London – South London Gallery | esse arts + opinions

London – South London Gallery

South London
  • Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, [Untitled], 2008. photo : courtesy of the artists and Serge le Borgne Gallery, Paris

[Texte en anglais]

Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, Untitled 2006-2009
South London Gallery, London, May 15–June 28, 2009

The six-week-long South London Gallery show by the Italian-French duo Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci consisted of Cool performing six hours a day on six days a week inside the exhibition space. Surrounded by carefully staged (and rather conceptually referenced) props —A4 paper sheets, a series of trapezoid tables, several geometric volumes in cotton wool, a mirror, strings of thread, and adhesive tape—she continuously acted out a random suite of nine sculptural exercises lasting from one to nine minutes each.

In Untitled, 2004, for instance, she used two sheets of paper, which she pressed against each other between the palms of her hands. Facing the main entrance of the white cube, she then slowly began to move her hands apart, with the sheets sticking to them as though by magic. Untitled, 2006, involved four standardized sheets of paper which lay side by side on a table. Cool slowly shoved them together until the edges of the two central sheets came up against each other and started to rise, before the ephemeral construction eventually collapsed under the weight of the paper.

Minor incidents, which could potentially have spoiled the performance, seemed on the contrary to reinforce it: when things weren’t working as planned (for example, when the edges overlapped and therefore failed to rise), Cool (in keeping with her name) never lost her calm and started the exercise over and over again until she eventually succeeded. Failure, it appears, was an integral part of the process.

Much against my latent scepticism as to performance art’s capacity to renew itself since its heyday in the 1960s, Marie Cool Fabio Balducci’s proposition effectively managed to grip my attention. Far from parodic, it was subtle and deep at once—despite the obvious fact that such tireless repetition necessarily induces lengths, putting the spectator’s tenacity, concentration and endurance to test.

Yet the performance never did become tiresome, a circumstance which must at least partly be ascribed to the fascinating, ageless figure of Marie Cool, who at times resembled a dowser and at others looked like a character from a Tarkovsky film. When Cool performs, you can hear a pin drop. Another reason for the work’s success might lie in its radicalness and precision in staging “experiments” that were at once fragile and solid, vain and essential, and thus seemed to epitomise the finiteness of life. But its appeal may just as well have resulted from the intricate relationship between performer and object, or body and matter: performing tirelessly and regardless of whether she has an audience or not, Cool literally subjects herself to the same constraints than those she imposes on the objects she manipulates. In this regard she exerts as much control over the props as they do over her, both entangled in a permanent negation of the spectator—a feature which is strikingly mirrored by the systematic absence of her partner Fabio Balducci.


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