David Roberts Art Foundation, Symes Mews, London, NW1 7JE

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Weapon: A Solo Exhibition By Benoît Maire
David Roberts Art Foundation
15 March - 11 May 2013
Review by Sabel Gavaldon

At first sight, there are quite a few objects in Benoît Maire’s solo exhibition at DRAF that might well be part of a cabinet of curiosities. These include shells, flint stones, geodes and magnifying lenses, as well as a series of delicate yet rudimentary artefacts, assembled by the artist from scrap materials such as wire, string, clay and glass. In ‘Suspended Weapons’, the latter are mounted in double-glass frames so that each of these intriguing objects appears to be floating in mid-air, while the entire installation is supported by a modular structure reminiscent of Sol LeWitt’s open cubes. But it would be too easy to say that these sculptures are abstract in nature. All the more so because they experience a dramatic change in their status when reappearing in the following room. In the video ‘I.E. Nº 1’, the artist performs a series of actions with the same enigmatic objects. Using them as instruments to survey his surroundings, Maire suggests their potential to be transformed into measuring tools.

Certain motifs such as rulers, dice, sundials, graph paper and optical devices are present throughout the exhibition, and they are also the ‘weapons’ referred to in its title. Like all tools, they are weapons in the sense that they impose a structure on the world: ‘The form of your hand is imprinted on all these objects’, says the voice-over in another video ‘‘I.E. Nº 4’‘, while a female character is seen using an architect’s scale and a prism of quartz to measure the relative position of various elements in a series of photographs, as she looks for meaningful patterns among pieces of information.

Despite the formal elegance of his work, Benoît Maire has stated on a number of occasions that his main medium is theory. Philosophy and speculative thought are central to his practice, so it is not entirely surprising to find that his first solo exhibition in a London institution is devoted to the conflict between reason and sensuous reality. In a work like ‘Socrates’ (a reproduction of an ancient bust of the philosopher made of soap instead of marble), the Greek ideal of beauty as a product of rational order is confronted with an aesthetic formalisation that accounts for its own incompleteness. Likewise, this tension operates at the level of display. Whereas a few works are installed on unpainted plinths that bear traces of their former use, the artist has also designed modular structures and translucent shelving units that convey the austere beauty of mathematics.

It is not only that these grid structures provide an organising principle for the exhibition. Even more important is that the use of translucent shelves and double-glass frames allows you to see through various layers of works, inviting the viewer to engage in a play of perspective in which disparate elements come into alignment, crisscross and mirror each other. One may say that the entire exhibition is legible as an illustration of Maire’s creative process. This is a process in which signs translate into sculptural forms, and forms turn into actions, while images become more and more conceptual, and texts more and more imaginative’ Engaging in this process of alchemical transformation, Benoît Maire plays with the status of signs, images and objects, in order to construct new relationships between them. And just like in chess, this game satisfies no purpose but to experiment with new moves and possibilities.

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