The real capital

Audrey Teichmann, 2013

It’s hard to say, when in the company of Pierre Labat’s artworks, whether it is one’s body or one’s gaze that is the first to be called upon. Neither expressive colour, nor ostentatious shapes, nor familiar fiction distract us from the exhibition room, in which the space rebuilds itself entirely, thanks to the distension of the time spent walking around and the diffraction of the spaces crossed one after the other. Each slight movement of the visitor brings forth a new arising of the artworks, whose balance, absence of allocation and tension, give the illusion of a simultaneity with the space that welcomes them – that could have always contained them and be contemporary to them – as well as with the one who observes them. Allowing an empiric approach, they bring a troubling humanity to ‘pure’ shapes and the serial aspect of minimal art, the reminiscence of elements of representation that are identifiable but unidentified, a scale but also an anthropomorphic shape, convincing us that these artworks are, in many respects, to be experienced.

Through four exhibited artworks, it is four worlds or relations to the world that Pierre Labat is sharing, with his implicit presence setting the tone for the spectator’s. In Strong evidence, it is the metal extension of his five fingers that, inviting the spectator to place his/her hand on top of his, connects the emptiness of the room with the frontal aspect of its walls. There is a chiasmus between the simple observation of this shape, stemming from emptiness and planted into the rigidity of the wall, and its interpretation, that sets its bodily source in the floor, and its positioning in the direction of the sky, an immaterial space. “Strong evidence”, the projection is at the same time limited to the space of the wall and prolonged by the mind, with firm diagonals that remind us of the stigma of Giotto’s Saint Francis of Assisi. It is the paradoxical place of confrontation between supra-terrestrial aspirations, mystical or not – the heavens being the place for the divine or a destination for space exploration – and the presence on terrestrial ground of this otherworldliness – meteorites and religions. This hand, drawn out between here and beyond, is like a bridge between the Aristotelian system’s supra-lunar domain, a uniform and constant world, and the sub-lunar modifiable Earth. A sturdy serial aspect of shapes, with a possible corruption of the iron that it is made of : it is the contrast between its powerful deployment and the contingency of its origin, the artist’s hand.

A hand that betrays a palm print in the artwork made up of three circles, as tall as a man. These circles are sealed in two respects : tightly linked to one another, they are also marked by their author’s fingerprint, like a seal. The ‘seal’, taken in French (“sigillaire”) from the Latin sigillum, diminutive of signum, the ‘sign’, is summoned here as a hand-sign : the one that creates and touches. The first one, a worker’s hand, is the ‘real capital’ from the title, an expression taken from a nineteenth-century engraving on which a worker in an overall, holding his hands out in front of two friends and a national guard, says “mustn’t lose sight of this – the real capital – this is it”. The real capital is this body in action, the resource that the artist disposes of to ensure his productivity, in a highly political and sociological term ; but it is also, by an onomastic shift in meaning, the basic reality : that of the materiality of artworks, of the obviousness of a body-author / body-matrix / body-visitor. The anthropomorphic allusion is indeed at the heart of this artwork. It inscribes itself into space like a benchmark structure, and defines human scale as well as the Vitruvian man of Leonardo ; inscribed in a similar way in a circle, he touches with the tip of his fingers the geometrical pattern of his proportions. For all that however, there is not one, but three circles : orbs cohabitating, as do cohabitate those of a system’s planets, at the centre of which the Earth is dogmatically no more. A sculpture into which the body can penetrate and inscribe itself, on a human scale as wanted Carl Andre, it is the heart of deceptive and successively deconstructed perceptions ; it is the illusion of a man, planted firmly at the core of the universe that abolishes the ambiguity of these shapes, full frontal rounds, sideways ovals, forming a triangle for those who see it from above.

