Hugo Cantegrel’s JUST BEFORE WE BEGIN at Foco Gallery

JUST BEFORE WE BEGIN as a show and title points to the pre-discursive, sensation-based domain which precedes the consolidation of concept. Concept is constructed through justification. Just before we begin there may be a void, where the materials are provided from which a discourse can be created. The inherently diversified set of ingredients which creates discourse is mirrored in the use of materials of the artworks themselves, which include ceramic, neon, digital image, plastic, cable. The exhibition is comprised of five composite works from Hugo Cantegrel produced between 2019-2020 and is on view at Gallery Foco until March 27, 2020.

Upon entering the space one has a visceral response to the flotation devices (Every man for himself I-V, 2019) which are produced in ceramic and conjure the haptic. The seeming, inflatables are taken out of water, recontextualised being placed on wheels and brought to earth, such that their function and their materiality take second place to the visual impact of their usefulness. What one immediately perceives or believes to be inflatables is immediately bought into question upon further inspection and the realisation that they are in fact ceramic. This trajectory of “understanding” opens with this work into a repeated process of sensationalisation which is part and parcel of rationalisation; that the two are in tensile union not duplicity, existing to reassert one another not as a paradox but as necessary cohabitation of processes which cannot exist alone. These two modes are indivisible from one another. All of the works are interventions. Ready-mades are given additional utility which places them outside of the expected canon of “the ready-made”. Materials in the form of the works exhibited are manipulated, in such a layering that denotes the mechanics of these processes, which are then rendered divergent, such that the visitor is urged to both divide and choose between them. The (mis)placement of emotion and logic is primary to the exhibition. The works, in general, intend to invert expectation and play to the desire to simultaneously create a rationale for the existence of something while generating illusive scenarios where anthropomorphisation is a natural consequence of the tendency to create meaning. The exhibition is highly impressionistic. The spectrum of phenomena from the emotional to the superstitious is exemplified in four monoliths. On these (Unidentified I-IV, 2019) we see circled anomalies derived from google searches, ones that exist only as such by virtue of the consensus that these are abnormalities. The presence of these forms are easily seen, yet through their framing and magnification, the artist theatricises these events and vicariously participates in them.

This dramatization is sustained. With Sometimes I cry for nothing (2020), an aggrandized, fragile, emotional paradox is rendered in blue neon cursive. Appropriated from the domain of self-exposing language, its author ambivalent. This sentiment reveals a raw emotion, yet in its being qualified by “sometimes” and “nothing”, becomes rationalized. Opposite to the neon sign is an enlarged, caption-less print of a woman gazing outwards (You will not be forgotten VI, 2019), in situ; the surface of which has been intervened upon with red neon, emulating the contours of the fabric of her jacket. in doing so, the artist engages in an act of personalisation, further dissociating the subject from its original context. The artist’s spontaneous modification of the image toys with the polemic of authenticity and falsity, within the larger processes of rationalization and sensationalisation.

What comes to be seen as the final piece in the exhibition, is the largest scale work consisting of evenly distributed waved pink neon curves and their wires (404 (an error has occurred), 2020). The practical experience of the “404” is one which renders a user impotent by an inability to reach conclusion or destination. 404 signifies the unchartered territory of the net which mimics the delimited and mysterious intelligence of the “extra-terrestrial”. An equilibrium between them is reached, and leaves one in a liminal state of indeterminacy represented by the subtlety of the pastel colour palette that encompasses the exhibition which further acts as a metaphor for the nuances of the emotional spectrum. The processes of rationalisation and sensationalisation are engaged in an osmosis whereby one reaches a fluctuating conception of what is being perceived until this disbelief and credibility, this superstition and factuality, reach an equilibrium of mutualism.


By Josseline Black and Myles Francis Browne

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