David de Tscharner — Fantasmagorie


Mixed media

David de Tscharner

Past: May 14 → June 4, 2016

Could reality come into direct contact with sense and consciousness, could we enter into immediate communion with things and with ourselves, probably art would be useless, or rather we should all be artists, for then our soul would continually vibrate in perfect accord with nature. 



In his book Laughter, within a sociological examination of the conditions of laughter, Bergson includes a few pages on ‘the object of art’. There he writes: ‘In short, we do not see the actual things themselves; in most cases we confine ourselves to reading the labels affixed to them.’1 In this excerpt we can find both the realisation of a loss of our immediate relationship to things, and an invitation to gaze anew, with a sense of wonderment, piercing through bare existence and enhancing our perception of life.

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David de Tscharner, Fantasmagorie, 2016 Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Escougnou-Cetraro, Paris

Swiss artist David de Tscharner has retained his sense of wonderment far beyond the golden age of childhood. As a poet, he makes rapture one of the tenets of his trek through the world. As an artist, he turns his encounter with everyday objects into a training ground where the powers of the imagination are brought into play. The installation Fantasmagorie, on show for the first time at the FRAC Pays de la Loire, is a case in point. The familiar objects to be found in the work are the mark of the sense of wonderment of the artist who created it. With his mini-sculptures, fashioned from objects found within the exhibition site and its surroundings, David de Tscharner uses the method of the magic lantern to display their vibrant images, singular reflections of manipulated reality, projected onto the venue’s wall.

The magic lantern reappeared in the 17th century at the initiative of Athanasius Kircher and Christiaan Huygens. The technique made it possible to project, through a lens, painted images on glass plates using the light of a candle or an oil lamp. Regarded as the forerunner of the slide projector and videogram, it then gave rise to ‘phantasmagoria’, a form of popular theatre that used this optical system for projecting frightening images such as skeletons, ghosts or demons. Méliès, Walt Disney, Ingmar Bergman and Marcel Proust are among the many artists who referred to the magic lantern in their creations. Yet as we pry our way into the installation of the young Swiss artist, we think first and foremost of the paintings on glass that make up Laterna Magica, a major work by Sigmar Polke that took shape at the height of his investigations into the use of translucent materials in painting.

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David de Tscharner, Fantasmagorie, 2016 Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Escougnou-Cetraro, Paris

By rehabilitating an outdated, or even obsolete process, and using very few resources (some fragments of things and very simple manipulation of distance and light), David de Tscharner creates his own version of a bachelor machine.2 He propels us into a fantastic universe of dreamlike dimensions in which the images revealed have both the depth and vibrancy of a fresco, and the charm of a bygone age of kaleidoscopes. As intangible as shadow puppets, these three-dimensional projections produce a strange sensory experience that also seems to revisit certain codes of abstract painting through manipulation of mind and optics, as if we were asked to imagine a dialogue with Wassily Kadinsky’s series of Compositions.

Still with the same period, we might equally see Fantasmagorie as one element in the staging of Raymond Roussel’s novel Impressions of Africa, at the Théâtre Antoine in 1911, just as we would have no trouble in imaging its creator as one of the circus performers and scientists who populate the literary space of one of the major peculiarities of French literature. Like primitive mechanical devices that create pictorial (painting machine) and audible (music makers) works, the combination of physical and optical forces harnessed by De Tscharner functions as a device for making objects. Operating as ‘parasculptures’,(3) in that they go beyond basic sculptural codes, these strange projections no longer appear to sustain a direct relationship with the controlled intent of their creator. Enclosed within boxes (the famous lanterns), invisible to the viewer, the original sculptures are — like the artist’s brain (which they embody, dare we say) — the original material of the work in progress, encompassing a fair amount of the unconscious and incalculable in this manipulation at the image’s source.

With Fantasmagorie, David de Tscharner uses the magic lantern as the crystallization of his artistic approach: the boxes containing the sculptures do not create the images but merely reveal them with reality as starting point; without them the images would remain invisible. At the heart of this experiment, the unveiling of an object is part of the desire and concern to restore enchantment to the world.

