Mercredi, viendras-tu manger, Jean, sur une nappe propre ?


Architecture, drawing, film, installation...

Mercredi, viendras-tu manger, Jean, sur une nappe propre ?

Past: May 28 → July 16, 2011

Topology of Memory (On the work of Aurélie Godard)

Wooden surfaces assembled in a certain order

A life-buoy is the consequence of the path of a disc travelling the 360° of a circle. The mazzocchio is a Florentine headdress that can be described as the geometrization of a life-buoy. The original circle can be more or less wide, but its occurrences in the form of bicoloured headwear, based on a chequered motif, notably in Paolo Uccello’s cycles Déluge et le retrait des eaux and La Bataille de San Romano, established the diameter of a head as a standard size. In one of the frescos in the cloister of Santa-Maria-Novella — which at once represents two episodes of the book of Genesis — Paolo Uccello makes one of the characters (the one that is holding a cudgel) wear the mazzocchio around his neck. For Aurélie Godard, the problem is this: how, with the help of assembled wooden planes, can one arrive at something like a life-buoy, also coming close to something that could effectively make a hat, before throwing this round-but-angular figure into the water off the island of Ushant, so that it floats — perhaps all the way to Bas Jan Ader, who vanished in 1975 between Cape Cod and Ireland during an Atlantic crossing entitled In Search of the Miraculous II1. This is the most likely interpretation of Mercredi, viendras-tu manger, Jean sur une nappe propre? Before giving a more precise explanation (and the answer) to this enigmatic and coded question, let’s begin with this one, which will get us going, and which haunted Paolo Uccello: How many sides does a circle have? A question that gives rise to many responses. That the mazzocchio — or “torus” in mathematical language — was the symbol of work on the development of perspective during the Renaissance is important here, but not sufficient. Indeed, from every point of view, to draw this object (and to conceive it), is already an extremely complicated geometrical exercise. As we know, Giorgio Vasari strongly criticised Uccello for wasting his time developing such prowess2. What is perhaps less well known is the importance of marquetry in 15th century Florence. The workshops competed with each other, adjusting thousands of little pieces of wood, like puzzles, to compose the panels, modelled as if they were windows opening out onto accumulations of various objects, represented in perspective with the greatest care. The impeccable cuttings, the expert angles and the use of differently tinted woods allowed the artists to obtain the nuances and shadows necessary for a realistic rendering of light. There are (and this strongly resembles the “equipment” with which Aurélie Godard surrounds herself in her workshop) books, planes, measuring instruments, cuttings, polyhedra — hollowed out or full — and of course, the mazzocchio, or torus.

Space, planets, ellipses and attractive forces.

In the beginning, there will be a geometric form, like a square, “turning” about itself (as around a block of houses), in which the sides, according to a principle of cellular division, are divided in two, five times. The volumes Aurélie Godard obtains in this way, of which the first, the simplest, evokes the elementary structures of Sol LeWitt, but which, in suspension, in strange postures, as if submitted to disturbed gravity, the pitching of a ship, offer a short history of perspective, which is as the same time a short history of perception, in its constructive avatars, as has been envisaged since the 15th century. Here the mathematical exercise is the pretext for a visual exercise —  but a “squared” visual exercise on the circle and its powers, as they are manifested in the universe. Indeed, rotundity and, more exactly, gravitation, have interested Aurélie Godard for a long time. Yet her interest is not in the grandiloquent representation of the cosmos, nor the perfection of the sphere, but rather that which comes through warping trajectories, damaging surfaces, tipping the mathematical model towards experience and chance. It’s about giving thought to the structure of the world, the forces contained in the work, rather than creating an image. Coriolis (cast aluminium, 2007), the small spherical sculpture, evokes the imaginary force which only exists for an observer who is also in motion. Observe the path of a marble on a vinyl record rotating on a turntable: seen from above, the marble seems to describe a straight line, from the centre to the edge. However, on the rotating disc itself, the marble will describe the arc of a circle. Mission to Mars (mural, acrylics, 500 × 300, 2006), The Bright Side of the Moon (plaster, 140cm diameter, 2006) and Les Formes vagues (mural, acrylics, 30cm diameter, 2008), also convoke the solar system, in a figurative fashion, which is not only a hard fact of space and planets, but also of ellipses and forces of attraction. However, it is the materials which give it meaning: Les Formes vagues — emerging from a circle of white paint, applied to a wall then scratched, revealing, the black primer beneath as marine waves, schematised in the style of Hokusai. In the same way, The Bright Side of the Moon, shows the irregularities of the lunar surface, realised through optical trickery by digging into the wall itself. Mission to Mars depicts a radio wave, rendered in paint, unless it is a bad quality radar capture, which appear as large squares of indecipherable colours. Starfinders, footballs found in the street, presented in the gallery’s basement, carries forward this meeting between spheres and time. Worn down by constant rotation, and the deformations that result, it bears witness to an attentive observation of the transformation of things, even under a barrage of kicks. The suspension device gives its name to the model reworked here, the world map. The balls create a new terrestrial geography, as a result of multiple accidents — bounces, punctures, and stains. If it has been known since Antiquity that the earth is round (thanks to lunar eclipses), it was Nicolaus Copernicus who brought about an end to the previous representation of the universe, substituting it with the heliocentric view, in which we find the principle of the torus once again: not only does the earth itself turn, but it also turns about the sun. On the scale of the universe, the torus is therefore an absolutely adequate tool of representation, the torus that was decomposed at the beginning.

