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Issue 176

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

Musée national d'art modern, Centre Pompidou, Paris

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BY Vivian Sky Rehberg in Reviews | 10 DEC 15

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster MM, 2015, diaporama

Did you know that the word ‘clew’, which rhymes with ‘clue’, refers to a ball of yarn like the mythological red one Ariadne gave Theseus so he could trace his path when he entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur? The spatially maze-like retrospective ‘Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster 1887–2058’ is brimming with clues to interpreting three decades of her work, but unless you come across a ‘clew’ equipped with time-travelling properties, it won’t help you orient yourself here. Neither will the dates in the title: when it comes to navigational reassurances, they are a ruse. As indicated on the entrance wall, the distant past of ‘1887’ may indeed be the year the Hotel Splendide Royal was built in Lugano, and the not-so-distant-future of ‘2058’ might well refer to a ‘shelter in London for climate refugees’ (or Gonzalez-Foerster’s Tate Turbine Hall installation TH.2058, 2008–09), but the titular chronological continuum that spans between them is creased with wrinkles in time.

A massive architectural construction occupying the glassed-in Galerie Sud is clustered with the contemporary equivalent of date-coded ‘period rooms’. Not incidentally, within the last decade, the Pompidou’s Galerie Sud has also housed solo exhibitions by Gonzalez-Foerster’s close compatriots, Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno (respectively titled ‘Pierre Huyghe’ and ‘8 juin 1968 – 7 septembre 2009’, which feels like a clue to something). A high-gloss black linoleum corridor dripping with the sound of rainfall leads the visitor around the periphery of interior spaces and environments (Promenade, 2007, with Christophe van Huffel). Rooms have featured in Gonzalez-Foerster’s work from the beginning. Here, they range from a cinema screening her films and videos to the welcoming and capacious grass-green carpet of the neon-lit Brasilia Hall (1998/2000), an homage to Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa’s Brasília complex, to the more moodily domestic Une Chambre en ville (A Bedroom in the City, 1996). Gonzalez-Foerster prefers the word ‘environment’ to ‘installation’ and she contrasts it with what she calls ‘attractions’, like the Cosmodrome (2001) she co-conceived with Jay-Jay Johanson. On entering, a guard warns that you will be locked in the pitch black for ten minutes and invites you to sit on the gritty sand floor. A mural tableau of blinking lights, like a satellite view of a city, flickers while you listen to bleeps and whooshes and a portentous narrative about the future. I’m around the same age as Gonzalez-Foerster and I connected, in an instance of mental time-warping, with how much her sensory imagination of the future in Cosmodrome reflected my own when I was a child.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, R.W.F. (Rainer Werner Fassbinder), 2015, installation view

You could more or less wander at will throughout the rooms, with the exception of Cosmodrome and Chambre 19 (Room 19, 2015), a wooden hotel door for which only writer Enrique Vila-Matas holds the key. The exhibition opens with a citation by Vila-Matas that, via Arthur Rimbaud, mentions the notion of ‘exhibiting oneself’. It’s easy, and probably correct, to take all of these interiors metaphorically and literally as representations of the self, particularly in the case of euqinimod & costumes (2014), an autobiographical environment hung with Gonzalez-Foerster’s own garments dating back to the 1960s – and a portrait of her as Edgar Allan Poe. The artist makes repeated appearances in her exhibition; or rather, she exists on video as an ‘apparition’ in the costumed guise of a wobbly hologram Fitzcarraldo shouting for his opera in the jungle (M.2062 [Fitzcarraldo], 2014), on screen as Vera Nabokov nervously standing in to lecture for an absent Vladimir, or a subterranean, homesick-blue Bob Dylan tossing pages to the ground (Vera & Mister Hyde, 2015). She’s also blown up to a majestic size on the museum’s facade as Marilyn Monroe skinny-dipping in a pool, a series of images that also appear in the video screening programme.

In her film De Novo (2009), Gonzalez-Foerster speaks candidly about her lack of inspiration regarding exhibitions and reveals that when she was younger she wanted to be an actress. As a result, appearing in character seems like a renewal in the form of an expansion of repertoire that opens up into the associative realms that matter to her work (literature, cinema, architecture, landscape). But we should not confuse crossing the threshold into her spaces with crossing the threshold into an intimate understanding of the artist.

Vivian Sky Rehberg is a contributing editor of frieze and course director of the Master of Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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