You are finally awake, traveler.Good, we need your help. There is a place, not that far, whereit is said we can find a magical artifact. Can you go there andget it for us ?But watch out, it’s tricky around here. You might lose yourlandmarks. Time seems upside down and objects are not whatthey seem to be. Some say they might be kind of alive. Are theyaliens, shapeshifters or petrified living beings ? Who knows…Be careful, explore those lands and bring us back magic !Go and seek, we believe in you.
Post-industrial atmosphere. You pass a large gray door and cross a screened corridor. At the end, a metal staircase. You take it, and as you climb the steps surrounded by tarpaulin, you feel the soul of Amanda Ripley, wandering in the Sébastopol station in search of a black box
1 Amanda Ripley is the heroine of the survival horror video game Alien Isolation, released in 2014 as a follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien. Amanda searches for traces of his mother on a damaged orbital station whose communications have been cut, while being hunted by the mythical Alien.
. A little worried, you watch what you assist at the top of these steps, and as you go up, you see a massive shape, gray and red, towering above you. You enter “Prospective Paresseuse”, exhibition by Cédric Esturillo at Ateliers Vortex.
You look around, looking for clues. The era of the objects around you is mysterious, the atmosphere is heavy. It’s red and gray, the light is covered. Both mineral and organic forms emerge from the earth. You always do facing the sculpture that welcomed you, Tombeau , a sort of altar-counter-fireplace seemingly made of stone, adorned with a bas-relief made of severed hands, freshly bleeding. Tortured fingers and ridges emerge squarely from the counter, growing beneath its surface – is it her unfortunate fate that erected this monument, or a keep ? – Peaks overhang you, circling the chimney of this strange monument. You approach anyway, discover that the stone is nothing other than painted wood and a strange ceramic placed on the counter …. proofs as much that troubles for the temporal quest that you lead here. Are you facing the remains of a lost civilization? Nothing is no less certain.
As you browse the exhibition, you will realize that Tombeau set the tone. The surrounding space seems organize with a common motive. Forms and objects respond to each other, their provenance and their dating are ambiguous. Exits from the earth or from elsewhere with their soil, Cédric Esturillo’s sculptures mix and quote aesthetics distinctly recognizable – Gallo-Roman furniture, industrial architecture, medieval fantasy or dark science fiction – to nevertheless confuse our minds. What, when, are these sculptures witnesses?
Everything seems almost in ruins, frozen in the stiffness of the MDF and the layer of stone-effect paint. Except that it seems move, that the red flesh of the stained wood begins to emerge from its petrification, like the interlacing of Offrande’s hands. Under the stone, an almost Cronenbergian raw flesh, mutates the rubble. That said, this same hand, barely out, finds receptacle of chains and agglomerates of shells. The transition then seems permanent, stone becoming flesh becoming reliquary. By dint of confusion, we understand that in «Prospective Paresseuse», time is well a central datum, as much as that of fiction.
The question of when is then coupled with a quest for the secrets contained in the objects. Disseminated in the exhibition, themselves placed on other works, ceramics resembling gothic alien parasites contain vials of physiological serum, which has become a precious liquid encapsulated in its case. A liquid that can be easily purchased today then becomes a magic vial. So when did it become such a rare commodity that it is priceless relic? Then emerges the scenario of a post-apocalyptic future, where water, even salted, can only be found in vials, where pollution, smoke and why not stellar storms leave our eyes no respite.
Something has happened that looks more like wear and tear than an explosion. Evidenced by the shreds of tarpaulin hanging from the deformed bars of grids that we believe we have already seen at the entrance to the site. In this future, more or less close but definitely retro, nineties inexpensive jewelry takes on spirituality. We throw a coin in the Billie’s receptacle – ceramic font that looks like an aquatic deity – and we sincerely hope that the future will not be not too dark, the environment too hostile to life. Traces of it remain, housing is possible. There is still someone in the ship: a table awaits us.
