19.JAN.2006   18.MAR.2006


Mrs Martin: What is the moral?
Fire Chief: That’s for you to find out.
(Ionesco, The Bald Soprano)

The portrait of the human condition proffered by the plays of Eugène Ionesco in the 1950s is still extremely pertinent today. What has been called the Theatre of the Absurd is characterised mainly by the attempt to express the meaninglessness of life and the incommunicability of existential discomfort by going beyond rational literary language. According to Ionesco, since we live in a world that has lost the metaphysical dimension and has no more mysteries, we must know how to see the most obvious commonplace in all its horror in order to bring back the meaning of mystery. The only way to be aware of the cliché and the falsity of language is to pass through it. It is necessary to sink into the commonplace. There is nothing more surprising than banality and the surreal is at home in our daily conversations. Indeed, the Romanian playwright chose dreamlike dialogues, avoiding traditional expressive means, in order to get right into reality, grasping it in the surreal aspects that characterise it. So Ionesco proposes an anti-literary approach, staging reality in its mad way of manifesting and expressing itself, in a merciless attack against what the author called “the universal petite bourgeoisie”. The young artists presented in this exhibition seem to ideally follow this critical vision against the personification of commonplaces and prevailing conformism. With different styles and means, the four artists react against the single point of view and the risk of conforming to the official version with piercing perspicacity that bores through the banal to discover its mysterious side. Their work, in the same way as Ionesco’s, does not pretend to find logic where none exists, nor to describe coherency where there is none, but to grasp the mad essence of the everyday. None of them is interested in a realist approach, but in the end the world they present is more real than reality. In this way the three-dimensional characters of Ryan Johnson (born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1978, lives and works in New York) with undulating profiles and faded colours are nothing but gangling figures out of context, or simply sited in a more profound dimension. Snatched from unexplainable occupations or dangling among unusable objects, these beings in modelled cloth are perhaps the only ones who have any clear idea about their destinies. The performances of Kate Gilmore (born in Washington in 1975, lives and works in New York) are manifestations including masochistic aspects, inhuman physical effort for unintelligible purposes, meaningless reactions to unexplainable stimuli that irritate, induce apprehension and also laughter. Like subtle scathing comments on the utilitarian pantomimes of today’s human being they win us over with their simple means and candid perseverance. The card animals of Rachel Owens (born in Atlanta in 1972, lives and works in New York) seem reassuring, but only at first glance. The dogs around the fire are constructed out of cardboard boxes that still sport the logos of multinationals linked to Turin, which the artist specifically refers to. On approaching, one sees that these animals with their proud gazes are in fact wounded or even without limbs, a reference to the dog bombs used by terrorists. This alarming scene is then further highlighted by the sound signal that emerges as smoke from the glass bonfire and recites: “Save our souls”. The videos of Kuang-Yu Tsui (born in Taipei in 1974, since 2006 lives and works in Amsterdam) can also be included as they balance on the thin line that separates farce from drama. In an attempt to give meaning to the surrounding world and to our presence in it, he uses himself as the subject of his work, staging himself in the most unthinkable ways in public places. Extremely professionally, Kuang-yu takes the shape of the plant he finds in his way, or lets himself roll around the steepest outskirts on the wheels of an office chair while remaining coldly impassable. Ionesco would certainly have been proud of these encounters.