The Sirens’ Stage/Le Stade des Sirènes/Lo stato delle sirene was developed withDavid Roberts Art Foundation London,
Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, Nomas Foundation in Rome, in the framework of Vincent Normand’s project ‘Permanent Exhibition, Temporary Collections’.
The exhibition, interpreted in a different language almost simultaneously in each foundation, is based on mechanisms of writings and transcriptions. Translation should be considered both the medium and the shared language of the whole project.
this is tomorrow’ is particular thankful for the input of Vincent Honoré
for the archiving of this project.
Review by Catherine Spencer
The Sirens’ Stage wears its academic heart on its sleeve. Artist Etienne Chambaud has developed the works on display in response to the critic Vincent Normand’s theory project Permanent Exhibitions, Temporary Collections - a title that exemplifies the knowing inversions that characterise this show.
Resulting from a partnership between Chambaud and three European institutions, The Sirens’ Stage is occurring simultaneously at the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, the Nomas Foundation in Rome, and here in London at the David Roberts Foundation. Each version is being staged in the respective language of the three locations, so that the overall structure of the project reflects the individual exhibitions’ exploration of translation and transcription. In The Sirens’ Stage facsimiles and palimpsests multiply, so that any secure conception of originality or origin vanishes. It’s all very clever, and très français in its enthusiastic engagement with postmodern semiotics.
The space at the David Roberts Foundation consists of several elements that, while distinct pieces, overlap and intersect with each other. The centrepiece is a grouping of white plinths in different shapes and sizes, identified as The Reef. Each plinth is named after an abstract figure - a gesture at once amusing and poignant. Plinth 15 (The Wound) differs from its fellows in that it bears a short scrap of repeated text printed on its beveled top: ‘If only your heartbeat could stop for a heartbeat.’ Throughout the duration of the exhibition actors have been moving around The Reef, repeating and rehearsing a preordained script, fragments of which are displayed in the form of Instruction Pieces hung on the walls. These voice dictates such as ‘I will not take criticism’ and ‘The mediators shall lie.’
The one constant is a figure called The Copyist, who sits stranded on a plinth at the edge of The Reef, recording everything that happens on a typewriter. Its clacking is inviting and intimidating; you peer over The Copyist’s shoulder to see what’s being written, only to find yourself appear in the text, recognisable yet uncomfortably unrecognisable. These observations are then pinned to the wall, so that as you watch, the exhibition itself is made text, translated and as a result transformed.
The other two elements of the exhibition - Stock Figures and The Exchange - are held in the downstairs room of the Foundation. The Stock Figures are photographs of the Foundation’s collection in storage, veiled by the anonymity of boxes, crates and plastic sheeting. Over each unidentifiable hulk Chambaud has placed a neat little label bestowing them with a new identity, allegorical, poetic and occasionally cheeky - ‘The Understudy’, ‘The Snow’ and ‘The Beach Party.’
Despite the confident intellectual posturing, however, a mournful air can sometimes be detected underpinning the show. This is perhaps attributable to the sense it engenders of slipping into an endless mise en abyme from which there is no escape. When, during The Exchange (a set of documents passed between the Foundations and a lawyer determining conditions of display and storage), it is stipulated that ‘the artwork is placed inside a sealed wooden crated box in which it must always remain’, irony is cut with loss, and for all the theory you feel moved.
From The Interpretation Text
The exhibition takes its title from the mythological sirens’ song which invents itself in the ear of its addressee. Here The Sirens’ Stage is conceived as a group of ‘written objects’: absent but described, motionless but translated, unique but repeated, mute but transcribed. Excluded from the present time, they only exist in the moment of their transmission into language. Radically detached from the realm of authenticity, each of the three exhibitions attempts to frame a series of exclusions separations and procedures of dispossession. With the promise of producing its own absence as well as the absence of the two other exhibitions’ experiences, The Sirens’ Stage is a misunderstanding in construction, a negative space failing to be circumscribed.
The Sirens’ Stage is made up of an installation of Figures, a group of named, empty plinths (The Reef), which acts as a space from which are emitted layers of speech and text. Actors occasionally interact with this space, reading, memorising and rehearsing the fragments of a script. Sometimes The Reef remains silent. A group of framed Instruction Pieces outlines a series of gestures and acts. These instructions change over the course of the exhibition. A writer (The Copyist), present at all times, transcribes the evolution of the exhibition day after day. The Foundation’s collection is included through a series of photographs of its storage, in which all crates are named (Stock Figures). A written contract, drawn up by a lawyer, outlines the conditions for the exchange and the conservation of copies of sculptures between the three Foundations’ collections (TheExchange (The Horse, the Cobblestone, Above the Weather)).
The Sirens’ Stage is a collection of fragmentary narratives, playing with accumulations and disappearances, survivals and hauntings. The exhibition stages the oblivion and the burial of its original sources, meanings and forms under its own echoes, misunderstandings, partial interpretations and incomplete memories. Between mute traces and promises of an act of speech, polyphony and cacophony, transcription and oral tradition, the remains of the song of these « sirens » stand for fossils organising their own archaeology.
At once a monument in ruins, a stage under construction and a support for absent objects, The Reef is a group of empty plinths. All of them are named after abstract figures, conceptual characters, places, usual objects or objects of thought. Some are especially designed and produced for the exhibition, others are plinths used by the Foundation for its collection. Actors come to The Reef to memorise and rehearse a written script. Created for the exhibition, this written script includes theoretical and descriptive monologues, and excerpts from books or movies. The script is not public: it solely exists in the actors’ performances. Thus, the time of the exhibition precedes the time of a performance that will never occur. Some plinths form the places or show the traces of more specific actions (from time to time a nude model poses on The Missing Part, The Remains is progressively hollowed out and supports its own residues, The Work I (The Cube) is marked by the evidence of its successive displacements), others refer to future or potential uses (The Gift, The Hanger).
The Copyist, one of the figures from The Reef, is constantly present in the space inserting the retrospective time of the exhibition within its own duration. Different writers successively embody The Copyist: they describe what is happening in the exhibition and transliterate its course in the guise of a script. As in a log book, The Copyist’s style is neutral, limited in the objective recording of the information he or she directly experiences. By writing facts as much as transcribing them, The Copyist is both the ideal viewer of the exhibition and its ambiguous author. Pages are displayed in the exhibition space as they are written and form the body of a book to be published (Paraguay Press, Paris, graphic design by Åbake). The editors and graphic designers of this book may come during the exhibition to start editing the pages directly on the walls.
The Instruction Pieces are performative statements, signed and framed. They score a group of gestures and actions as much as they document them. They are the only apparent sign of an authority in the exhibition, paradoxically manifesting its limits.
In a series of photographs of the Foundation’s storage, the crates have been renamed, as an echo to the plinths of The Reef. Images of a permanent memory, the Stock Figures point in an allegorical way towards the layers of discourse, language, writing and speech that gather as sediments in the exhibition space.
The Exchange (The Horse, the Cobblestone, Above the Weather)
A series of contracts established with lawyer Daniel McClean frames the conditions of exhibition and conservation of sculptures exchanged between the collections of the three Foundations.