20 June till 31 July 2012
Review by Suzanne Rietdijk
translation: Jenny Wilson
Sometimes the everyday is instantaneously far from normal. The banal transcends its unappealing quality and normal things reveal themselves as material for something extraordinary. The presentation of the working period of David Stamp (UK) and Grégory Cuquel (FR) at Kunsthuis SYB is full of references to the everyday and often also to the low-brow. Handbags and cigarettes are measured according to the golden ratio, whilst crop circles, due to their geometric graphic pattern, instantly appear to be far more rational than their mystical origins may allude. The normal transforms into something miraculous, making it clear that nothing can be interpreted in one particular way.
Stamp and Cuquel have dedicated their working period at Kunsthuis SYB to an experimental collaboration. After several exhibitions together, at SYB for the first time, a dialogue will be created between these two artists, who are at opposite ends of the spectrum,aesthetically as well as methodologically. Stamp works from a clear notion and systematically comes to an end result, whereas Cuquel’s work is the outcome of an intuitive process in which form only becomes clear through making. This contrast is also evident within the presentation, ‘Riding the Cosmotractor’, which Stamp and Cuquel are showing at SYB. Luckily, it appears that it is precisely this inherent conflict that delivers an unexpected, pleasant result.
‘Riding the Cosmotractor’ starts with a jeans-filled bag of ‘Patatje Joppie’ crisps. The bag is stashed away at the bottom of the stairs and looks like a piece of rubbish the artists forgot to tidy up in their haste. However, a little further into the exhibition it becomes clear that this bag is not a remnant of a cosy night in watching the telly. Hanging in a sculptural installation painted with pastel tints are high-gloss, fake leather handbags, a dozen cigarettes, energy drinks and other kitschy accessories. The nonchalantly placed attributes form a clear reference to contemporary teenage culture, where the bag of crisps is no stranger. This raw installation of Cuquel, titled ‘Le Nombre d’or expliqué à ma fille’ (‘The golden ratio explained to my daughter’), brings paradoxical connections into play between the low-brow subculture of the contemporary teenager and the art historical sublime. The banal objects are the ultimate formalisation of a target group and offer an aesthetic framework in which a certain beauty, as well as an aversion, is evoked.
The work of Stamp, located at the back of Kunsthuis SYB, is totally different. Dominating the scene is an attractive form of geometry and minimalism. For instance, Stamp has applied a black and white graphic pattern of crop circles onto a slanting erected wall. The controlled tight areas of this pattern form a large contrast to the sketchiness of Cuquel’s sculptural works. Here, the adolescence and coarseness are offered a counterbalance through the serial handling of decorative forms emphasising the flat surface. However, the work of Stamp is not as flat as it seems. Fascinated by the social relationships surrounding crop circles, this phenomenon is also explored in depth. Stamp works with the notion that besides the people labelling these mystical appearances as extraterrestrial, there was also a group who allowed themselves to be influenced by these believers and imitated the patterns in the corn fields. The complex forms they created stemmed from the believers’world of ideas, whereby a mutual relationship arose between these different groups of people. Those involved fulfilled alternate roles of both devotee and creator. Stamp draws upon the same tension between devotion and radicalisation in his installation. By reproducing the patterns serially and man-sized, he plays with the contradiction of the rational geometric on the one hand and the irrational grotesque on the other.
The experimental collaboration between Stamp and Cuquel is brought to a climax in their collaborative work. Here, both artists have suspended their methodology to come to a result that ultimately appears to be a very natural one. Right in the middle of Stamp’s works lies a cracked screen displaying a colourful image; the result of its intentional malfunction. On top of it is the alleged instigator of the crack: a rough, solid form of dried clay. Despite the clear duel between the raw clay and the sleek flatscreen television, it seems that the explicit stylistic differences between Cuquel and Stamp are missing here, and it is tricky to differentiate the individual input of the two.
Stamp and Cuquel have put their usual methodology to the test during their working period at SYB. As such, their experimental presentation at SYB offers an uninhibited and intuitive content allowing the individual works to aesthetically reinforce each other. ‘Riding the Cosmotractor’ offers a receptive and renewed outlook on the everyday. In Stamp and Cuquel’s presentation, objects dismissed by the general public are given centre stage within an entirety that seeks out the border areas between the carnavalesque and the aesthetic. Existing cases from subcultures deemed to be inferior are particularised by making use of their very essence: the reproduction. After all, it is through the continuous repetition of social relationships and visual symbolism that subcultures are able to establish their own existence. The aesthetic conventions that are applied here, form the breeding ground from which Stamp and Cuquel create their work. They appropriate the objects as readymades, objects which are replaced and described anew through their reproduction. Humour and the abject are not shied away from, as they are precisely the extremes that form these borders, and as such the identity of the subculture.
Crop circles are therefore the same as energy drinks; symbols, which formalise the identity of the group and summon a certain degree of devotion. In ‘Riding the Cosmotractor’ it is these banal identity forming symbols that gain an aesthetically pleasing form through their renewed composition. Luckily, they are not entirely separated from their low-brow origins. The tension that arises through this brings the presentation into an informal state, where meanings are not extracted but laid bare. The object is analysed anew and revalued. The formal qualities of sometimes unsightly objects transcend themselves and form an attractive candour, which sketches the possibility that every daily piece of rubbish can elevate itself towards a golden ratio.