Galleria Francesca Kaufmann, Milan, Italy
In 1951, Milan’s Triennale held an international congress on La Divina Proporzione (Divine Proportion) and asked Le Corbusier to chair it; two years before, the Swiss master had published his first version of Modulor Man, a system based on the golden ratio, Vitruvius, Alberti and Leonardo, which he defined as a ‘harmonious measure to the human scale, universally applicable to architecture’. At Francesca Kaufmann, Latifa Echakhch uses the system’s standard dimensions as compositional tools for a series of four wall drawings, covering the white and vaulted small secondary exhibition space in thick charcoal.
The artist has titled each work Plainte (Complaint; all works 2009), followed by the number defining its height in centimetres (43, 86, 113, 226), as if to mimic Sol LeWitt’s sequences of architecturally scaled wall drawings. But at the same time, by re-applying the abstract beauty of those numbers to the surfaces of a real room, Echakhch induces a physical experience of the undersized proportions adopted for the unités d’habitation of Modernist social housing blocks, so frequently inspired by Le Corbusier. The artist seems to have taken Corb’s infamous slogan ‘Let the user speak next’ literally, engaging the viewer in the war of contradictions between the Utopian goals of such architectures and the oppressive living conditions they imposed upon their residents – who are now mostly immigrant communities. Born in El Khnansa, Morocco (in 1974) and raised in the French Alps, Echakhch loves to spot and critically deconstruct the frictions of cultural differences, but she’d rather not come up with didactic one-sided statements; her allegations are conveyed through a self-contained formal vocabulary rooted in post war and (mostly Western) Minimal art.
In a corner, the artist has positioned a group of white plinths (or monoliths) topped by a sheet of blue carbon paper, smeared by the drippings caused by solvents: À chaque stencil une revolution, une après l’autre (With every stencil a revolution, one after another). It silently evokes both the protests of the 1960s and the riots that shook France’s banlieues in 2005, and works as cross-reference to the wall drawings, because in French plinthe (plinth) and plainte (complaint) share an almost identical pronunciation.
Symmetrically, in the main space, Echakhch covers the walls with a new series of paintings (developed from analogous wall drawings) that are titled, respectively, Dérive 7, 8, 9, 10. While obviously quoting the Situationist’s dérives, which suggested an inner identification with architecture, the artist here takes the liberty of getting lost in ornamentation; she willingly disobeys the strict principles regulating the calligraphy of arabesques, subverting their ‘divine proportions’. Again based on a slippage of meanings is the central floor-based installation: Les Petites Lettres (Small letters), the French translation for bréouatte, a kind of beefy Moroccan roll, with the same shape as the 48 triangles of folded paper dyed in ink that Echakhch spread on a couple of low, candid paper plinths – black on white. Or perhaps it’s a question: black or white?
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