Despite their formal differences, the three series of works that make up ‘Suite et fin’, Fayçal Baghriche’s solo show at Le SHED, initiated by French national arts centre CNAP, share a surprising reliance upon the traditional artistic techniques of painting and drawing. But Baghriche himself neither draws nor paints. Instead, the ‘art’, if we can call it that, stems from critical, but overlooked, parts of different commercial processes – from industrial agriculture to street-level entrepreneurism of questionable legality. In each case, the acts of painting or drawing are related to value – aiming to designate it accurately or to inflate it through deception. Those responsible remain absent and anonymous.
Placed diagonally between Le SHED’s slender iron columns (the space, a former candle wick factory, is owned and run by a small group of artists and curators) are five large tree trunk sections (‘Anagnorisis’, 2017). Twelve more were placed outside on the grass in the nearby city of Rouen for a three-day music festival. Each is one-third of the original tree, laid on its side, with the bark removed and the wood sliced into dozens of regular sheets. Between each sheet are slim slats that allow air to pass through. All were grown in Gabon, a heavily forested country that produces 20 percent of Africa’s raw wood exports – then cut down, cut up and shipped to Caen, a port in Normandy 150 kilometres from Le SHED. The top foliage is deemed worthless; the trunks are sliced by machine in Caen and the wood left to dry, ready to use for furniture or window frames. The flat-cut ends of each trunk have been painted in either red or green, depending on whether the wood is iroko or sipo (a type of mahogany).
Formally, these ready-mades nod to 20th-century minimalism. But where, say, Donald Judd sought to stake out the autonomy of the object with his stack works, Baghriche’s interests are quite different. ‘Each form is highly charged,’ he told me. Every object, every material arrives laden with its own specific history, its own participation in complex industrial processes and networks of global commerce and transportation, with their own rippling effects and causes – economic, ecological, social and political. It is to these that Baghriche’s work is so precisely attuned.
On opposite walls is the ‘Atlas series’ (2015), nine large-scale photographs that seemingly depict brightly-coloured geodes. But they are not what they seem: they are, in fact, images of valueless pieces of quartz. They have been split open, their insides carefully painted to appear like semi-precious stones, such as amethysts, and sold by the side of the road in Morocco. Each image takes the same form: the geode is shown right up close and held in the right hand of the anonymous artist/seller. All are cropped tight – a dirty thumbnail or the edge of a sleeve the only hints of human individuality. The bright jewel-tones of the geodes stand out dramatically from the crumbling red brick of Le SHED’s walls – their peeling jade paint another anonymous trace of art beyond the sphere of art.
The exhibition culminates with ‘Imperfections’ (2010). From a distance, eight small frames seem to house delicate drawings. And, in a way, they do. Up close, you realise that these are panes of glass. On each is a hastily-drawn circle in black pen. The panes are faulty off-cuts from industrial glass-making: within each circle is the tiny flaw in the glass that renders these sections worthless. The circle, dashed off by a worker, draws our attention instantly to the flaw – in the factory, to denote what is no longer of value, but also here in the gallery, to question the very systems by which worth is defined. Thanks to Baghriche, a flaw in a piece of glass shows up the flaws of an entire system.
Main image: Fayçal Bagrhiche, ‘Suite et fin’, 2017, installation view, Le SHED, Notre-Dame de Bondeville. Courtesy: Le SHED, Notre-Dame de Bondeville; photograph: Samir Ramdani