“To be natural is such a difficult pose to keep up” O. Wilde, An Ideal Husband.
David Renggli’s pieces could be understood as by-products of a cultural misunderstanding. Clashes between valid and adulterated archetypes, they play on conflicts between “primary” sensory perception and the impulse to categorise into an aesthetic and symbolic order. Interweaving orthodox references to modernism, classical statuary, industrial and decorative design, as well as local folklore and the world of ethnographic museums, Renggli’s pieces draw attention to how objects gain and gradually lose meaning. And this in accordance with an acculturating context, of which they intensify the element of contingency and put norms out of balance through a double bind principle. “For how much you believe in something that you don’t believe in ?”.
At first sight, these series of sculptures and paintings would seem to assert a conventional unity and stability, but this is in order better express the confusion that links the artist and his model. The Floorplan Desire Paintings, acrylic paintings and silkscreen prints on wood, made through a method involving the superimposition of coloured layers question the tradition and authority of abstract painting (from hard-edge to modernist primitivism), which were long ago absorbed by the decorative principles of interior design. Never lapsing into parody, these paintings imply several perceptional engagement levels, several degrees of illusion and composition that validate them on a strictly pictorial level. Here, a grid made of hessian canvas becomes an autonomous structural motif while asserting itself as an illusionist tool, misleading us into thinking that the painting can be perceived as an expansion of the weft of the flax canvas. This resolutely “haptic” movement of penetration and withdrawal of belief in the form, in the wake of Duchamp’s erotic of perspective, is one of the work’s active principles. This is what gives it its poetic character, contradicting the scepticism that emanates from it, the “misunderstanding” becoming a way to thwart insinuation. The artist’s experiments with metallic solder generated a new repertoire of abstract sculptures. The “Fake Bronze” works, exhibited on plinths, consist in a paradoxical hybridisation between the vocabulary of the mask or primitive totem (and its revival in the modern bronze tradition) and the spirit of an amateur walder. Like most of his sculptures covered with a layer of car-body paint, they operate through the tension between traces of laborious manual work and an almost industrial finish, in order to complicate understanding of the artist commitment expressed by these works.
The gestural heroism repeatedly subverted in his work on “lyrical” abstraction is followed by the “performance” of a sabre cut, a mixture of the folklore of chainsaw wood sculpture competitions and the refined tradition of Japanese culture that influences so many modern “masters”. Through their title, the American Gigolos two-colour sculptures made of resin blocks with “low definition” contours refer to the tradition of the nude, in its campiest sense. They play on the analogy with figure/plinth arrangements from classical sculpture, reducing the language of the figure to a minimum. Perceived as a whole or an object, they undergo multiple metamorphoses in order to imply various utilitarian registers (here a telephone, a pacifier, a rubber stamp?) or obscene derivations from a sexual subtext. By presenting them as ironic variations on the theme of demiurgic creation (“sculpting from a block”) and originality, Renggli brings into coexistence the mark of an innocent, pure, spontaneity and that of a “moment” which is always manufactured, falsified, and therefore culturally meaningful. Any internal value is thereby refuted, the works having been conceived as envelopes whose consistence stems from the superimposition of a series of ceaselessly renewed “first impressions”, limiting perception of the work to a sum of ephemeral bursts of intensity, of déjà-vu. Pushing the notion of “artistic” vagueness to the point of a methodical absurdity, it is ultimately the foundations of our perceptual system, governed as it is by the cultural paradigm of surface and appearance, that the works both mime and destabilise. Confronted up close and from a far by an image of distance, we are experimenting here with a kind of phenomenology of superficiality.
Text by Clara Guislain
All images © Grégory Copitet / Courtesy of the artist and Valentin, Paris.
Real Estate Astrology, une exposition
personnelle de David Renggli
March 18 to May 7, 2016
9rue Saint Gilles