The capitalized title of this show at Galerie Antoine Levi, ‘SHIFT’, suggested that the young Belleville gallery may be getting ready for a change. Despite it being a summer show, the curator’s lightness of touch invoked more of a spring clean than anything else. A group of discrete works-on-paper, all modest in scale, by seven artists, the exhibition resulted in a resolved statement about the myriad ways of reading and framing images. The exhibition’s strength was in its mix of reticence and insistence: what you saw was what you got – almost.
Hung directly opposite the entrance to the gallery was French collective France Fiction’s Trait Pour Trait (2014): an eponymously engraved mirror-like aluminium slab, it served as entry plaques do, to announce the purpose of the proprietor within. ‘Trait pour trait’ can literally be translated as ‘feature for feature’ or, more figuratively, as ‘spitting image’. Often used to mean ‘exactly’, this outdated phrase was here employed by France Fiction to pun with the visual/linguistic representation depicted in the placard, namely a reflection of your face and/or the entrance to the gallery reflected behind.
This sharp opener set the tone and provided a legend of sorts for the other works in the show. Berlin-based New Zealander Richard Frater is known for his subtle sculptures and photographs, whose origins can be found in drawing. Seemingly a drawing on white paper, Ambassador (2014) is, in fact, a 1:1 photograph of a grid of embossed toilet paper overlaid with pieces of barbed wire that have been bent and arranged into a figure reminiscent of a dove. Ambassador reiterates the sort of perspectival shifts that the exhibition courts. Frater’s second work strives for a more anthropomorphic affect. Lure I (2014) was almost invisible from a distance but, jutting out perpendicular to the wall, wedged on a capsule of Omega-3 fish oil, was a fish hook – a Twin Minnow Strike Pro lure – gagged by its own replica.
Similarly trapped in an ouroboros-like loop, works by other artists used drawing to evoke sculpture and abstraction to evoke figuration. Emma Ilija Wyller’s brown-ink drawing, Untitled (2014), appears literally to vacillate: repetitive lines hover within an enclosed form that alludes to the quasi-geometries of her three-dimensional works. Piotr Makowski’s A4 carbon transfers, Kompozycja P0 6, 7, 12 and 13 (2014), employ lines and voids to form rectangular compositions, which read as maquettes for his large canvases. Francesco Gennari, who works mainly in sculpture and photography, allows the frame of his Untitled (2014) to overwhelm the pencil drawing it contains.
The only non-wall-based work was Ola Vasiljeva’s Untitled (2014), which comprises brown and white sheets of silkscreened wrapping paper each enclosing a shoe. Vasiljeva tends toward precise installations: this single work was placed on the floor behind the window, facing the street like a storefront display. By alluding to the sale of something we can’t see (the shoes), the piece questions the deceptive nature of appearances and the straightforward reading of objects.
For Hosted Ceremony/Klack Tray (Warehouse) (2013), Aude Pariset – who reformulates and extends the lives of ‘poor’ images – used an advertisement for British clothing brand Warehouse to create what look like colourful stains on the clean, white surface of an upended serving tray. Respectively fragmented and wall-mounted, fashion image and Ikea tray alike are deprived of their original purposes.
If ‘SHIFT’ expresses a desire for change, it is perhaps for an understated yet insistent metamorphosis – convinced, trait pour trait, of where it’s going.