SNOWBALLMarch 20, 2011
In this year’s February issue of Artforum, which features a lengthy section dedicated to the topic of collaboration, Tom Hollert writes, “Collectives and collaboratives are still assumed to be intrinsically liberating. Their emancipatory dimension is linked with the elevation of co-labor, of working in teams rather than lingering in the solitude of the studio.”1 This intrinsic liberation may be the reason for the continued practice of collaborators leonardogillesfleur, a husband and wife team comprising Leonardo Giacomuzzo and Gilles-fleur Boutry. Yet, they take this straightforward logic on a roundabout, even paradoxical, route toward emancipation in their exhibition SNOWBALL.
Staged front and center at the entrance of Catharine Clark Gallery is SNOWBALL’s headlining act, FITO (2006-2010). Like most self-aggrandizing, fashionably late performers, this showstopper initially refuses to play its part. Part three of an ongoing series titled Irreconcilable Differences, FITO comprises two lipstick-red 1976 Fiat 600s seamlessly fused into one double-headed, obstinately opposing entity. This “car” doesn’t appear to be escaping or liberating anyone or anything anytime soon.
In California, irreconcilable differences are grounds for a no-fault divorce. Irreconcilable Differences, on the other hand, has no chance of such a split. A tandem bike stuck in static opposition, an earlier work from the Irreconcilable series included in the exhibition, echoes this frustrating tension. Bound by the difficult, resilient materials of metal, rubber, plastic, and glass otherwise built to withstand the brunt of a journey, Irreconcilable’s “vehicles” appear capable and ready, yet are forever fixed—stripped of their function and relegated to form.
These trajectory-failed works bring to light an ongoing struggle integral to any work of creative collaboration, where differences, stalemates, and antagonisms are unavoidable. But these failures can also contain productive potentials. As leonardogillesfleur demonstrates, the automobile, with its history of collaboration from assembly lines to backseat drivers, illustrates the productive potential often found in collaboration’s failures and entangled disagreements—especially at the level of the crash.
Literally two forces coming together, the crash can be seen as the apotheosis of collaboration, a place where interstitial, erotic spaces open up through material destruction. J.G. Ballard’s Crash posits this collusive act as opening “possibilities of a new logic created by these multiplying artifacts, the codes of a new marriage between sensation and possibility.”2 Leonardogillesfleur’s video installation In To You (2011) registers this “new sexuality” through the rendering of three fictionalized car crashes in varying degrees of slow motion.3 In one, a model car is driven vertically into the roof of another and begins to resemble the sensuously strained contour of a ballerina’s foot en pointe. The ensuing, achingly slow, contorted collapse of one car into the other carries with it a graduating sexual tension as, little by little, the metal bends and
snaps, the glass cracks and pops. In a striking and erotic experience, In To You creates frisson through the repetition of constantly shifting parts, in which every stress break releases a charged potential found in an otherwise destructive and finalizing act.
This opening of a stalled or closed space resonates further in the work Self-Reflection (2010). In this mixed-media installation, a faux-taxidermied puma has recently escaped from its shipping crate (Self); it appears to be locked in a fixed stare with a domed surveillance mirror wrapped in neon lettering (Reflection). Self-Reflection marks the threat of another self-enclosed, static system; another stalled object. Yet, the bubbled, slightly pockmarked surface of the mirror in Reflection distorts any attempts at a literal reading of its reflected images; everything is skewed and transfigured in its reflective wake—an incompatibility reinforced by the neon sentences that alternate around the perimeter of Reflection: “I refuse to be what you want me to be; you refuse to be what I want you to be.”
The linguistic play of “I refuse” and “You refuse” (my italics) points to Self-Reflection as objects to be discarded or rejected, suggesting they be read as something else altogether. This rhetorical roundabout indicates a new way of looking, beyond repetitive reflection. The fact that the puma is faux-taxidermied and shipped in a box plastered with “fragile” stickers points to and pokes fun at the puma’s material inauthenticity. When situated alongside the other works in SNOWBALL, it’s easy to imagine Self’s contents as that other exotic import that ships in a special container: the Puma sports car of the 1970s, which shares similar hybridized (Italian-South American) origins with the Fiat. The mirror of Reflection, then, in the way in which leonardogillesfleur use the automobile, resembles the over-hyped and supplemental bubble mirror typically placed within rearview mirrors to reveal blind spots.
Such an unforeseen vision is what separates terminal crashes from emancipating ones. Despite their literal entrapment in time, space, and to each other, leonardogillesfleur’s works in SNOWBALL are able to move and transition conceptually by means of linguistic maneuvering and material tens(e)ions found in acts of collision and opposition. In terms of collaboration and its discontents, a little emphasis can go a long way, and subtle shifts—like Fiat to FITO—make all the difference for a collaboration that liberates rather than constrains.
SNOWBALL is on view at Catharine Clark Gallery, in San Francisco, through April 2, 2011.