Daiga Grantina’s “Legal Beast Language”

Barbara Sirieix

November 7, 2014
Galerie Joseph Tang, Paris
October 23–December 20, 2014

There are not many galleries above the ground in Paris. Every time I walk up the narrow stairs to the second floor of 1 rue Charles-François Dupuis, I brace myself, as if I’m about to enter a state of altered air density or gravity. Previous events there have often dwelled on constraining the political body, such as the two-year program of “The Institute of Social Hypocrisy” initiated by artist Victor Boullet and developed between 2009–2011, where curator Damien Airault was locked up inside for a week and was exclusively fed on whale meat. The apartment was later taken over by gallerist Joseph Tang, who continued with the radicality of these earlier artistic projects. Last winter Boullet, now also represented by the gallery, removed the windows of the space and arranged a wall where only a tiny Alice in Wonderland-sized door allowed Joseph access to his office. These past experiences of the space lead me to be on the lookout, and true to form, the current exhibition induces an unease in the viewer, soliciting the body’s sense of place towards a greater consciousness of the enthralling, blood-curdling chaos of space.

The first Paris solo show I saw of Berlin-based Latvian artist Daiga Grantina comes as a genuine surprise. The artist’s previous projects had generated mostly video and photographic works; she seems interested in an extended materiality of film towards the mineral, as if drawn by the vortex of contemporary archaeology, working on layering images and materials towards an organic flatness. With “Legal Beast Language” the artist takes a steep turn towards sculpture, revealing her interest in the densely theorized concept of the formless, from Georges Bataille to Rosalind Krauss. Allowing for the three-dimensional, the exhibition unleashes a pack of semiotic dogs.

The display stands as an organic annexation of the space, where its politics mate with the materials via language. The title “Legal Beast Language,” a quote from the glossary in Ben Marcus’s book The Age of String and Wire (1995), situates the exhibition as a system of animal semiotics, where one can think about how words come into contact with matter to shape forms, in a general interrogation of the definition of figuration. This gesture works as a cycle of referentiality; as Marcus quotes the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in his foreword, “Every word was once an animal.”

Across the threshold stands the riddle ЯR (all works 2014), an unpronounceable name for an installation harnessing a range of potential realities between two letters: it looks like a massive crumple of torn-up bouquet wrapping; or an old lady sitting in a pink lampshade; or an astronaut sleeping in a crashed spaceship; or a cyborg grotto; or… Each proposition remains interchangeable. The materials used are as variable and unpredictable as the weather: mostly transparent or reflecting plastics, heated, folded, creased, or wrecked around a projector. A moving beam of light reflects on the lavish folds of the wrapping, so every breath of the projected image reshapes the work. The creases cast trembling shadows on the wall like twitching membranes, reminiscent of the microscopic filming of cells.

ЯR stands as a sort of permanent referent for the other pieces in the exhibition, as the native work while the others are born elsewhere, in the artist’s studio. It stands as the commander of an alien army in turmoil, a prime number of an absurd equation over chaos. Together they unfold in the room as a spill of mucus, plugging into the walls of the gallery in a variety of ways.

“Across the communications landscape move the spectres of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy,” wrote JG Ballard in the 1995 introduction to his novel Crash, a suitable referent to the title of Grantina’s floor piece Crashino, to the rear of ЯR. On a red Plexiglas plate stands a lump of burned brake lights and slot machine rolls, flecked with a rosso corsa lichen, giving form to the contraction of the words “crash” and “casino.” Next, stands Quitting the House, an eerie stalactite held up by a tripod and attached by strings at the ceiling, a failing supporting arch of knotted plastic and metal innards for the space. Opposite, vertically sticking up in the air is FRUSC, a phallic club made out of a mannequin arm wrapped up with small yellow lights, transparent plastic, artificial asparaguses, and wires. Stepping back towards ЯR, Mouth Harness hangs uncertainly from the ceiling, as a melted cornucopia pouring phony translucent red grapes and plastic necklaces; the result of an attack of heat which has formed some lace pattern upon the synthetic material, hanging as a chimerical garment.

Each sculptural gesture resonates as an evocation of the body and its limbs, and their relation to the space through the way they invest its architecture. Grantina develops a conflicted dynamic system that simultaneously generates and devours objects, a black hole turned into a wild beast, further expanding her interest in physics, and her interrogation of the matter of light, which is present throughout the entire show. Despite the pandemonium of forms, it feels that she is ultimately reducing her enquiry to a very simple question: what is a gallery truly, if not a space wrapping up light?

Sculpture, Language & Linguistics, Installation

Barbara Sirieix is a writer and curator based in Paris.

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Galerie Joseph Tang
November 7, 2014

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