‘Become what you are’
This ultra-quoted Nietzsche sentence springs to mind when coming into ‘The Moves’, the current show at Cell Project Space by the Brussels and London-based artist Ghislaine Leung. At a time when the concept of ‘the human’ is in constant reconsideration, it is encouraging to find a show with a complexity capable of mirroring the ambivalent nature of contemporary culture towards this. To do so, Leung researches the traces of communication we leave behind and disrupts the configuration of the semiotics we use to interpret them.
The display overwhelms by its absence of images and presents instead a series of glass wall panels bracketed inside aluminium structures. These panels, covered with black vinyl texts, spell out incidental conversations, unsolicited quotes, traces of speech. The coldness of these materials contrasts with the domesticity of an extremely fluffy carpet, a work titled ‘In the Pudding’ (2016) that covers the room, along with yellow-lit mushroom lamps at the bottom of the walls via ‘Shrooms’ (2016). This perturbing atmosphere is completed by ‘Huh’ (2016), a continuous sound piece that reproduces noises ranging from the vibration of a phone to landing sea waves.
In the space, Leung uses words as things, giving them a physicality that allows her to create an environment where language functions as a manoeuvrable tool. We read, we inhabit the text and we try to interpret it. Are we reading a conversation? Perhaps a script? Who are these characters? Are they talking to us? But nothing could be further from the truth: what we read are disjointed conversations the artist has gathered from the street. Nevertheless, for the visitor, it is impossible but to construct a narrative, though this information cannot be assembled within the given codes of meaning. This impossibility interrogates meaning in itself and makes enquiries into the nature of its structures, of its conceptual entity in a wise act of meta-language.
It is in this very moment of disorientation that the real essence of the show emerges, and it reaches its highest extent in the following room. In ‘Pictures’ (2017) the gallery floor has been intentionally elevated to become a plinth, that plinth holds a building-shaped maquette. ‘Push to Shove’ (2017) is opened from its top and squeezed into a concave cavity at floor level. The disoriented viewer has to look down to see what’s inside: a series of phone screens reproducing trivial video scenes inside a carpeted and wall-divided space that seems like an uninhabited home.
When looking more closely, however, we notice this precarious maquette has the same configuration as the space we are in: two entrance doors, another one at the back and long stairs to provide access to the inside. Somehow, the artwork self-references the space it is in and therefore its occupants. And yet we don’t see any evidence of humanity there. What is inside? What does this absence mean? Did reality become a representation of itself? A maquette of itself? And more importantly, how did we end up becoming part of it?