Maps that indicate nothing

In a work from 2006, News from Home (postcards, 15 × 10 × 5 cm), a pile of pierced postcards, showing the Statue of Liberty, which appears in shadow against a red-orange twilight background, Aurélie Godard presents a traditional record of a voyage, signed with a certain emptiness. After all, absence is a Coriolis force like any other, exerted indirectly. The title, borrowed from Chatal Akerman, names America, and particularly New York, as a point of escape, or rather, we see, as a mirror. Another series of “holed” postcards, is given a more explicit title: En topologie la distance n’existe pas (In topology, distance doesn’t exist) (postcards, 2006). The title should be heard as a contradiction to the formula “out of sight, out of mind”, as much as a eulogy for cartography. Take note of the fascination it exerts on Aurélie Godard, as in Un faible degree de dess(e)in (felt, variable dimensions, 2009) or, from a topographical point of view, in Landscape (plaster, variable dimensions, 2005). These maps “which indicate nothing”3 recognise the reality of chance more than the permanence of borders: the archipelago of Un faible degree de dess(e)in was made from paint stains picked up in various workshops and duly recorded according to their outlines. This cartographical activity draws as much from the great maritime explorers as from the research of architect Buckminster Fuller. Its representations of the world; drawn from the Dymaxion projection, presents the earth in the shape of a polyhedron constituted from six squares and eight rectangles, which transforms the five continents into a large central island, liberated from the traditional north/south, east/west schema4. The most celebrated of Fuller’s constructions — the geodesic domes — came as a response to the question: how many faces does a sphere have? A question which has much to do with our initial interrogation. It’s on a small boat off the coast of Ushant that we discover Jean (a pseudonym between John and Jan), who has the false air of Leonardo’s old men, the mazzocchio on their heads, coming and going offshore. In this video (Dr Livingstone, I presume) filmed in April 2011, Jean makes us think of Claude Monet in his workshop-boat, studying the reflections on the water. Offshore, over the horizon is, of course, Manhattan, from where the long letters of the heroine of News From Home came.

Architecture of memory

At first, America — in the naïve accepted term, if one may say so — provides the iconographical elements in Aurélie Godard’s work: the Statue of Liberty, as we saw, but also the punch-ball, the cactus, the Hockney-esque divers, surfboards, Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Buicks and others, become the subject of varying subversions5. The punch-ball is red, but wooden; the surfboards, for their part, show off the traces of a shark attack, Jaws style; the “portraits” of cars entitled News From Home (2), bear witness to the presence of paint and colour, not in the manner of representation, but in that of memory. The photographic documents, obtained thanks to a digital zoom, are more than just meaningless chromatic scales, a memory of we don’t really know what, of the moment the cars were photographed, unless it’s a memory of the preceding instant, which gives rise to a little square of colour that has been painted. For some years, Aurélie Godard has been producing exercises in the construction, from memory, of models of modern buildings (Dear Charlie, wood, resin, paint, 2010), including those of Oscar Niemeyer (Painting with Oscar, pour AVJ, wood, paint, 2010) These are presented on large crates, as if they’ve just come out of a ship’s hold. The incessant ocean crossings, which are present in this work, in these massive boxes, from which memories of modern utopia are extracted, are the most consequential witnesses. Aurélie Godard does not cite modernity, she remembers it, and, what is more, thwarts the pretentions of the Old World to impose its views on the New. She acts as if modernity came from elsewhere and in re-examining the propositions, is even critical of it, as in L’Heure de l’étale (wood, acrylic, coating, 2007), a white wave with solid foam that uncovers coloured architectural fragments. This broken modernism does not lead to cynicism. From fragments, it is always possible to make something (“I’m a painter, I nail my pictures,” as Kurt Schwitters said.) La Chaise de Lucrèce (qu’il est doux, quand sur la vaste mer les vents soulèvent les flots, d’apercevoir du rivage les périls d’autrui) (driftwood, 80cm diameter, 2010), created from pieces of wood from various shipwrecks in Brittany, shows this. The seat, in which, from the armrests to the back, everything is round, has something of the astrolabe about it: it seems to be able to pivot on several axes and to turn around on itself according to a centre of gravity that is difficult to place. Perhaps one has to simply sit and meditate on the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, (Pluto), these planets6 which are evoked at first and which give the key to the enigmatic invitation: Jean, will you come and eat, Wednesday, on a clean tablecloth?.


1 It was on the current location of Provincetown, Cape Cod, that the passengers of the Mayflower landed in America on the 11th of November 1620.

2 For example : “He equally found the means to truthfully represent crosses, arches, floor tiles, and columns so that they would appear round. These studies absorbed him, rendered him eccentric, to the point that he would spend weeks and months locked in his house without letting himself see anyone and that, during his life, he was more poor than famous.” Giorgio Vasari, Vies de peintres.

3 In the style of Maps not to Indicate, from the Art & Language group.

4 And which, incidentally, re-establishes certain proportions. On a traditional flat projection, thanks to the stretching of the poles, Greenland is twice as big as Australia, despite the reverse being the case.

5 Seeing Things (wood, paint, chains, 140 × 35 cm, 2007) ; Beachcombing (timber formwork, 2008) ; WT (plaster, wood, lacquer, 80 × 60 × 40 cm, 2007) : Shapes et Forms (polystyrene and plywood, 220 and 165 cm) 6 Today Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

Emmanuel Van der Meulen, 2011.
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