The bloody table is not very reassuring, however, under its appearance of mutant furniture. Its coral base and its placenta-plateau give the impression that it is ready to swallow whatever is there. Above, an ashtray and glasses in metal however let us think that one could settle there, or that someone has just left the place. With a rudimentary design, seeming to have been made in car parts, these everyday objects suggest a future more patchwork than high-tech and flashy. Could it be that the glasses contain «Spice», a substanceas rare as precious from Arrakis?
2 «The Spice» is a mysterious substance that increases the capacities of body and mind, coming from the planet Arrakis, or Dune, in the novel eponymous science fiction film by Franck Herbert. The first novel in this cycle was published in 1965, and a new film adaptation is coming out this month in theaters.
The ashtray is now an anachronism in a public place. But whatever, let’s make ourselves comfortable in a post-apocalyptic eighties future. The circle would come full circle, we would retrace our steps in the Sébastopol base, with its smart cards and corded telephones. The prospecting will have been short, since it will have taken us back in time. However, it seems somewhat risky to revel in the hindsight – the creature still roams the hallways.
At the heart of this dark retrofuturist atmosphere, Cédric Esturillo gives us precisely to reflect on the idea that we make ourselves of the future and on the representations of which this projection is molded. Its ruins and relics are themselves representations, as dark as pop, and hybridize visual codes spanning several centuries. More than the future, we we find in the scenery that science fiction and fantasy imagined for it decades ago. It’s dystopian, but nothing is collapsing, except perhaps our hold on reality and the present time. So here we are stuck in a reconstruction of futures that have not happened, a pop cemetery. This is where prospecting would arise from a certain laziness, that the elusive and oxymoronic title takes on its full meaning. The propensity to imagine the future is found, like this flesh imbricated in stone, confined to recycling the past as a style that would evoke, in fact, retrofuturism. Are we witnessing the “slow cancellation of the future” formulated by the philosopher Mark Fisher?
3 Fisher speaks of «slow cancellation of the future» about audiovisual productions that he defines as «hantological», that is to say contemporary but employing elements and / or techniques of the past for a stylistic purpose. These forms, according to him, would only promise reiteration and repermutation (see Mark Fisher, Ghosts of my life, Writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures, Zero Books, 2014).
Haunted by the past, soaked in “formal nostalgia”
4 A term borrowed from Fredric Jameson, «formal nostalgia» is not a nostalgia aimed at a bygone era. Without historical meaning, it would rather attach itself to aesthetic formulas of the past, not be creative.
, the future would come full circle, losing its substance with each revolution. Indolently, we would then agree to let ourselves sink into the recognizable, even if it were dark and inhospitable.
Between various and distant dark ages
5 The term «dark ages», or «dark ages», to designate a fatal period in the history of a people or a country. It has often been employed to mention the Middle Ages, a vision that is nevertheless increasingly questioned by historians.
, and the dragon star pendant of the nineties, one could almost believe it. Except that something is stuck, there is a grain of sand in these nostalgic cogs. We prick ourselves on a dry thistle and we wake up. We said it, we are in a setting, a fiction, which fully assumes its facticity like painting pierre asserts his trompe-l’oeil. But far from offering us a purely dystopian fiction or even an observation of a world adrift, Cédric Esturillo opens a breach for us, so as not to sink into a torpor that is certainly reassuring, but deadly. In the future of «Prospective Paresseuse», things are still moving. The body is neither augmented by
technology, or by an extraterrestrial substance, but it keeps things together. Better, he comes out, alive and swarming of life. Here we find a form of spirituality, a link between living and inert matter, which reliquary ceramics do not will not contradict. And if the sculptures may seem like tombs, they have already become the base of other stories, welcoming other sculptures or becoming furniture.
In the exhibition, forms, objects and materials are more than changing, in transition. The snake that gave up its moult in Shai-Hulud can then be read as a sign, that of a perpetual transformation. The magic we were summoned to to seek in the introduction may not reside in an artefact, and its quest may be in vain. Nevertheless, the possibilities remain open to get out of our torpor, and it is perhaps this idea of movement, of reversal of things we need to keep looking for.
Carin Klonowski, september 2021