Mathieu Briand on Caszuidas Giant Screen, Amsterdam.

Caszuidas Giant Outdoor screen – Moving Images in Public Space, Amsterdam, The Netherlands will showcase Mathieu BRIAND’s personal exhibit as of August 2012.

Mathieu Briand Invoking Point and Counterpoint
By Afshan Hussain

Standing 10 feet from Mathieu Briand’s  Le Sculpture Inhumaine(The Inhuman Sculpture), I see what looks like an uprooted tree turned upside down. My eyes follow the progression of the tree upward from leaves on branches to the trunk of the tree, and then to a round of grass –which one imagines must have been torn from the ground as the tree itself was uprooted. At the center of this circular tuffet of earth overturned, appears, what seems to be, the roots of the tree. There is also the standing figure of a man dressed in a cape and top hat holding a cane or staff.

Stepping in closer, I realize the leaves on the branches are in fact bats. The twigs or roots that wrap around the trunk are in fact serpents. Just beneath the layer of earth, I see inside the base of the trunk a nude man, his arms and legs seem to be pressing against the insides of the trunk to keep him from falling.  The upturned tuft of grass is in fact made of octopuses, serpents, and skulls– not grass. There are geese crying out as if in alarm.  And at the center, I see that what I thought to be an undersized representation of the roots of the tree is in fact a fire. Only the figure of a 20th century man is what I thought it to be from afar.

My first impression of the piece was to think of it as a depiction of Dante’s Inferno, a vision of hell, and yet the inescapable fact that this sculpture is a tree of sorts forces me to think of hell’s counterpoint—the garden of Eden and the tree of the forbidden fruit of knowledge. I ponder the figure atop the tree, who is most-definitely the 20th century or modern man. He seems to stand there defiantly, dominating this scene.  The pre- modern man is caught within the trunk of the tree. To me, he is Adam our ancestor caught between the Garden of Eden and the hell of Dante’s inferno.  Is he descending downwards to the depths of what I take to be the subconscious or perhaps a cavern of fear represented by bats?  Or is he rather trying to crawl away and save himself from it? The bats, reminiscent of  batman’s cave,  together with the skulls, serpents, and octopuses create an ambiance often found in films of the fantasy genre.

I behold  Hell and it counterpoint- the Garden of Eden; Modern man and its counterpoint,-pre-modern man; an aesthetic invoking mass-media produced narratives like batman and yet again there is another counterpoint- an aesthetic invoking  a biblical narrative of Adam and Eve, a story certainly not reliant on mass media for its transmission. What to make of this scene, this sculpture? Before I answer my own question, I will briefly digress.

I had recently seen Christian Marclay’s  The Clock and Walid Raad’s Miraculous Beginnings, based on the  “fictional”  documentation of a fictional Altlas Group. These works question the difference between fiction and reality.  Marclay’s work is a film based collage of scenes from various other films.  In each scene the camera focuses on a watch or clock that display’s the actual time of day. It is a fiction that invokes its counterpoint reality. In Walid Raad’s work, the fictional Atlas group, documents the war-torn realities of Lebanese history.  Though the documentation and the group itself are fictional, the realities of war torn Lebanon are, as many people have attested, accurately rendered.  Once again, there is a certain reality to the fiction and we are drawn to the thing and its counterpoint. The exploration of narrative in the works of Marclay and Raad attest to the power of creation, even if what’s created is technically fiction and not reality. But then again what is fiction if therein we find reality, and what is reality if it is based on fiction?

French philosopher Jacques Derrida would say that nothing exists outside of context, outside the subjectivity of an individual. Reality is what an individual holds to be true. Derrida might have said that, we create our own realities.  Yet, if the origins of creation are rooted in the imagination then how singular is our subjectivity, our imagination, if it is constantly impacted by mass marketed narratives such as batman, or age old time tested mythology like the garden of Eden narrative? For me, Briand Inhuman Sculpture highlights the fragile nature of the subjective self and its imaginative power. He reminds us that, as modern men, our imagination is constantly informed by the collective imagination found outside the subjectivity of a single person.  It is for this reason that the figure of the man with top hat– cane and cape, arguably a vision of the common man at the beginning of the 20th century, a century known for mass production–dominates the scene and stands above the nude (pre-modern) man stuck in the tree.

Let us consider, as some do, that modernity is inextricably tied to mass production. Briand seems to beg the question: In a modern world, how singular and unique is one’s imagination? How collective is one’s subjectivity? Once again Briand’s work explores the tension between point and counterpoint, the individual and the collective. Briand’s work like Derrida’s philosophy seems to hover in that space between the thing and its opposite—as if to say, it is there on this border that the power of creation exists. Briand’s work is the objectification of the individual imagination, but it is also a testament to its obliteration and yet, in its rendering  This sculpture is quite singularly imaginative. Le sculpture Inhumaine inhabits the space between signifier and signified, the space from which is born both the word and its absence, both definition (the basis of communication) and its obscuration. If Arman in his work explored the relationship between Modern sculpture and language, and Derrida explores the relationship between language and subjectivity, then Briand’s piece definitely takes both these explorations one step further.  If Marclay and Raad’s work explore the power of creation, Briand’s work seems to explore the power of inspiration. All three artists use the interplay of point and counterpoint  to provoke the viewer, deconstructing our various certitudes.

I come back as a writer to my own preoccupation, narrative. Can Modern Art exist outside an explanation of it, an interpretation, the word used to communicate that interpretation?  Or rather, does  art inspire the word and the narrative we writers create?  Would the writing on this page that you’re reading exist without my having seen Briand’s work?  Could Briand’s work be understood and experienced as it is explained here, without my written interpretation?  What is the relationship between artistic cultural production and narrative? Is my narrative the product of my subjectivity alone or rather the collective intellectual conscience?

*Mathieu Briand is represented by Galerie of Marseille, Marseilles, France .