French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (born 1965) is familiar to the public from group exhibitions in Kunsthalle Zürich. In 2002, she participated in the «No Ghost just a Shell» show in which artists created multiple personalities for Manga figure Ann Lee. In «A Room is a World» (2001), one of the works was displayed with which Gonzalez-Foerster first made a name for herself, namely one of her «chambres». These works (atmospheric room-filling installations that pay homage to figures from literature, the movie world or relate the artist’s biography), address, as do all her projects and enterprises, the relationship between individual and surroundings. Not only do they reflect the decisive influences that shape us but also the attendant recollections, projections and dreams.
© Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography
© Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography
Since the 1990s, her oeuvre has become more diverse. Alongside film projects, photographs, room installations and numerous collaborations with colleagues such as Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ange Leccia, she has also designed scenic arrangements for concerts (e.g., for the performance of chanson-singer Christophe), built a house for a collector in Tokyo, transformed the Parisian «Bonne Nouvelle» subway station into a cinematic ideal world, and even created large-scale displays for the Balenciaga stores in New York and Paris.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who was awarded the «Prix Marcel Duchamp» in 2003, and delighted visitors to the «Documenta» in Kassel in 2002 with her «Parc – plan d'évasion», a true hybrid of cultures, aesthetic codes and exotic worlds of fantasy woven into the piece of parkland, is now presenting her oeuvre in a comprehensive exhibition in the Kunsthalle Zurich. It will take the form of four large environments or room installations. It is central to Gonzalez-Foerster’s approach to use locations that are simultaneously intimate and visionary to augment both space and the way we experience it. She likewise views collaboration as an extension of own space, and has teamed up with Peter Fischli and David Weiss for this show. The two artists are not only co-curators but also collaborated on the book accompanying the exhibition, which is entitled «Alphavilles?». Over some 200 pages, it features views of cities: a compendium from Acapulco to Zurich, a subjective photo album, a fictional dream and a journey round the world.
«Alphavilles?» is closely related to a set of works Gonzalez-Foerster has produced in recent years on the topic «Tropicale Modernité». In a series of films and spatial installations she explores the diverse cultural phenomena of Modernity. Forever on the road, Gonzalez-Foerster has incorporated into her work the architectures, design, cityscapes and park landscapes in which vestiges of Modernity are to be found. The art thus forms a hybrid amalgam that reflects the transmutable, processual aspects of these manifestations, highlights their subjectivity and testifies to her interest in the “tropical” aspects that lend places potential. In the same way that she understands art as the «metabolism of the real», the experience of space and time in her works is also “metabolic”. We find ourselves in a process of constant exchange and change but also of “warming up” through individual experiences that can be experienced in the artist’s films and photographs through fictions, desires, wishes and dreams inspired by the visual worlds of mega-metropolises and landscapes. Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Acapulco, Mexico City, Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong but also Taipeh, Chandigarh and Istanbul are places Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has visited. Yet the artist’s work also references inner journeys, giving equal weight to literature (Joris-Karl Huysmans, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Marguerite Duras, Paul Bowles, Raymond Roussel and others) and film (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Tsia Ming-Liang, Takeshi Kitano, Alain Resnais, Chantal Ackerman, Abbas Kiarostami, Michelangelo Antonioni and many more), and thus creates a space-time-fiction-reality-continuum that permanently alternates between rooting and uprooting landscapes, narrations and characters, offers in-between spaces as public areas.From her early «chambres», that serve as a kind of “theater without actors” by implying the presence of persons, experiences or events, through to the more recent films in which the scenery consists of deserted cityscapes exuding abstract, atmospheric light moods in which persons are at most sketched vaguely, the noticeable absence of humans in Gonzalez-Foerster’s oeuvre functions as the actual basis of suggestive force and potentiality, a basis we can then infuse with our own fantasies. In her art we do not encounter a universe that can be understood and analyzed, but are repeatedly confronted with multiple universes comprising realities, fictions and fantasies, which create an equally multiple canvas of the world as a promise.
It is precisely such a diversity of versions that the exhibition «Multivers» presents. In four rooms the artist plays with panoramic and detailed views, with closeness and estrangement, certainty and speculation not to mention the activity of observation and the position the observer adopts during observation – a manifold field of perceptive options that as we move from room to room gives us a different vantage point. We start with «Multivers» (2004), a chaotic twisted mass of aluminum tubing that reveals the title more in the spaces between the silvery wire loops, continue with «Trous Noirs» (2004), the room as a black hole in which we discern barely visible a black shape against a black background that produces a 3D spatial effect. Next comes the room installation «Insects», in which strips of wallpaper are placed over the exotic, ornamental world that is the “white cube” of the museum to create another surface, one that is identical to the hard, patterned shells of tiny insects on the floor; then comes «Atomic Parc» (2003-4), filmed in White Sands, a section of desert in New Mexico, where the virgin white sand blends menacingly with our awareness that the area was used to detonate an atomic bomb, and is today home to a nuclear and space research agency. Finally, we come to the work «Petite» (2001), in which being observed observing – in other words our experience of exhibitions per se – is represented in the work itself: In a modernist looking room sits a girl whose perceptions are projected as a film. Since the room housing «Petite» cannot be entered, we become caught up in a never-ending interplay of interior and exterior, observation and introspection, reality and fiction.
Supported by Swiss Re
The Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Swiss Re, AFAA Association Française d’Action Artistique, Avec le soutien de l’Ambassade de France en Suisse