Christian Guémy: “Prophètes” | CHRISTINA GRAMMATIKOPOULOU
C215, Prophètes. Photo courtesy of Laurence Dentinger GHPS/AP-HP
‘Every single work of art is the fulfilment of a prophecy:
for every work of art is the conversion of an idea into an image.
Every single human being should be the fulfilment of a prophecy:
for every human being should be the realisation of some ideal,
either in the mind of God or in the mind of man’
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
In times and places of crisis, people have always been looking for a ray of hope, to give meaning to what they are going through.
A beacon to guide with its light through turbulence: the revelations of a prophet.
Often ostracised from society, the prophets appear in many religious, mythical and historical narrations as marginal personalities, with a profound understanding of reality and transcendence. Their word used to reverberate through oracles, deserts or more often the streets of the city, where people would gather to listen to them.
If you stand on those streets today, you might recognize a distant resonance of their presence on the ragged figures of outsiders or some painted portraits emerging through crumbling walls.
These paintings are prophecies uttered by C215 in colour: a reflection of today’s reality with an insight on the future. The artist’s vision is delivered encrypted within the images, like the ambiguous words of the ancient prophets. It takes an open mind and heart to read through the lines of his portraits and decipher their meaning.
This openness is essential when approaching the latest installation by C215 titled Prophètes (Prophets), a compelling amalgam of light, colour and childish innocence.
For Prophets C215 has created a double installation of light boxes on two distinct buildings, the interior of Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière in Paris and the exterior wall of the Town Hall of the 13th Department of Paris (Mairie du 13e Arrondissement de Paris).
It is a project that manages to defy distances and abolish limits in multiple levels, in regard to the subject, the prime matter, the technique and the context of the artwork. By doing so, the artist creates an intermediate place of unity among people, an equilibrium of belief and tolerance.
On the light boxes there are portraits of children, coming from distinct cultures, with different faiths and fates; however, what prevails over difference is a common expressiveness in the eyes, with a hint of agony and hope.
The sixteen portraits presented in the exhibition in the Chapel of Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière are visually and conceptually linked to the monumental portrait of a child from a favela, permanently installed on the outside wall of the Town Hall of the 13th Department. This way, the artist creates an invisible thread connecting a religious space, relevant to a specific culture, history and dogma, to a secular exterior space, open to all people and beliefs. By providing a similar visual stimulation and experience in two distinct places, he virtually creates a unified space, where people can get together and interact with each other no matter what their cultural and ideological background is. It’s a perception of the spiritual that goes beyond the usual dogmatic segregations.
The children, representing our collective hope for the future, raised to monumental portraits, become a universal symbol of faith and oneness –a holy Icon, in a broader sense.
One of the strongest qualities of C215 is this rare skill to detect some kind of holiness within common people -which usually remains unperceived by other observers, even the subjects themselves. He converts it to an inner glow on the faces of the portraits by means of an expressive fusion of colours and lines. His ability to bring out the quintessence of the soul onto a portrait is rooted on a profound love for people and a faith on the Protagorean doctrine that ‘man is the measure of all things’.
This anthropocentrism is important when trying to understand how his project interacts with the viewers and its architectural and historical context.
The portraits installed in the Chapel establish a dialogue with the existing religious works, the statues and stained glass windows. Whereas religious iconography tries to create an ‘opening’ to the realm of the divine, providing the believers with an escape from the mundaneness of earthly life, C215’s children draw the viewers back into everyday living, reminding them, in a way, that heaven and hell are to be found within this world.
Moreover, the light boxes act as a visual counterpoint to the traditional iconographic techniques, as a novel intersection between stained glass and stencil art. In both cases, what is most important is not the frame, but what passes through it, colour and light. The portraits in the light boxes, like the images in stained glass windows, cannot be observed in detail, because the light prevails over colour, as the prime matter that brings substance to the work and at the same time immaterializes it.
Though immaterial, light is an important element in architecture; therefore, bringing a new source of light can have an interesting visual effect, both in the Chapel and the Town Hall.
In the first case, the light boxes alter the impression of the interior, by creating ‘openings’ in the structure of the building and ‘breaking’ visually the solidity of the pillars.
The installation on the Town Hall wall, on the other hand, questions the limits between interior and exterior, by creating a window that radiates light onto the street. A blind wall becomes thus a source of light. At the same time, the 19th century Town Hall acquires a new feature, a contemporary intervention that converts the building into a work-in-progress, with elements from different historical periods representing the city’s past, present and future.
In this case, the surroundings of the installation might turn out to be more ‘difficult’ competitors than the interior of the church: the city lights and the life proceeding before the building constitute an incessant flow of images and sensations that could smother the peacefulness radiating from the portrait of the child.
However, Christian Guémy never seeks to impose his presence, but simply to make it felt.
The portrait of the child from the favela will shine on the people approaching the Place d’ Italie at night. If they simply pass it by, the light will only reach the surface of their skin; if, however, they take a moment to stand and look into his eyes, the light has the potential to go deeper inside them and have a more substantial impact.
Like the eyes of a child observing the world, C215’s work is there to communicate, to interact, and eventually to make a difference.
C215’s exhibition “Prophètes” is open to the public from March 22 to April 30, 2012 at the Chapelle St Louis, Hôpital de la Pitié Salpêtrière, 47 boulevard de l’Hôpital, 75013 Paris. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.30 to 13.50 and 15.40 to 17.40, Sunday 10.30 to 13.50. For more info contact: Galerie Itinerrance, www.itinerrance.fr, mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: +33 (0)6 19 98 06 33.