“In this day and age man, in essence, is upset precisely by the consciousness of his basic limitlessness. And perhaps this contributes to his not knowing who he is, because finding himself, in principle, capable of doing anything imaginable, he then does not know what he actually is.” (José Ortega y Gasset, Technology and Human Existence). “We are, without a doubt, ladies and gentlemen, children of the imaginary […] universal history is the attempt to tame the imagination, little by little, in various forms. […] Technology wants to create for us a new world, because the true world does not fit us, because it has made us sick. This new world of technology is consequently a giant orthopaedic apparatus.” (José Ortega y Gasset, “The Myth of Humanity outside Technology”).
Olivier Bémer was born in 1989 in Paris, where he lives and works. He has taken part in several group shows, notably for the Prix Révélations Emerige 2019, at Galerie Papillon, at the Wallonie-Bruxelles centre in Paris, at the Grande Halle de La Villette and at the Palais des Beaux-arts in Paris. His work concentrates on the relation that our societies have with technological progress, and interrogates the way in which new means of communication and representation affect our relation to time and to other individuals.Cursus
A étudié à l’Écal, Lausanne (2013), aux Beaux-Arts de Paris (2018) et au Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains, Tourcoing (2021).
Production : Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains
Sometimes, whatever the damage, a body never dies.
It responds to what wounds it, endangers it, with an increased presence. In fact, does not its disappearance actually make it more alive? From the moment it ceas- es to be, we never stop looking for it. The body moves before and after death. There is no body without this, which is what dreams tell us. The more it is threatened with forgetting, the more we draw from the forces of dream a vitality that metamorphoses and reinstates it. In the period we are currently living through, when the body is under interrogation, when we are told of its emptying, its vanishing, its dematerialisation, dreams and utopias are constantly reminding us that it remains and will long remain centre-stage. Centre-stage, or rather, on one of the multiple stages where it goes from one to another. Never immobile, always calling for movement, a dance like a respiration jump-starting the beats of the heart. By this impulsion it asserts itself at the centre but, strangely, this race, by its speed, erases it by its very manifestation, by the simple light that dazzles us. Through this situation, the body doubts itself. It appears, takes shape in space but the luminous intensity is not its ally. It calls it into question. It struggles against a shadow that threatens it and in which it cannot see itself. If it identifies primarily with the lines that delineate it, that enable it to exist, to say “I,” the world, which plays with luminous multitudes, troubles and defeats it. If it is the coming being, it is also the fugacious one. Initially a blot on the earth, it is liquified in a dilation or evaporates in an expansion whose confines are lost to us. Our body is dispersed, disseminated, and we would be naïve to believe in its physical or lexical definitions. For a while, it is obvious, but this obviousness gives way to the unknown, in which salvation is found in the hiding of appearances. It takes refuge in a “darkness” that invades space and covers, clothing itself in the shadows of the night until light, necessary to all life, revives the quest for an elusive being through the renascent image. On this point, Junichiro Tanizaki asks us this question: “I wonder if my readers know the colour of that ‘darkness seen by candlelight’. It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow.” Experiencing the works in Panorama 2 3 , I have that sensation of a composite territory of ashes turned by art into a suite of colours, refracted through water and light. Responding to the world’s disintegration with a multicoloured explosion, traversing and speculating with what illuminates or erases it, from black to white, is not a matter of solitude. Feeling the variability of this to and fro, of this metaphor, implies otherness, invokes the other who invites change, the fusion of different substances. This other is insistently present in this Panorama 23; it is the source and the flux of the current that runs between the works. To move through the paths of the exhibition is to plunge into a universe whose principle is crossover, mixture, a joining as of ocean currents, sea depths. The creatures assembled here question the body and language, they remind me of the introduction to Moby Dick in which Herman Melville defines his hero as swimming through libraries. Yes, they are divers who carry us into fluxes that are the nature of the world in which bodies bathe, to the point of becoming the flux itself, seeking to melt into the other’s body. They dream of a possible body in which fragmentation, breaking and division are erased by ebb and flow, the reflections of a wave, breathing rhythm into the world. This rhythm engenders infinite series of shifts, projections, cross-fades where gender differences are abandoned, where different kingdoms couple to bring forth suspended bodies, real subjects, constantly agitated by the virtuality of mythologies or science fiction. They are blocks of stone as much as phantoms, swimmers as well as the drowned. They speak the truth while whispering that they are only actors and artifices. One of their states is like that of abandoned objects, of “leftovers” that become sacred, idealised spaces, haloed by enigmas that turn our perception into an initiatory quest. Here, bodies can be subjected to reification only in the next moment to shatter it with the power of dream thinking. Here, the heroes are also sleepers, or those to whom sleep is a lesson. To sleep, nowadays, is heroic. Blessed are those who, in order to know the world, choose to be its active sleepers. “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream,” writes Shakespeare in the heart of Hamlet’s soliloquy, in words that reveal his secret. This trilogy, these three inseparable acts, form but one principle, a single state, a single thought trying to liberate itself and gain a chance of imagining a new world.
A world where we observe the work of abolishing the barrier between the human, the vegetable and the animal. Georges Bataille would be happy to see himself embodied in the presence and prowling of a black panther that is a vector of knowledge through its mysterious expenditure of energy, a dashing race.
This universe is shot through with transparency, in the manner of Sebastiano Mazzoni, Francis Picabia and François Rouan. The vegetal invades the architectural, then the animal, and merges, finally, into human anatomies irrigated by humours, liquids, the water that composes our tears, recalling our fluid, volatile nature, between memory and outpouring.
If part of life is contained in our bones, as imagined by Edgar Allan Poe and the artist Roy Adzak, these bones have no weight, do not immobilise, for they secrete dreams, as true players in the upheavals that determine us. Are they the most reliable identity of our body, as proposed by these works, one of which originates in the philosophical and poetic theme of change in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, while others present the “monstrous form” or the electric bodies of Lovecraft.
What is the reality of these bodies? That of a paradox in which the most physical, the most material is manifested by the most elusively virtual. That of Wim Wenders’ wings of desire, or that of T.S. Eliot trying to formulate his desire to embody writing in words not spoken, in silent speech. One of the artists in Panorama notes: “I would like to be able to say, to seek for silence in speech.” Writing can be a house that leaves its foundations and turns into a boat in order to follow its paths towards the sea, along the river, towards the figures of dream. A house? A boat? Singular anima? I remember, today, a question put by a Dervish dancer, constantly evoking the soul.
“But what is the soul?” I remember, even better, in Tourcoing in 2021, his answer: “Why, the body of course!”