BY Sophie Berrebi in Reviews | 11 NOV 99
Featured in
Issue 49

Le Printemps de Cahors

BY Sophie Berrebi in Reviews | 11 NOV 99

Rather than simply being a really naff pun, 'EXTRAetORDINAIRE' is the title of a group show trying hard to be a concept. While the 'ordinary' references a preoccupation with the banal which was in vogue in France in the mid-90s, the 'Extra' revamps the idea. The show brought together a crowd of international and French artists; and although the theoretical back-up was rather flimsy, the end product was surprisingly good. The show gave the strange impression of a Venice Biennale chill-out, in which a number of artists (Doug Aitken and Saverio Lucariello, for example) gathered together once again for a more relaxed experience. It is quite rare to see such a mix of artists in France, and it is to the credit of the show's organisers that such juxtapositions were allowed to be made.

An annual exhibition, 'Printemps de Cahors' - one of the largest private initiative arts event in France - traditionally takes place in conventional exhibition spaces and unlikely locations throughout Cahors. Many of the works are site- specific and these make up some of the best moments of the show - for example the work of Roman Signer, who was given permission to play around with the medieval bridge over the Lot river. His Installation d'eau (Installation of water, 1999) - a bucket of water which cascaded over a gradually rusting 2CV car abandoned on the bridge - succeeded in conveying a sense of stubborn irony more efficiently than most of his filmed experiments. Malachi Farrell, Roderick Buchanan and Bertrand Lamarche, whose installations and videos were displayed in an old water mill by the river, also drew out associations between their work and the natural setting. But the best installation in the building (and one of the artist's best works) was Gilles Barbier's Environnement corrigé (Corrected environment, 1999), for which the artist turned the water mill's engine room into a spaceship. The dusty, disused, Jules Vernes-esque space provided the perfect framework for his correcteurs de réalités (reality corrections) - notes scribbled with hints about what to imagine instead of what is there - which he had stuck around the room. Véronique Boudier's Du sucre dans le moteur (Sugar in the motor, 1999), a two-part installation of a car engine covered in crystallised sugar which smelt strongly of perfume, was shown alongside a strange and unflattering photo of the artist being sexually penetrated from behind. Displayed in a town house, the piece suggested a commentary on small-town sexual morals.

While the site specific works successfully integrated art with various aspects of the picturesque town, the gallery exhibitions were uneven. 'Printemps de Cahors' was conceived nine years ago as an annual contemporary photography show, and it hasn't yet managed to incorporate other media effectively. Rooms full of illustrative photos (Mac Adams or Philippe Durand, for example), could not compete with many of the artists' photos, quite a few of which were often exhibited as series. Some were discoveries: Claude Closky's Objets en lévitation dans la cuisine (Objects levitating in the kitchen, 1996) have a wit and lack of self-consciousness that seems to have disappeared from many of his most recent works. Erwin Wurm's photographs One Minute Sculpture (1988-99) were wisely displayed nearby Signer's pictures and underlined a similar kind of humour and difference of scale. Many of these images have something surreal about them, most notably Natacha Lesuer's large, bright pictures of edible head-gear (Untitled, 1999). Bringing them together under a theme that recalls the Surrealist idea of discovering strangeness in the familiar, however, encouraged overly-simplified interpretations.

The same could be said of Fischli and Weiss's Der Rechte Weg (The Right Path, 1983) and Sam Taylor-Wood's Brontosaurus (1996). The two films were exhibited in enclosed spaces opposite one another: Der Rechte Weg narrates the adventures of a panda and a rat (both costumed human beings) in natural forest settings. The dialogue - which explores the struggle of human relations - is realistic, while the concealed bodies create a strange contrast with the exaggerated movements of a naked dancer in Taylor-Wood's piece. In the discrepancy between the lyricism of the background music and the grotesque movements of the dancer, Taylor-Wood's film clearly explores the idea of extra and ordinary, while its juxtaposition with Der Rechte Weg neutralises the latter's less flashy, more internalised investigation, preventing the viewer from reading into it more poignant questions about the relationship between nature and society.