‘Contre la Saturation du Visible’ (Against the Saturation of the Visible) was the title of Annelise Coste’s exhibition. This was potentially misleading, as the show’s degree of ‘saturation’ could be gauged neither in terms of established affirmative interpretations of the visual nor in terms of the withdrawal symptoms of a rebellious iconoclasm. Coste’s sprayed messages wound their way somewhere between the two, political and poetic at the same time, in large-format works on paper and along the wall, constantly shifting focus and attention from figures of speech to visual idiom, from text to form, from the form to the meaning generated by the text’s content.
The piece that gave the show its title was realized as a direct intervention in the gallery space. A drawing executed as a spontaneous gesture, sprayed directly onto the wall in black paint, with no visible or discernible organizing structure, it gave a particularly clear impression of the way Coste works. Short phrases and quotations formed a network of Dadaist automatisms and self-assurances – ‘jejeje fais que je veux no no no Ho Ho why why did you do that’ – peppered here and there with anti-authoritarian political slogans. The tangled whole was a many-voiced interior monologue, a maze whose paths seem to know only two ways out: either an implosion of meaning in repetition or an explosion through pure overload. In between the two, the smoke evaporated in the clouds of spray paint; you could almost smell the gunpowder from which several stylized butterflies rose into the air, gently flapping their wings. She describes a discontent with culture and society in equal measure. In endless torrents of words Coste insults the French police and pays tribute to the rebels of her generation. She confronts Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) with her own verses, which she published last year under the title Poemland. The way she breaks these poetico-political constellations down to the spontaneous aesthetic of slogans sprayed on toilet walls by no means detracts from the weight of their messages.
Coste celebrates fluid transitions, regardless of whether you try to decipher her works as pictures or as texts. In one instance the search for meaning took a single word (‘buybuy’) as its point of departure. In another, wonderful loops needed processing letter by letter: ‘wherewherewhere’ asked a large-format work on paper, and only gradually did it become clear that deleting the recurring ‘w’ was all it took to find an obvious answer. In another work Coste reiterated the same sentence over and over until it began to disappear in the singsong quality of a well-meaning mantra: ‘Stop telling me everything is market’. And some masked grandchild of Marcel Duchamp seemed to have taken a well-aimed pot-shot with a paint gun at the picture proclaiming ‘Annelise Coste sent la rose’ (Annelise Coste smells of roses).
Most of the pieces in the show were not created until Coste arrived in situ, which is just one reason why it seemed to make so much sense to imagine the actual process that led to each individual work: the artist at work writing, painting, erasing, revising; the artist as a performer repeatedly running over her messages in loops as a way of questioning their actual meaning and content; and then once more the artist as an activist, forming a coalition with poetry as a way of reining in her destructive desires. In this light the photographic Portraits d’Automobiles (Portraits of Cars), projected in a darkened room, appeared as objects of desire that Coste would just love to get her hands on. It was easy to imagine her spraying messages on the windscreens and bonnets of the cars on display – political, poetic, rebellious and yet possibly utterly futile. This calls to mind an image from earlier times, when Coste still did performances. In a video of her 1998 Tram Performance, she can be seen taking on Zurich streetcars in a race between two stops, until one particularly charming tram driver raises his hat to her – and lets her win.