Pascale Marthine Tayou
Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, Sweden
Nomadism is central to the work of Pascale Marthine Tayou. Tayou’s notion of the artist as nomad is reminiscent of the Postmodernist sampler: he sees himself as a rolling stone, constantly in motion but, unlike the proverbial boulder, always accumulating parts of the places he passes through; never standing still yet productively gathering moss.
For Tayou, installing an exhibition is an opportunity for collaboration. Here he has worked with local students, likening the process to working in a laboratory: chance amalgamation and the use of whatever is at hand are at the core. Titled ‘Always All Ways. Omnes Viae Malmö Ducunt’ (All Roads Lead to Malmö), the exhibition seemingly wants to convey that wherever you are – even a small town in southern Sweden – is the centre of the world. Yet the show is also firmly anchored in Tayou’s native Cameroon: the tri-coloured flag is prominently featured and the wall mounted with ‘Afros’ – instead of Euros – bearing the motto ‘In Pascale Marthine Tayou we trust’.
There is no clearly charted path through the show at first; the vast, airy space of the Konsthall is filled with a carnival of compositions including La cercle de la vie (2009), a round enclosure of hanging red textile; Poupées Pascale (2010), glass figurines on tree stumps; and Chalk and Pins (2010), pieces of chalk neatly arranged in a frame. Towering in the middle of the room is The Umbrella City (2010), a bouquet of hanging umbrellas that envelopes the most striking work in the exhibition – Plastic Bags (2010), an installation of scaffolding and steps leading up to a large, colourful hanging net made up of perhaps the most common indicator of global waste culture: plastic bags. Tayou’s installations – most of them vertical assemblages conjuring human shapes, dwellings or shantytowns, and many made out of recycled materials – dominate the space, but are balanced with short films of sequences of water (filmed in Africa and Asia) and a number of wall-based works: photographs, mixed media works and neon signs.
The works do not necessarily form a coherent narrative nor do they play off each other in surprising ways; I can’t help but wonder what this show would have been like if it had been displayed in a gallery of many, smaller rooms, thus allowing for more comprehensive discernment. But presumably this cacophony of individual pieces was intentional, and the multifarious exhibition does serve to convey a sort of global jumble: highlighting issues of borders, cultural stereotypes and environmental concerns.
If the nomad-collaborator’s village of installations serves mainly to emphasize a cultural remix of sorts, potentially more sinister is Kids Mascarade (2009), a photograph of children posing for the camera in colourful masks. At first glance humorous, the portrait is undercut by the uncanny cloaks and the sense of being looked at, without being able to return the gaze.
In a short film made on the occasion of the exhibition, Tayou compares humans to the plastic bags he uses in his installations, calling them ‘useful and dangerous’. A similar analogy can conceivably be stretched to describe migration and globalization as well. The contradictions and inherit inequalities of global migration reach far beyond the playful artist as nomad on display here.
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