Esther Windsor

Arnaud Desjardin: Crooked Pearls

at 1000000mph Project Space

59 Old Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6QA

Curated by Esther Windsor

31 March – 6 May 2007 Open Fri- Sun. 12-5pm Private View Fri 30 March 6-9pm

Arnaud :There have been lots of cocks in shows in the last few years it pisses me off, more balls, less cocks I say.
Esther: Is that because balls are about productivity and cocks about power and shooting it off?

In this exhibition Arnaud shows: sculptures, resembling bollocks, breasts and buttocks in plaster; paintings on vinyl records in circular white frames and collages on record covers, from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including hot hits compilations, Youth of Today, Nick Kershaw and West Side story, all with a used, trashed and slightly sad quality. There is a sentimentality of the record covers and painted vinyl, as early consumption objects precious and iconic to youth culture from 50’s to 80’s, but now throw away - as defunct technology. They also bear witness to a burgeoning post war popular culture for the masses seen in K Tel compilation albums brought cheaply at Woolworth’s, often featuring girls, in provocative poses, or in endless tears in the rain. They also evoke cultural memories of sexual liberation and civil rights movements of the 60’s or of political clashes, strikes and miseries of the 80’s. The layering of collage and paint and the opulent, sexually indulgent sculptures all contribute to an excess of representation and references, that revel in a loss of translation and free associations. So we have titles given at random like, solar anus, baroque backyard gold, laundrette, Thatcher and paint, girl on bed auction catalogue, blonde babe and eyelashes. They refer to the style of Baroque, where affect was built up to induce the masses to swoon and be seduced by the rich transformation of the material to achieve a spiritual transcendence.

The works in themselves and seen together are like pearls on a chain. Invisibly linked, often tarnished, yellowed, broken or fake, masquerading as precious jewels to adorn but quite possible just a cheap plastic, affect also. Circles abound as holes, cut out windows, as eyes, lens, bodily entrances and exits in the collages, in the shiny black records defaced and presented in pure white circular frames and in the buttock, bullocks breast sculptures and in metaphors generally throughout the works.

The formal tropes of the work set up conceptual mindsets, sculpture, pop art, women’s art. Reference to these in presentation allows a questioning and joking at expense of assumptions of genius authorship and historical authority. Contemporary art production now intricately and not very self consciously is embroiled in market values, often makes a pastiche and happy borrowing of history and concept, skimming surface of many discourses evoked to produced consumer ready and readable objects.

In February 2007, Arnaud was part of a group show ‘salon’ at 1000 000mph, on fashion, showing work from his YSL photographic project and works made for Vague papers, where he collaborated with editor Matthew Holroyd and photographer AlexSarginson. This process of cross disciplinary questioning of formal frameworks of fine art, led Arnaud and I into discussion and to work together, as documented below. (From visits to Arnaud’s studio, Elephant and Castle, The British Library and Garden Gate pub, Hampstead.)

