“For any attempt to absorb nature destroys its necessary otherness. Profound separation is what makes nature natural. We cannot join ourselves to nature without destroying its most important meaning. We can barely touch it without destroying that meaning (…) For objects, natural objects, make us remember it again, make us remember a nature indifferent to us. They are the wound of that other world, the world without language, without culture, without us. They are its only visible mark. They remain. They itch. They threaten us. They remind us. And that itch, that threat is the seed, the possibility of art.”
Richard Nonas, Get out, Stay away, Come back
We like to draw connections between the successive projects taking place at the gallery, thereby understanding what links the artists with whom we collaborate, not only formally but also from an intellectual standpoint, identifying in retrospect what attracted us to them. Gyan Panchal’s work has explored, for more that a decade, the relationship between the natural and the artificial by going beyond the aporia of the nature/culture opposition but by trying to feel, through his approach to sculpture, the possible spaces of cohabitation between the living environments inhabiting our world, which are however each driven by their own logic. For their last exhibition at the gallery, Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet began from similar premises, seeking to imagine which art history objects could appeal to birds. With Louise, Chloé and Gyan, we are further exploring a world in which the human has lost its pre-eminence. With Jean-Charles de Quillacq, Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz and Mathieu K. Abonnenc, this de-centering occurs from the sexed, situated individual moving towards other forms of human relation to the world. Each of them forces us to incessantly question our place in relation to that of other living beings.
I experienced, in a national park in the United States, the irreducible otherness of the animal world. A buffalo herd was grazing in a vast meadow — unlike in a zoo, where it is placed under the gaze of visitors — with its own, animal life logic. A buffalo, which had gone to the other side of the road to eat, suddenly went back to the herd, at a slow pace, blocking the traffic on this very busy road. The vehicles patiently waited for the buffalo to return to the herd, adapting themselves to the animal rhythm, to its indifference towards humans. For this buffalo, our existence was no different to that of the elements of the landscape that it came across.
I have the feeling that sculpture, as practiced by Gyan Panchal, expresses this same irreducible otherness, this indifference to what we expect of it. The sculpture arising from our collective representations, neatly mounted on a pedestal against a white wall, as the bourgeois artefact per excellence, is like these so-called ‘domestic’ animals, which we humanise to such an extent that we endow them with feelings similar to ours. The forms created by Gyan possess, on the contrary, a life of their own, a particular rhythm. The very characteristics of the materials and objects used determine their position in space and in relation to other elements. The primary use of objects (a silo, fake food or plants, fishing apparel, a manger, a buoy, a funnel) – while occasionally remaining identifiable (and often mentioned in the technical description of the pieces) – is only a function that is removed by the artist. In a recent interview, Gyan stated that these objects become pieces “once a sufficient number of gestures have rendered them unrecognisable, and troubled the assurance of a certain familiarity towards them”. Through their encounter within sculpture, they develop a new state. Thus, the curve of a silo is delicately adorned with a plastic albino fern, a dried up bovin ear and a grinded horn, objects abandoned by agriculture, which are brought together due to their inherent logics. As emphasised by Gyan in the same interview “form does not exist prior to sculpture work (…) There is only an experience, involving a myriad of gestures, gazes and touches.” In short, a sensory experience that is perhaps not intended to last.
The pale colours of an old, painted and sanded buoy, hung from the ceiling like a piece of meat at a butcher’s, that of a fake chunk of bread, or of a plastic manger seem to provide them with the sensuality and charms specific to the living. Thus, the living and the non-living, manufactured objects and natural elements are no longer hierarchised but reconfigured in a new environment.
Sculpture would therefore be a full-fledge environment, in the sense defined by the biologist von Uexküll at the end of the 19th century, as a world that determines the objects belonging to it. Art has its own logic and forms are in no way dependent upon their destination. Existing alongside other worlds, art does not, however, leave them indifferent. It is a way of making worlds coexist, or even of giving rise to an abstract form of ‘living together’, which could translate into the living world. This is, I believe, art’s emancipatory dimension and what we could learn from it, if only we refrained from domesticating or absorbing it as we do with nature.
*Les Presses du réel, 1995
Gyan Panchal was born in 1973, he lives in Eymoutiers (Limousin, France). A graduate of the Jan Van Eyck Academie (Maastricht, NL), he has had many solo shows: at the Contemporary Art Museum of Rochechouart (FR), Frank Elbaz, Paris, Palais de Tokyo, Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (IND) and Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc (FR). His works have recently been exhibited at Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Rennes Biennale, Carré d’art – Contemporary Art Museum in Nîmes (FR), Crédac – art center in Ivry-sur-Seine (FR), Villa Arson, Nice (FR), Maison Populaire de Montreuil (FR), Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, Paris and CAN, Neuchatel (CH). In March 2019, the Modern and Contemporary art Museum in Saint-Etienne will produce a solo exhibition of his work.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)