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Anna Kerekes:

Empire, State, Building



A Société Réaliste is a Paris-based artist collective comprising the duo Ferenc Gróf (1972) and Jean-Baptiste Naudy (1982). Their exhibition Empire, State, Building was on view at Jeu de Paume between 1 March - 8 May 2011, upon invitation by the director of the institution, Marta Gili. (1)

The group’s name juxtaposes the notions of society and realism, owing to which it stands for an artistic plan based on the problem of social reality, a manifesto of a company dealing with capitalism and aesthetics. The initial purpose of Gróf and Naudy was to link contemporary art with socialist realism. (2)

For Société Réaliste, realism is an artistic method based on details of reality: imprints of politics and ideology. The notion of society is manifested in their work in the form of reflection on its structure, idea and order.

Their artistic practice, similarly to that of Art & Language (3), is based on a continuous theoretical praxis (4), throughout which authorship is treated as a collective entity, and which blurs the boundaries between various cultural expressions (whether it be an exhibition, conference, theoretical work or curatorial practice), challenging artistic production embedded in political systems.

The dissection table of their critical and clinical operations is loaded with language and sign systems (calendar, typography, cartography), value production (from numismatics to profit orientation), models of construction in space (from the church to the skyscraper, from the city state to the frontiers of the empire), and methods of temporal construction (from rewriting history to setting plans for the distant future). (5)

The exhibition Empire, State, Building explores the myth of the "building/temple/monument/work of art" (6), which appears in the decreasing scale of the framework of power and perception: from empire through state to building.

Separating the words with commas reflects on the ideological plan behind the building, according to which architecture becomes a symbol of state power and political power (capitalism). With the Empire State Building and the architectural plan of the new One World Trade Center, New York has become the icon of an empire (7), which posits the existence and governance of one and only one world order. The exhibition questions this monopoly.

Their video Fountainhead (2010) is a reworking of King Vidor’s black and white movie from 1949, from which they removed not only the sound track but also every kind of human presence, leaving only 111 minutes of pure architectural setting, devoid of narrative.

Along the same lines, several other works at the exhibition point out the presence of ideological discourse while exploring imposing architecture. Such is the piece Empire of Soviets (2010), in the focus of which stands Moscow’s Palace of the Soviets. If ever built, this building would have been a symbolic counterpart of New York’s skyscraper.

Or one could mention their piece Dymaxion Palace (2008-2009), which is a projection of the relief on the lower part of the façade of the Parisian Palais de la Porte Dorée (a building that consecutively housed national museums of first the colonies, then French overseas territories, and later African and Oceanian arts, to finally become home of the Cité de l’immigration) onto a polyhedron reminiscent of a 1946 piece by Richard Buckminster Fuller (8).

Or even more closely related is Addendum to the Tour Eiffel (2011), which presents the Eiffel Tower as the archetype of demonstrative architecture. Eiffel designed his masterpiece for the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, and so he planned to build exactly 1789 stairs, but for technical reasons, the staircase eventually turned out to be impossible to construct in this form. Société Réaliste ventured to add an extra four imaginary stairs to the 1789 unfinished ones (forming a spiral staircase in the middle of the exhibition) and so bring another historic event to the forefront: the beheading of the French king on 21 January 1793 opposite the Jeu de Paume.

The rhythm and scenography of the entire exhibition is set by the piece Transitioners: Cult of She-manity (2011), in which the map of the sky over Paris on the night of 5 October 1789 (9) overlaps the starry sky seen over Rio de Janeiro on the night of 14 November 1889 (10) and the 13 month positivist calendar issued by Auguste Comte in 1849 (11).

After Bastille Days (2007), Le Producteur (2008) and London View (2009), the new version of the Transitioners series, a politically inclined office colour collection, now comprises 2400 tones on the greyscale - between black and white. Every single nuance is related to the position of a star and the name of a humanist in the calendar. Fragments of this calendar-map, on view at the entrance and in the last room, are scattered across the black walls of the exhibition: in the form of black, white and grey squares. Micro- and macrocosm, the space of the exhibition and the mapping of a new world are thus merged in the exhibition space.

