“La réforme de Pooky” at Kunsthalle Fribourg

The artist Marta Riniker-Radich discusses the painting exhibition “La réforme de Pooky” with its curators Paolo Baggi, Nicolas Brulhart and Grégory Sugnaux. They talk about self-awareness, staging in contemporary painting and feelings of nausea.

Marta: The exhibition involves three curators and a large group of artists. To what degree did you have an original idea and stick to it? Or did you work rather in an experimental way, kind of like an artist actively deciding to break away from making images in a conceptual manner and just letting things happen?

Paolo: I think we wanted to diversify the “reasons” for which we chose the works or the artists. I remember our discussions, it seemed the positions we discussed came from many different directions, not trying to “fulfill” or satisfy a narrative that we would have set beforehand. We wanted to leave some space, so that the works would also observe us and say something about the whole process of selecting them in the first place. There’s also a personal explanation: because we are three friends, the exhibition stems in a good part from late-night discussions we had together, so it felt natural to have extended those conversations to the artists and the works.

Marta: I like the idea of “diversifying the reasons” and not trying to fit everything under a conceptual umbrella. Nonetheless, I do think a certain coherence emerges in the exhibition. There are several works that evoke a sense of a split self, such as Sophie Gogl’s parrot or Gritli Faulhaber’s work. Also a sense of lethargy and a kind of insidious rotting, an onset of death. The lethargic aspect is present in your work Grégory and perhaps also in mine, as a kind of retreat in the face of too much stimulation. And the rotting/death aspect can be seen in Jasmine Gregory’s painting. And does Jannis’ work not reference the burning of Hamburg and the Black Death? And the very present “menace” that seeps out of Sophie Reinhold’s paintings as soon as you enter the exhibition space. So perhaps you instinctively chose works that address some of the same questions.

Jasmine Gregory, Loosy Luicy Apple Juice, 2021

Jasmine Gregory, Loosy Luicy Apple Juice, 2021

Nicolas: Yes. Digital fatigue, irritation, overstimulation are present too in the works of Mark Kokopeli, Amanda del Valle. Nanami Hori’s painting that opens the show is a symbolic resumé: a half human half bird zombie like persona addictively sucking some substance straw from an tumescent arm. Besides this surface imagery, the plot is broken and consistency emerges not through styles, but through exceptions and the collusion of attitudes towards painting or images. It is at the same time too obvious, grotesque and inconsistent. This tension says more on the state of things, on a sensation regarding images. The point was to bring a certain skepticism that we share with the invited artists, not through an addition of works, but through the exhibition as form.

Grégory: I also feel these convergences between the pieces. In the case of my paintings, I see them as some kind of spokesmens for certain images. In the current situation where the anarchic inflation of the digital is omnipresent, each image is the reflection of another, exchanged, recovered, digested and regurgitated at another end of the flow. I try to create a lethargic sensation through painting to respond to this general anesthetic context, so that, paradoxically, the numb is expressed or felt. My gouache technique makes this rotten aspect more hapti cand gives the painting an almost psychedelic effect.

Exhibition view, “La réforme de Pooky”, 2022, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Exhibition view, “La réforme de Pooky”, 2022, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Marta: My initial impression was of an exhibition that is very “distanced”, quite staged, the works presenting a certain self-awareness. I am interested in the border between experimentation and intentionality: how do you see the works you chose for the exhibition with regard to this question?

Paolo: The stretch between those two poles is a gap that can allow for a porosity that can be a productive communicative tool. Some works in the show demonstrate this I believe, for example the visible speed of execution in Elise Corpataux or Jasmine Gregory’s paintings that have an “unfinished” character. Together with the symbolic precision and their vitalistic aspect, they do shape a situation that can be interesting for the viewer. For me, this staging that you talk about is taken into account by the paintings, they “out-perform” it to find a space to talk again, to engage the viewers in renewed ways.

As I spent more time in the exhibition a sense of dystopia, and also of rejection, emerged. (MARTA)

Grégory: We wanted to find artists working today who are engaged in intimate and personal expression through painting. The works presented at Friart are much more open and are not only manifestations of a personal psychic universe. The canvas is more an interface than a receptacle for emotions, and the works have a certain attitude, a mood of perplexity. One of the initial intentions of the exhibition was to use the screen potential of the painting, this space of projection, this surface for moments of direct and intuitive communication.

Marta: I see your point, but I think that the works do contain specific narratives within them and are not only a blank canvas open for interpretation. As I spent more time in the exhibition a sense of dystopia, and also of rejection, emerged. Even a rejection of the visitor: many of the works are impenetrable, literally push us away. Either through their slick surface (Sara Benslimane and Christophe de Rohan Chabot’s works, for example) or through actual formal or dialectical elements (Tom Humphries, Marc Kokopeli, Elise Corpataux and Sophie Reinhold’s works). And in this sense I can also depart from this feeling of distance, of self-awareness I was talking about and also view the exhibition on more of a “gut level”. A nauseous urge of rejection.

Nicolas: We should mention SoiL Thornton’s work here, Labor Cont(r)act Assisted Friart 2021, that is a phone number tagged on a wall and a contract with the institution. Here we have another relation between esthetic refusal and interaction with the visitors.

Paolo: I agree with you Marta, I also think we made some choices to play upon a feeling of nausea For example, we added a lot of walls in the Kunsthalle, where usually there would be windows and natural light coming in. We also decided on those benches in the middle of the main exhibition room, playing a bit on those sitting on both sides that you can find in big art galleries such as the Louvre or the National Gallery, keeping you at respectable distance, but as wobbly plastic benches in our case.