Transcending the immobility of a commonplace object or trying to get us to perceive its numinous aspect (sense of the sacred) — such experiences probably make up the artist’s true quest. A chance encounter with the object, for the lucky one who experiences this, is some kind of magic. Mystery surrounds encounters, as was the case with the Surrealists. Mystery needs to be able to emerge for the encounter to be accompanied by reciprocity and dialogue, opening up an acceptance of disorder, a certain form of alchemical transformation. One Sculpture a Day (2011-2012), to cite another work, stands as proof that David de Tscharner fully embraces this obsession. Every day for one year he made the abandoned or rejected objects he came across into mysterious beings. Like the ‘exquisite corpse’ technique of the Surrealists, the sculptures are grouped together and set on shelves made of recycled wood, conjuring up the storage reserves of a marvellous museum of apparent banality (there is no escaping the image of the pentagram of objects that André Breton sought to assemble in his apartment at 42 Rue Fontaine). With this important piece, De Tscharner explores the notions of duration and repetition in the creative process, pushing this logic to a form of exhaustion. The artist creates an opulent universe shot through with a dynamic between the speed of execution of each sculpture and the specific aura imparted to each one. Galerie Escougnou-Cetraro Duration, process and animism are notions dear to the artist. He addresses them once again in Faces, a filmed performance spanning thirty minutes during which he improvises a series of portraits using clay. Here the artist rekindles a child’s wonderful movements with modelling clay, revealing the face of an artificial humanoid unable to speak and devoid of free will. The myth of Golem is made incarnate: the material gives itself up to him like a cauldron of energy and electricity. The figure struggles to find itself therein and relentlessly strives to emerge through the sculptor’s act, reflecting a dance of the subconscious. No intention governs production: the faces take shape of their own volition, the mark of some kind of incantation of the countenance, while the artist is in fact immersed in the material.

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David de Tscharner, Fantasmagorie, 2016 Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Escougnou-Cetraro, Paris

What would happen then, according to Bergson, if we were all artists? Our eyes, aided by memory, would carve out in space and fix in time the most inimitable of pictures. Hewn in the living marble of the human form, fragments of statues, beautiful as the relics of antique statuary, would strike the passing glance.

Deep in our souls we should hear the strains of our inner life’s unbroken melody — a music that is ofttimes gay, but more frequently plaintive and always original.(4) Such is the experience afforded by David de Tscharner in his work: by letting us glimpse this sublime potentiality, he gives us the means to spot the beauty or melody behind the most unfathomable banality or profound weariness even of everyday life. Spiritual in the sense that, like any true work, it revisits the definitions of beauty, Fantasmagorie calls on both the object and its representation to sustain the dynamic between them and to disturb the enthralled gaze of the beholder.


1 Laughter. An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, authorised translation by Cloudesley Brereton L. Es. L. (Paris), M.A. (Cantab) and Fred Rothwell B.A. (London), Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor, 2008, p. 74.

2 Michel Carrouges defines the key term ‘bachelor machines’ invented by Duchamp: ‘Unlike real machines and even the majority of imaginary but rational, useful machines like Jules Verne’s Nautilus […] the bachelor machine [as defined by Marcel Duchamp who used the expression ever since The Large Glass (Le Grand Verre)] appears first of all as an impossible, useless, incomprehensible, delirious machine. […] The bachelor machine merely adopts certain mechanical forms in order to simulate certain mechanical effects.’ Le Macchine Celibi The Bachelor Machines, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1975, p. 21.

3 In the collection of essays Sculpture Unlimited, based on a symposium of the same name organised by the University of Art and Design in Linz, Vivian Sky Rehberg looks at some of the most skilful notions of circumventing the pitfalls of this undertaking by focussing on the ‘para-sculpture’ notions whereby sculpture can no longer be defined by its media and techniques, by its frame of reference or forms.

Barbara Cuglietta
Escougnou-Cetraro Gallery Gallery
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