While in the period of colonization, maps reflected the extent of appropriating the Earth beyond mapping human knowledge, today, owing to the latest monitoring techniques, it has taken on a considerable geopolitical role (12). As the introductory text to the exhibition catalogue reads: "every map is a symbol of man’s power over the world " (13). However, The Cult of She-manity goes beyond this statement: with the introduction of the dimension of time, the two spatial dimensions of the map are complemented by a third one, suspending its schematizing power and raising the genre into the dimension of fiction.

Their font Limes New Roman (2008) is positioned on the borderline between topography and typography - two areas defining the work of Société Réaliste. As for the 46 symbols, the artists linked the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet to 46 present-day geopolitical borders: 23 of them mark existing borders (capitals), the rest mark the internal borderlines within regions, cities and districts (lowercase). In harmony with its construction, the name of the font is based on the merging of the font name Times New Roman and the Latin word "limes" (border, frontier).

Each character in this almost non-readable alphabet has a complex historical background, proving that in all cases, signs have a meaning to be deciphered. The ideological significance carried by the sign is essential in the case of their other fonts as well: Appendix, Experanto, Futura Fraktur, Hexatopia (2006-2010).

The two black lacquered sculptures at the exhibition, Infinite Dollar (2010) and Zero Euro (2010) also feature the techniques of hybridization characteristic of Société Réaliste’s typographical program. While in the first, the symbol of infinity is layered on the Dollar sign, in the second, zero and the Euro overlap.

The associative practice of Société Réaliste best resembles the logic of "montage" as defined by Georges Didi-Huberman (14): (14): their work process begins with deconstruction and the analysis of components, so that they can re-mould them into new forms. Theirs is a critical apparatus based on the principle of deconstruction, which sheds new light on the contemporary world.


Translated by Daniel Sipos

(1) The second part of the exhibition will be on view at Ludwig Museum Budapest from 12 February 2012.

(2) Júlia Cserba, Háromszögletu paranoia [Triangular Paranoia], in Balkon, 2008/3, Budapest, 2008, p. 3.

(3) Art & Language is an English conceptual art collective, whose unique work method is heuristics (a system that analyses its own rules). Art & Language, Homes for Homes II, JRP-Ringier, Zürich, 2006.

(4) Their work has been on view in the scope of monographic exhibitions for a year now: Akbank Sanat Art Center (Istanbul, 2011), Skuc Gallery (Ljubljana, 2010), Platform3 (Munich, 2010), Kisterem (Budapest, 2010). Simultaneously with the exhibition at Jeu de Paume, they exhibited at the 15th Tallinn Architecture Biennale, at Center of Art, Design and Visual Culture (Baltimore), at Internationale Surplace (Hamburg), at Akbank Sanat Art Center (Istanbul) and at The Institute of Social Hypocrisy (Paris).

(5) Société Réaliste, Empire, State, Building, Dossier de presse, p. 9.

(6) Société Réaliste, Empire, State, Building. Des vampires, de la Stasi et du roi Mausole, exhibition catalogue, Editions Amsterdam, Jeu de Paume, Ludwig Museum, Párizs/Budapest, 2011, p. 8.

(7) On the notion of empire as the ultimate form of capitalism, cf. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambrige Massachusettes, London England, 2000.

(8) Dymaxion Map, 1946.

(9) The women of Paris captured the royal couple in Versailles during the night, and hauled them to Château des Tuileries. According to Société Réaliste, if there is a revolutionary example, that of the women of Paris is by all means one. In: portrait film: http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2011/03/societe-realiste/

(10) 15 November 1889 is the date of the proclamation of the Republic of Brazil

(11) In the last ten years of his life, Comte attempted to achieve a synthesis of all his theories in a single work, which he entitled The Church of Humanity (L’Eglise de l’Humanité) and dedicated to his lover, Clotilde de Vaux, who died in 1846. Comte extended his thoughts as far as conceiving an imaginary floor plan for the church, which, a few years after his death, ended up at the hands of a circle of Rio de Janeiro youth, which later became the Positivist Society (Raimund Teixeira Mendes and associates).

(12) John Pickles, A history of spaces: cartographic reason, mapping, and the geo-coded world, Routledge, London, 2004.

(13) A citation from Giorgio Mangani in the catalogue. Société Réaliste, Empire, State, Building. Des vampires, de la Stasi et du roi Niausole, op. cit., p. 10.

(14) Remontée, remontage (du temps), Georges Didi-Huberman, 2007. november, in: http://etincelle.ircam.fr/730.html

14. April 2011.
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