E.W: So the title, ‘misshapen pearl ‘as a definition of Baroque, (a theme that appears in lot in your work) changed to ‘Crooked Pearl’?
A.D. yeah, its more like bent, criminal, deformed and also refers to the abject and to body parts like bollocks, buttocks breasts.
E.W: and like your sculptures, all ambiguous bulges and round shapes, so you don’t know if its distorted genitals or bulbous breasts? And, like we talked about in your studio, all on a plinth both formal and in a bit ‘gross in your face’, that takes the piss out what gets called ‘women’s art’ because of being ‘organic’,’ to do with the body’ etc?
A.D exactly but it’s also about a specific formal language associated with femininity.
A.D. There have been lots of cocks in shows in last few years it pisses me off, more balls, less cocks I say.
E.W. Is that because balls are about productivity and cocks about power and shooting it off?
A.D.yes its so 80’s, ejaculatory art
E.W. Is it cos now is like the 80’s, lots of commerce and money in art, or is it more to do with a cultural anxiety?
A.D.There’s cocks in shows everywhere, Herald Street, Modern Art, but shows with cock aren’t about cocks, it’s maybe a metaphor for something else?
E.W. Ellen Cantor did a wall sized drawing with a huge cock in it at mph recently and she said she liked using big drawings, it reminded her of 80’s art in New York, where the bigger the art, the bigger your career and lots of male artists did it then.
A.D. It’s about the ego trip of the artist... My work is concerned with this and the superficiality of surface. It draws attention to the surface but is rough not clean, scuffed and used, which I think is important the case in my records and collages. It’s to do with the enjoyment of surface, being very laboured; it fits with the vocabulary of sculpture and painting. There are lots of formal concerns that shift from one to the next…
EW you mention formal vocabularies. The framing both physically; the medium, presentation, practice of hanging, rituals of the gallery and, conceptually; the naming, discourses, bodies of knowledge called on. They all contain or package the gesture of art, like we talked about at British Library. Is this process self-consciously referred to in your work?
A.D. There is a conceptual tightness that concerns the traditions of modern art. Many references disrupt that and call for something else. My work does not seek that intellectual rigor, its more enjoyment of a profusion of references, like an escalation of references. The balls can recall as much a kind of Guston cartoon as it does Kiki Smith, conceptually it’s a mess.
E.W. Not an ejaculation of the artist?
A.D Its about opening it up rather than being conceptually tight, my work is contradictory in the piling up of stuff AND, AND, AND…to entertain references rather than sit within their terms.
E.W.Is it a strike for independence, defying consumption?
A.D.Yes also it’s questioning the desire to make art and the desirability of art as a luxury good crafted by an artist
E.W. Like paint on the shiny black vinyl of record?
A.D Its about piling on effects. Baroque art was very concerned with affect and how it links to transcendence and faith, though the work is strongly material the opposite of a minimal ascetic transcendence. Baroque was trying to counter the tightness of Protestantism, the over reference to materialism in the catholic church, reacting to Protestantism, is the catholic church providing the masses with the magic of the real
E.W. I love the ritual and splendour of catholic church its very seductive
A.D. Yes it’s a spectacle, the ceremony that strike you till eventually you have a revelation from it. It’s the mastery of the material, like `Bernini’s Ecstasy of st Theresa, a mind-blowing contradiction of spiritual and material.
E.W. I made work about that on my MA
A.D. In a way we are in very Baroque time now, of effect over substance. Can I say that without sounding…
E.W What?
A.D. well subject matter is locked into political and historically determined factors. If I say that, I have to embrace a political trajectory that is issue based and academic. I resent it. That substance is entirely issue based today. So my work partakes in both mutually exclusive discourses in fine art.
E.W. this reminds me of asking you is the sexuality about you or a metaphor in your YSL work, or are cocks cropping up in art now about cultural anxiety or just material power?
A.D. I’m interested in the conflict and gap of the discourses. Especially in Salon show and Vague project, fashion and art in dialogue. But its like sitting on the fence you can fall either way. It depends on the context more than the art object, which is tricky.
E.W. Is this why your work is multi disciplinary, like different roles, publishing, teaching etc. different mediums, photography, sculpture…
A.D yes but even my activities are not strictly disciplines, and there’s not been a place where it all works together.
E.W. Is that part of being in practice and research, part of the process… the travelling rather than arriving?
A.D.Yes it’s quite romantic rather than completely rational. That’s why it’s good to do a show at 1000 000mph, its not commercial or institutional. The work is available for artists to come to with their own agenda, and people to look at the work and make what they will of it.

Arnaud Desjardin French, born in 1969, trained in Paris, Vancouver, London.
Solo shows inc.: Between the Space, a transient artists residency on trains, with publication, 2007; Platform 2003; Drawn at Mellow Birds, Underwood Street 2001; Works from ‘Sci Art’ grant, Welcome Trust 2001 and Sabine Wachters, Brussels, 2001 Group shows inc.: Salon at 1000 000mph 2007, Drawings on Architecture, Vancouver 2003; East, 2000. Publications inc.: contribution to Vague Papers, 2007, catalogue essay for Micheal Marriot at Camden Arts Centre, 2004, Tokyo Book 2, Palais de Tokyo, 2001, inc in ‘Platform 1998- 2006.
Esther Windsor is studying on a practice led PhD in fine art on curating, using projects undertaken as the Director of Hull Time Based Arts and as curator collaborating with Dallas Seitz, at 1000 000 mph