Netwerk Aalst, Houtkaai 15, 9300 Aalst, Belgium

Occupie Paradit: Alex Cecchetti and Laure Prouvost

Netwerk Aalst

8 February - 18 October 2020

Review by John Gayer

In ‘Eve and the Snake’, the story accompanying Alex Cecchetti and Laure Prouvost’s magnificently expressive ‘Occupie Paradit’, Adam and Eve’s lives were unaffected by children, friends, enemies, celebratory events, bouts of pain or any other unique or unexpected circumstances. Every day was like the other until the snake arrived. And that changed everything. The creature spoke of a world in which the environment was as changeable as it was beautiful, where each day was different, and love bore fruit. Its stories aroused Eve’s curiosity and prompted her to act. Unfortunately, she misheard part of what the snake said, bit the apple and, well…most of us know what followed that decision.

That misconception precluded what could have been and highlights the type of error that perplexes or completely subverts a statement’s intended meaning. Screw ups of this kind, instigated through misspellings, mixed languages and unclear pronunciation, pervade both the written and spoken content of this exhibition. Evident in titles, texts embroidered onto floor cushions and incoherent ramblings of talking flowers, such wordings, whether accidental or deliberate give rise to multiple readings.

What really surprises, though, are the ways in which Cecchetti and Prouvost’s depiction of paradise differs from prevailing Biblical descriptions. Only death permits access and visitors tempted to enter the installation must, therefore, also die. But here that action occurs symbolically. It is realised through an act of exchange. Having handed over a passport, ID card or smartphone, viewers are invited to pick from an assortment of veils decorated with lush scenes of vegetation and artist-designed masks (since supplanted by the compulsory use of medical face masks in response to the Covid-19 pandemic) and enter as anonymous immigrants. One can also choose to strap ultra-heavy bronze sandals onto their feet. Not only do they slow progress, but their boob-shaped soles are also said to impart a feminine touch to surfaces. So prepared, the route involves contending with a changing terrain and diminishing light, before landing the visitor in a zone pervaded by enduring darkness. Yes! Darkness.

The introduction is as unexpected as it is disturbing, and initially suggests paradise may have sustained a cataclysmic event. Here, mounds of upturned soil are disrupted by protruding roots, bits of electric cord and other debris and members of the dispossessed can be found huddling in a shadowy corner. Within the gloom, Prouvost’s video ‘Aa last paradit’ (2020) stands apart. Depicting an exceedingly verdant place in which nudes holding lengths of electric cord to their backsides scamper about, the footage raises questions as to what it signifies. Does the use of the cords contradict the creation myth by referencing humans’ descent from the trees or denote our current deep-seated dependence on technology and its deleterious effect on the environment? The presence of these cords seems inane and yet, also menacing. The flexible twists and spirals of the cable, the snaking needlework and large coils emblazoned on parts of the floor, accentuate the snake’s enduring presence.

At the same time the realm exposes us immigrants to a number of tantalising marvels. Cecchetti’s ‘Singing Chandelier’ (2018), for example, a wind chime/playable musical instrument comprised of dozens of richly chromatic bird-like glass forms, inundates the viewer with a mesmerising array of sensory information. His temptingly tactile screen ‘ESSENCES (RELIEF)’ (2020) produces a similar effect. Carved out of some of the most fragrant woods, their scents lend a degree of subtlety that softens and offsets the flora’s dynamic physical presence. Prouvost’s recent, untitled mirror paintings and Cecchetti’s ‘Pussyflower/Pussyocene’ (2020), a series of vagina flower sculptures, both reside in obscure locations and are not readily apparent. While the former can be pinpointed high up on the walls, some of the latter persist as dark silhouettes, dangling at the height of an average-sized person’s head. The bearing of Prouvost’s boob forms cannot be ignored. Like some robust fungus, they sprout from various materials – soil, the soles of sandals, the underside of Cecchetti and Prouvost’s ‘Bread Table’ (1999) – and intimate landforms in a couple of the mirror paintings. Evoking sensuality and sustenance, they correspond to that apple into which Eve sunk her teeth. The elixirs and fruits displayed on Cecchetti’s ‘Love Bar’ (ongoing since 2012), and the boobs that rise up among the rolls and loaves engulfing ‘Bread Table’ substantiate this correlation.

An incandescent cluster of five or six boobs, realised as a pendant light, hangs over a stairway leading to a lower and even darker level. Entering this space not only reveals a sizeable pool, but the sound of dripping water and a faint metallic throbbing also pervade the air. In this light-deprived environment only a few spindly plants, each of which is crowned by a single, very broad and thin circular leaf, manage to subsist. On the far side of the pool, a light filled doorway presents one more temptation that induces hope and dismay. It forces people to consider where they are and whether they really want to risk proceeding or not. Mind you, the risks are hardly detrimental, since they only involve getting wet feet. At the same time, the opening may be a ruse. In that regard Cecchetti and Prouvost’s vibrant and unconventional paradise nudges viewers to reconsider the things that surround us.

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