going on. I sat there for three rounds of it before I determined that this was probably the way the artist wanted it to be: to make almost no sense to a casual viewer. I walked in a darkened cinema with three spots of light: a spotlight on a large, oversized loud hailer squashed ignominiously into a small cinema seat, another spotlight on a slightly abused 16mm projector hanging from the ceiling from the very celluloid rolls that was going through it in some sort of tortuous looking pulley system, and the last spotlight being the film itself that was projected on the cinema screen. The audience walked in to watch a jerky and somewhat random super8 clip that seemed to be all about broken sculptures. Sculptures with fractured heads, arms, legs, and other parts. There was no commentary, just background sounds and clipped words in the audio of the film. Suddenly, it would end and be replaced by the suspended projector turning on back into the audience. During the first viewing, the suspended projector shone a square of light over an area where a woman from the audience was sitting. I looked over. She looked at me. We looked at the screen. We looked all around. Nothing happened. Eventually, the film started up again! And this repeated. Alright… (This is like that parody of a french film where a beautiful girl skates backwards in a room full of strange people and then they stop the take and discover that a bunch of chickens in the backroom are the ones writing the script)
Eva Besnyö – “The Sensuous Image”
Eva Besnyö‘s show is a retrospective of her long career as a architectural photographer, also as the new breed of female photographers in that period who were able to make a living from it and also shoot many images on the street. Most works are sans titres and they provide some glimpses of what Europe was like through the years. For me, it was basically the images of a woman who lived in Europe during those years. It was interesting enough but to be honest it did not move me very much beyond seeing a picture of Europe in those years.
Laurent Grasso – “Uraniborg”
Laurent Grasso – Uraniborg
Laurent Grasso‘s work is in my opinion, the star exhibit at the Jeu de Paume. An excellently curated exhibition of his film works which are presented in a manner that I have never seen before.
The spaces that have been built to show his works are utterly impressive. You approach a dark gallery, and there is an image in the wall, but this is not just a lightbox or a projection. It is built in a way that it feels like an impossible window into another dimension. This is achieved by cutting a hole into the wall and having the projection some distance away so that one feels like one is looking into a window into another space when looking straight at the projection. Due to the ingenious method of construction, it induces a sense of “vertigo” from the “forced perspective” effect, as one can walk around it and find that the image “floats”. This has to be seen to be believed.
Les Oiseaux (2008)
This to me seems to be a poetic observation that the flocks of starlings over the Vatican appear like a mysterious moving smear in the sky due to their great numbers, and to this he notes that “some civilisations interpret flights of starlings as presages”. Certainly from this we can already see his interest in looking to the skies for the signs.
On Air (2009)This is another short involving a camera strapped to a falcon that is sent into flight in areas around the United Arab Emirates. We see images of the bird’s flight, and a handler holding up a giant radar to track the bird, combining the old image of the falcon used as a surveillance tool and the modern surveillance tool of a digital camera and transmitter.
Silent Movie (2010)
For me, I sometimes feel that some film works stand almost like sculptures, and this would be one of those types of works for me. It is a film that will make no sense without description and closer examination, as it consists of many slow takes and long shots of what appears to be, on first glance, nothing other than a beautiful natural coastline. The work slowly reveals the beautiful environment of Cartegena and slowly, also the military installations hidden in the natural environment. The camera’s viewpoints apparently show the different perspectives of attacker and besieged, allowing one to see the site of Cartegena from the perspective of its role as a strategic spot for surveillance.
The film of Bomarzo recalls the story of Park of Monsters (Parco die Mostri), a curious theme park of statues that had been constructed by the slightly eccentric Count Vicino Orsini in around 1550. Consisting of various mythologically inspired sculptures of monstrous characters which are scattered across the grounds in no apparent order or manner of logic, this particular film is shot on a shaky handheld which is much unlike all of other immpeccably made, high production value film works. You will wish it was clearer because one feels like peering and craning one’s neck to get a better look, but it is all fuzzy and mysterious like the origins of these massive, monstrous sculptures which were also made famous by other artists coming to take photos with it while on holiday in the region.
Another work that looks to the skies, with its key image being the statue of the astronomer Tycho Brahe who spent 20 years of his life on Ven (an island between Denmark and Sweden) observing the stars and recording their position and movements from a castle-observatory that was named after Urania, the Muse of Astronomy – hence the name, Uraniborg. It was built in around 1576 and it is considered to have been remarkably accurate and his work is still useful till today. The stars themselves are something which are simultaneously visible all the time and also invisible to us without the required equipment. Nothing is said to remain of the actual castle that he resided in, destroyed soon by citizens after Tycho Brahe left the island. However, Tycho Brahe’s ponderous statue still stands there and still gazing up at the sky are crucial to this piece.
For more information and images on Laurent Grasso’s work and Uraniborg, please see the Jeu de Paume website here.