Submission
Than Hussein Clark, Luigi Serafini

A Little Night Music (And Reversals) / Sur terre et sur mer avec le Codex Seraphinianus

Reverse Universe offers the chance to cross two singular worlds of imagination, those of Luigi Serafini (born in Rome in 1949, lives and works in Rome and Milan) and Than Hussein Clark (born in 1981 in Exeter, New Hampshire, lives and works in London). Curated by Marie de Brugerolle, the exhibition Reverse Universe consists of two distinct journeys mixing sculptures, paintings, videos, photography, poetry and sound works, produced for the occasion or shown for the first time in an exhibition. For Marie de Brugerolle, what is at play is the question of the hybridisation of bodies and forms, as well as the crossing of boundaries, their transgression, whether they be physical, geographical, linguistic or cultural. Although state boundaries are being reinforced under the pressure of an unprecedented health crisis among other things, the virus eludes them, undermining our presuppositions about the notion of boundaries, about what separates or connects bodies.


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installation view, 'A Little Night Music (And Reversals)', Than Hussein Clark
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installation view, 'A Little Night Music (And Reversals)', Than Hussein Clark
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installation view, 'Sur terre et sur mer avec le Codex Seraphinianus', Luigi Serafini
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installation view, 'Sur terre et sur mer avec le Codex Seraphinianus', Luigi Serafini
https://vimeo.com/467751933

As an artist, designer, scenographer, writer, poet and actor,
Than Hussein Clark creates work that brings theatricality
into various contexts. A graduate of the University
of Edinburgh, Goldsmiths College in London and the
University of Fine Arts of Hamburg, Than Hussein Clark
has to his credit around twenty theatrical plays and just
as many exhibitions. He endeavours to explore that which
eludes the dominant culture, whether through architecture,
the decorative arts, or theatre. He decompartmentalises genres,
canons and know-how while enlisting a variety of techniques:
rug weaving, wood sculpting, resin, metal. A screen
becomes a landscape, a window a painting, a coat a sculpture.
By intensifying styles to the point of rendering them “decadent”,
he reminds us that glamour is a deformation of the
grammar of forms. Equally active both in the theatrical field
and on exhibition sites, Than Hussein Clark shifts boundaries
and transforms the uses of objects and places.

For him, every new project is a chance to develop research
on art figures who have remained on the margins of grand
history. For the exhibition at the CRAC, he takes inspiration
from Tangier and from the cosmopolitan art scene that
injected life into that city throughout the 20th century
(William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet, Paul Bowles, Yves
Saint Laurent, or the fabulously wealthy heiress Barbara
Hutton…). The artist has produced a series of sculptures,
images, sound works, as well as a log book of a journey from
Tangier to Sète in 2019 in the company of American poet
James Loop, whose poems lend inspiration to the exhibition.
A city of arrival and departure, Tangier faces the
Mediterranean just like Sète, allowing the artist a kind of
permutation of the perspectives on both banks of the
Mediterranean.

In the exhibition, various decorative elements evoke notions
of the stage, the threshold and the boundary. Perfumes,
windows, clocks, furniture and fabrics reflect the city of Tangier
through several figures of wilful exile, both European and
American, who went to that port city throughout the 20th
century, some of them in search of the possibility of exhausting
their eccentricity, others wanting to experience the fantasies
of elsewhere, or simply have a love affair.

In the first room, visitors are welcomed by a chequered
stage, a reference to the Villa Mabrouka in Tangier, which
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought and decorated
based on the theme “an eccentric 1950s Englishman”.

On this stage, Than Hussein Clark has placed a mannequin
evocative of the rich heiress Barbara Hutton, who
moved to Tangier in the 1940s after a life of problems with
family, the media, and love, worthy of a Hollywood film.
This woman and her extraordinary destiny are represented
by a dressed-up skeleton, embodying a modern vanity no less
than an extravagant lifestyle pushed to the extreme.

The exhibition also summons the figure of Jean Genet,
who regularly sojourned in Morocco, and built a house there
for his lover and his family in Larache, south of Tangier,
where he is buried. The series of staged photographs that Than
Hussein Clark created in front of the writer’s grave, and
the re-creation of Divine, a perfume designed in 1948 and
named in reference to a drag-queen character in Genet’s first
novel Our Lady of the Flowers, echo not only the writer’s
transgressive power, and the sexual, political and intellectual
freedom that characterised him, but also his paradoxical
reverse side, full of secrecy and confinement.