This ambivalence of form, stemming from the impossible definition of the object from a sole perception, is at the heart of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. Made up from a white rectangle put on a wall, of which it repeats the whiteness and flatness, it contains another figure : it is at the same time a parallelepiped and the implicit materialisation of the distortion it is put through when it is looked at from the threshold of the room. This artwork, simultaneously offering a shape and the trace of the first gaze laid on this shape, tells us of the impossibility of grasping it once and for all ; on the contrary, made up of the infinite possibilities of points of view that it allows, it only exists in the sum of these successive moments. It is the spatial and temporal aspect that ironically plays with the simultaneity of the artwork, to which the visual recipient also contributes to the making up and undoing of the basic structure, and of which the exhibition area determines the perception. Here again, Pierre Labat gives a scale for measure : not that of the body on its own, but that of the room, whose field of vision, determined by the opening and its distance with the wall, where the abscissa of one’s gaze is confronted with the ordinate of the wall, has determined the precise realisation of the work. Defined by the artist, the spectator, the space, the time, it is, although finished, being permanently reactivated, never complete, if not by the distended and impossible sum of its experimentations. In an orthonormal world in principle, it is in fact defined by its instability, its changing power ; if one does not swim twice in the same river, never does one see the same artwork twice. What is it then ?

This perceptive change is that of the structure composed of metal half-circles, joined together in their centre by a point that acts as a symmetrical axis. A central symmetry, but also an axial one, when one places oneself straight in front of one of the arcs, the observer sees a sort of vertical line, on either side of which curved lines open out. An artwork imaginable in its basic shape, but never observable from all sides in order to grasp it perfectly, it is conceivable but not graspable in its entirety. Like the finitude of the mind that can conceive infinity, or represent what cannot be shown, through experimental science’s recurrent and inductive reasoning, the spectator can combine in himself the full amount of viewpoints that he experiments by moving around the artwork, in order to get the most complete perception possible. The object’s completeness does not result in its understanding, once again, and the observer finds himself faced with a literal cluster of paths. The frame-structure, made up at the same time of metallic curves and the emptiness that gives rhythm to them, brings the floor and the ceiling together in a precise manner, using two elements similar to those that are on top of columns supporting a ribbed arc. As a pressure-system that balances out its different strengths itself, its double and auto-referential character is surprising : which surface supports the other ? Must one maintain the partition above or underneath oneself ? With obvious tensions in the artworks, the stabilising compression of its different parts suggests a tensegrity shared by several of Pierre Labat’s works ; as an artwork in movement in spite of its stability, it is the materialisation of this invisible flux, a flux with a major influence on physical elements, like tidal currents, or magnetic fields moving around Earth from its metallic core. This work, which calls upon strengths in balance, the mechanics of fluids and physics’ flux, is at the same time a phenomenon and the pattern of a phenomenon.

It is in this permanent tension between the idea and its realisation, between the power of suggestion and the power of a shape in itself, grasped in diverse manners in space and time, that emotion partially resides. Deceptive surfaces, critical consideration of flatness and materiality, but also taking root in basic reality, contribute to the appearance of heterotypic artworks : ‘effective spaces’, ‘with varied shapes’, that Foucault opposed to utopia. One could, when faced with the linearity of the shapes and the simplicity of the materials, link what crosses Pierre Labat’s artworks to this. The symmetrical, almost specular, construction of some of his pieces brings to mind this ‘reversible universe’ where the ground is in the sky and the sky is in the ground, this ‘cosmological vertigo’ to which ‘one adds a metaphysical vertigo that is like a double interior’ (Genette, Figure I). The profoundly anthropological aspect of these artworks, their taking into account of the human figure not only in terms of scale, but also in terms of summoned absence, this being with a fragmented perception of artworks, that has also been invited by them, only extends the question of their power of suggestion. Not a suggestion outside of them – whilst also bringing to mind sources, not necessary to their completeness – but in their constant reactivation, and the illusion that they summon, that they base in the ground, that has always and will always come out of the wall, at the price of the real capital that is the demiurge artist.


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