Dominique Figarella — Raphael Hefti
Past: June 28 → July 28, 2012
In the exercise of a praxis — or practice — we are thus dealing with materials; this is an inevitability. What I mean is that at the origin of the setting in motion of an activity there is always a material, the relation to a material.
Dominique Figarella, Conduire sans permis
For its new exhibition, Art: Concept is happy to present the work of two artists: Dominique Figarella and Raphael Hefti. Both have developed new forms of abstraction by making use of randomness and pushing materiality into its very limits. Their works are canvases as much as time-bomb-sculptures, in a material mayhem featuring failure, experimentation and rough-handedness. Both practices take positions on the theme of abstraction by forcing the spectator to look closer and transgress prohibitions, as well as sacrosanct artistic texts that aim at the pre-definition of reading-levels. Here the understanding is left at your discretion as far as substance variations, changes and mutations are concerned.
French artist born in 1966, Dominique Figarella enjoys disrupting ruling aesthetic orders, especially links founded on basic knowledge and rhetorics of substance and materials in the artistic perception of works. Perception is the right notion that comes to mind when observing Dominique Figarella’s work: The comprehension of materials and gestures is certainly linked to visual stimuli, but not its quality. The sensation varies according to the subject and the context in which he is receiving it. Awareness of subject matter, knowledge of form, and sometimes also of non-form and abstraction are notions that appeal to the subjectivity of each individual. Hence, as the artist explains it in his essay Driving without a Licence :
It is thus possible for us to deregulate (or alternatively dodge) the intimacy that this material has with the statements which usually have authority over the way it is conceived, and thus on the way it is used.
At first sight, we could be tempted to understand and feel Dominique Figarella’s canvases as purely abstract works, but the artist’s guideline is in itself apt to feed our sensations with a multiplicity of dividing lines. First he covers the canvas with a monochrome layer that he splashes with stains. These stains are random and free, only slightly controlled by the artist’s whim in a lose gesture. The artist comes to meet his painting, but then leaves. He could have stopped there, and name it Action Painting or Dripping. But Dominique Figarella, who has been compared to Diogenes by Catherine Perret in the text called Painting Straight on Reality, seems to really want to walk in the footprints of the Greek philosopher. Cynic and independent, he goes back to cover up each one of these stains with flat washes of opaque paint. Overshadowed, muffled, censored, they cease to exist and disappear behind a screen, a veil of decency cut into the same stuff that constitutes the censorship that surges to accompany the art-history of any society longing to promote its own codes. Even though exposing this censorship, Figarella seeks to sharpen our sensitivity and our visual acuity. His flat washes are round or square, and the simple geometric shapes that constitute them will lead to the appearance of formally identifiable shapes. By the interpenetration of shapes and materials, Figarella therefore invites us to question ourselves on the constitution of oeuvres and their abiding thought.
The surface of Dominique Figarella’s canvas becomes the battlefield of different points of view, both aesthetic and material, as well as the borderline between different artistic gestures, from abstraction to figurative, in a multiplicity of fields of expression.
Although a painting undoubtedly belongs to the world of objects, its functioning remains, to my eyes, that of a system, never of an object. It is this system I use, not a medium, a discipline or a craft called painting.
Dominique Figarella & Paul Sztulman, I look at the sky and I don’t know what I’m looking for, 2011
Dominique Figarella develops his complex art made of personal decisions and accidents, in which gestures and stains are staged in an abstract process aiming at the representation of the act of painting.
Born in 1978 in Switzerland, Raphael Hefti underwent training in electronics before studying art, design and photography. Knowledgeable when it comes to industrial techniques, his work is based on alterations and possible errors of mechanical processes, pushed to their paroxysm in order to turn such initial alterations into aestheticism. His interest does not reside in the relation between an object and its image, but in the inherent properties of materials.
Let’s take the example of glass. Originally glass is meant to be see-through in order allow the passage of light while at the same time protecting an inside, a content. This will of invisibility somehow turns glass into a non-object, with its final destination lacking both plastic and empirical evidence and its existence reduced “ad minima”. By adding several layers of anti-reflex coating to the surface of huge glass panels, Raphael Hefti reverses the initial transparency process and makes matter visible. Light no longer crosses the surface in a direct way; it defragments, showing all the different colors of the luminous spectrum, which are variable according to the site where the piece is on show and its degree of light-exposure.
When using metal, his proceedings are just as radical: He suddenly interrupts the coating process of steel; which causes the metal to imprint a sort of sensitive memory that turns the object into a fragile artifact, assuming a palette of colors ranging from pink to blue and including a shade of burnt brown. The photogram-series called Lycopodium equally undergoes the same ill treatment. Spores that were on the surface of the Lycopodium (broad moss) are placed on the surface of photographic paper and then burnt, shaken, exposed and finally developed to generate visions of imaginary satellite-landscapes and fancy extraterrestrial sceneries.
In a mixture of technique, randomness and accident, between alchemy and metaphysics, Raphael Hefti pushes his will to see how far substance can be modified and altered to its extreme, as he said during an interview with Alexis Vaillant :
Different materials have a different “thingness” to them — I’m exploring this (…) the art world is tolerant to that kind of experiment.
By means of technical and scientific experiences, he connects to the idea of an extinction of the object as such. During the 19th century this could have been considered a magic or esoteric practice. By changing the destination and altering the object’s function: That of its last possibility through the absurdity of its imperfection, Raphael Hefti creates pure abstraction in a precious, vaporous and infinitely poetic form.