For the exhibition at the CRAC, Than Hussein Clark is
producing some thirty new works, like so many perspectives
on the city of Tangiers, including a monumental installation
entitled A Year in the International Zone, consisting of 365
clocks collected in Tangier: each clock symbolises a day in the
year 1956, a time of change marking Morocco’s independence
and the end of Tangier as an “International Zone”, that
is to say a zone administered by the United States and several
European countries.

Than Hussein Clark’s creative profusion launches the
visitor into a labyrinth of references and intermingled stories
where exaggeration and a kind of extreme elegance are made
into a weapon, where being a drag queen is a political position
that makes it possible to escape gender and class norms.

Between 1976 and 1979, after studying architecture, Luigi
Serafini created the Codex Seraphinianus, a masterful work
first published in 1981 by Franco Maria Ricci and constantly
reprinted since then. A “book of all books”, this encyclopaedia
of an invented, surrealist world – heralding a hybrid
humanity in which plants, animals and objects combine –
is a worldwide bestseller. Going beyond the boundaries of the
visible and invisible, mixing illustrations with writing,
the book is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
A polymorphous creator, Luigi Serafini collaborated with
the design and architecture group Memphis, among others.
A painter, writer and friend of Fellini, for whom he created
the poster for the film La voce della Luna (1990), and
the great satrap of the College of ’Pataphysics since 2016,
Luigi Serafini is a smuggler between a certain surrealism
and Beat Generation poetry, cabinets of curiosities, Proust,
Joyce and the contemporary world of social networks. Italo
Calvino wrote a preface to the 1984 edition of the Codex,
and the cover of Calvino’s book Collection of Sand bears
Serafini’s illustration Poissoeil / Fisheye. This fisheye became
a favourite motif of young “Sarafans” worldwide, who
tattooed themselves with the image, which went viral by circulating
on bodies.

The visual alphabet of Codex Seraphinianus is being
presented for the first time in three dimensions in an exhibition
space that is moreover a French institution. Inspired by the
city of Sète, Luigi Serafini has installed a polymorphous universe
midway between the vegetable and the animal, between
the marine and earthly worlds. In three rooms Luigi Serafini
offers a crossing between worlds. His sculptures, drawings,
paintings, writing and his highly singular written forms turn
the art centre into a scale-model Codex.
The first room on the journey brings together various sea
figures, a tuna, carp and mermaid. At the centre of an esotericlooking
altar presides a half-tuna, a recurrent animal in
Seraphini’s bestiary that has the distinctive characteristic
that it splits in two when it crosses the Strait of Gibraltar,
then re-forms in the springtime so as to be able to reproduce.
The second room is dedicated to the Codex, presenting several
plates from the book, some of which are original drawings, as
well as a large-format painting entitled Genesis, which allows
us to dive into Serafini’s organic and mechanical world. The
third and final room is dedicated to the world of earth, and is
organised around a sculpture of a carrot-woman made of
painted resin, combining virtuosic realism and strange masquerade:
stretched out on a bed of earth and vegetables like
a goddess from beyond the grave, the carrot-woman is reminiscent
of the figure of Persephone / Proserpine in classical
mythology. Daughter of Demeter, mother of the earth, and
wife of Hades, god of the underworld, Persephone lives part
of the year on earth, the other part underground, making the
link between the two worlds.

In Sète, Luigi Serafini has invented a universe “for oneself
” based on a vision of its global and local organisation,
at the intersection of the micro and macro, of the vegetable,
mineral and animal. The hybrid, grafted or mutant nature
of his visual collages suggests a relationship to the world that
involves constant metamorphoses, in which knowledge is
empirical and sensory more than scientific and logical.
The Codex Seraphinianus brings into play the learned
order and the most unbridled imagination, assembling
beyond boundaries. Its encrypted alphabet offers another form
of knowledge through infinite visual wordplay. On this
subject, Serafini evokes the language of the troubadour, whose
stories were transmitted by gestures and words before being
conveyed through writing. The artist establishes a dialogue
with the subterranean and submarine memory of Sète, which
reminds him of Gaète, his Italian cousin, but also of the streets
of Rome or certain regions of Italy that, like Sète, are crossed
by the Occitan language.

On the subject of the Codex, Luigi Serafini wrote:
“It was a writing that contained the dream of many other
writings”. Between legibility and visibility, the alphabet
invented by Luigi Serafini paradoxically becomes universal
because it is illegible, thus crossing cultures and generations,
beyond boundaries.