Installation view, Amanda del Valle, 2021-2022, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Installation view, Amanda del Valle, 2021-2022, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Grégory: I also like the gut level aspect, a good punch that makes you suck your cheek. In the end this feeling is also more insidious, like a personal space shaped through desires of possession and aesthetical consumption, like if it was a show inside a collector’s big New York loft. Some works play directly with the New-York symbolism.

Paolo: New York as this kind of fetishistic place, living off our reverence for it. Marc Kokopeli’s video work plays on this, a narrative that keeps on building and undoing itself, always capable to feed off its mythological stature.

Marta: My feeling when being in the exhibition was not that of a personal space but rather of a set design, especially downstairs. Upstairs I rather got the feeling of a personal collection. Almost like a holiday home, a rather impersonal space. And perhaps this “staged” feeling to me corresponds to the self-awareness that I feel is present both in many of the individual works and in the exhibition itself. On one hand, the sense of freedom and exuberance that went into curating the exhibition comes across. On the other hand, there is, to me at least, a very present meta level of detachment and intentionality.

Paolo: I understand your staging and self awareness comment in the sense of a performative space, as if the works were performing their own pictorial “observation” codes. This can be seen with the strong gazing aspect in the exhibition that we didn’t foresee so much when planning it. Many works play on this aspect of watching or being watched, but often stuck in a loop: Sophie Gogl’s selfie trap, Nanami Hori’s creature looking at the cannibalistic closed system, Gregory Sugnaux’s character that seems haunted by us, and maybe even you Marta, with those figures that seek isolation only to be sent back towards themselves.

Installation view, Sophie Reinhold, 2021, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Installation view, Sophie Reinhold, 2021, Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Marta: Yes I agree that this aspect is present. And maybe it relates to the “self-awareness” I was talking about. When talking with Nicolas he did mention his interest in questions of how artwork is staged, of its omnipresence on digital media, how he somehow wanted to react to that, if I understood correctly! So perhaps without actively trying to, the three of you picked works that address this issue of always being watched and of staging oneself for an imaginary public. Many of the works seem exposed, and I found it difficult to enter into an intimate dialogue with them.

Nicolas: You got me right. Except that I was mentioning a sort of irritation with staging of the personal through painting, or the painter as subject on social media, which lead to the selection of works that also reflect or reject that with an opacity in relation to expression and subjectivity.

Grégory: I have the same feeling. The numbness is broken and the possibility of a retreat emerges - not yet contemplation- but confusion is a good start.

Paolo: Speaking of confusion, I was wondering how you felt about the documentation of the exhibition, since I remember the opening day, with all the people on the benches that we have in the middle of the exhibition room. All of a sudden, it felt weird to see the paintings with no one around. But maybe they also gain a sense of agency from this. It’s the Toy Story effect: leaving the room, turning the lights off, and being able to see what the paintings would do when no one is watching.

Marta: That is a very nice analogy. And it corresponds to my impression of a set design, with the paintings as actors. I was not there for the opening but I have a hard time imagining the exhibition with people inside. The dystopian feeling I mention above, as well as my feeling of detachment from the works, is heightened by the space being empty. As a visitor one normally expects to have an intimate dialogue with works when being in a relatively empty space. But here I felt rather detached from them, which I interpreted as a key part of the exhibition.

All images: Photo: Guillaume Python, Courtesy Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

All images: Photo: Guillaume Python, Courtesy Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg

Grégory: What do you think of my double hat? Artist and curator of the exhibition at the same time?

Marta: Well, I was not with you making the exhibition so I can only speculate. But I think perhaps your double role contributed to avoiding a discursive “umbrella”. Perhaps as artists we have less of a tendency to observe from a distance and to want to define situations and group things together?

For me Pooky is a straw-man, an excuse to do something, a surrogate for everlasting desires of shaping discourse and practices. (Paolo)

Paolo: The “double hat” situation was useful for us as curators, in relation to the discourse of the exhibition. I think we were looking for something like having our nose so far in the paintings that we would lack recoil to observe them. Having you in both roles pushed it in that sense: we couldn’t ask for an exhibition that would produce an external comment since we were all fully immersed in it. It’s something I like about the exhibition, how it accepts the fact that any observer is always in the situation it observes.

Marta: Yes I see what you mean and I do think that this comes across in the exhibition. And perhaps this was facilitated by you working in a group and not as one individual.

Nicolas: This experimental dimension is one way of articulating something that is of our time in relation to images: to find a form for the impossibility of any synthetic overview or mastery.

Grégory: Who is Pooky for you? With what you know now and what you saw in this exhibition.

Paolo: For me Pooky is a straw-man, an excuse to do something, a surrogate for everlasting desires of shaping discourse and practices.

Marta: I have to think about Richard Sennett’s idea of “the ironic self”. A self that is unable to take itself seriously because an existence of constant flexibility has been imposed upon it by society. So one adopts an ironic stance on everything to the point where one’s own identity is dissolved. I read the figure of Pooky as an ironicization of reform.

With works by :
Fabienne Audéoud, Sarah Benslimane, Elise Corpataux, Gritli Faulhaber, Sophie Gogl, Jasmine Gregory, Nanami Hori, Tom Humphreys, Marc Kokopeli, Matthew Langan-Peck, Jannis Marwitz, Sophie Reinhold, Marta Riniker-Radich, Christophe de Rohan Chabot, Thomas Sauter, Grégory Sugnaux, SoiL Thornton, Amanda del Valle, Jiajia Zhang

19.02 – 08.05.2022