Your Money and Your Life, by Claire Fontaine
Claire Fontaine’s work (a Paris-based collective, founded in 2004) displays an absolute contempt for the art’s Apollonian. The importance of the conceptual annihilates any plastic concern: the pieces don’t emanate any classical proportion, nor the modern spatial layout. Even in the two-dimensional pieces found in the exhibition, with links to drawing or painting, the central point is the depiction of ideas and concepts, in objectivity and iconography. When we find some sensitive beauty, it derives from a random encounter in the materials handled by the artists, such as the pavement covered by newspaper sheets, which, in Lisbon’s ironic case, repeatedly wins design prizes. No critical tool of a plastic nature can handle Claire Fontaine’s work, nor is that important to them, albeit their founding statement: all their work is a visual research. It’s interesting, although not very obvious, that a visual research can circumvent formalism. As we keep noticing throughout the exhibition, that can only be achieved with the use of Rhetoric, especially in non-visual figures, which Claire Fontaine masterfully manipulates.
The artists’ words indicate that metaphor is the most important mechanism for their work. This is no surprise, since the predominantly conceptual art, in order to function, has to rely on discursive tools, on the mechanisms of language. It’s no coincidence that conceptual art was born when language studies became enthusiastic about its formal and structuring profile, triggering a functional revival of Rhetoric, the revaluation of the metaphor and metonymy that, during the vanguard, had been reneged. At the entrance, we encounter an instructional video, appropriated by the artists – the ready-made and appropriation are pivotal in their work, often being the plane of expression for metaphorical and allegorical paths that allow them to create the artistic discourse and the political reverberation that is quintessential to all their production and performance – a video that teaches us to produce the tools to open a lock without the respective key. The video is shown as a metaphor of rape, as an affront to intimacy, without neglecting the obvious sexual connotation. These themes are presented to us again in the following piece: a safe where a hole has been torn, which allows the entry of an empty hand, but prevents its exit if something is taken from the safe.
The violation of the individual, in a more literal approach, is found in the two cracked lightboxes with large format prints of two photographs that emerged on the Internet a while ago, where prisoners from Yemen share, in illustrations drawn with polystyrene pieces, the mistreatment to which they are subjected. Claire Fontaine uses another rhetorical device to add meaning to the pieces by placing a shattered glass over the original image, recalling the intimate and tactile relationship we have with the mobile phone. The mobile phone’s broken glass is also a sign of class. It tells us about the impossibility that ordinary citizens face when they attempt to follow the pace of the demands of programmed obsolescence, through which the industrial and economic system taints our relationship with consumer objects.
Inside the gallery, we find several sculptural figures in dialogue with the tradition of statuary, retrieving the capacity for the representation of monumental and celebratory statues. But, in a sarcastic and provocative gesture, their realm is turned into a platitude. More than a metaphor or, more appropriate in this case, an icon, these figures synecdochally depict typologies in contemporary society. Figures that typify well-known and active political places (from a brainless Trump-like yuppie to Yoda, to the anonymous). But the unusual trait that unifies them is an alms cup, an object that puts them in the beggar’s position, of figures who desperately ask for the two things that propel contemporary society like no other, here critically evidenced: attention and money. It’s also important to note that all figures, in one way or another, are disguised, metamorphosed and operationally adapted according to the objective, as a product to which a new packaging is added for better acceptance. It’s a mercantilist procedure, which forces us to question the integrity and dignity of the person-product, which is reimagined to please.
In this set of pieces, we perceive the meaning of the exhibition’s title more easily. Your money and your life is a later stage of the classic Your money or your life. Capitalism was obsessed with money extraction (and, during that time, the expression money or life used in robberies became famous). Today’s more savage neoliberalism is not content with money alone and is looking for subliminal mechanisms to take over life itself, using any strategy to manufacture virtual needs and establish social validation anxieties. This is the theme of all of Claire Fontaine´s work. This exhibition aids us to look at our socio-political context, awakening a critical sense, so that some transformative and positive action can eventually emerge.
Claire Fontaine – Your Money and Your Life, curated by Anna Daneri, at Galeria Avenida da Índia, until 5 January.