Alun Williams, founder of Parker’s Box, has a penchant for changing the rules of the game. In case you’re not familiar with his two-year old gallery located at 193 Grand Street, you’ll be interested to learn that it is housed in a 1920s billiards academy. Its name is taken from an eccentric and controversial billiards rule that was designed to make the game more challenging and unpredictable, in order to satisfy a demanding group of spectators.
The exhibition Any Where Out of The World, on view through December 16th, will certainly surprise and delight even the most demanding group of art lovers, with its refreshing twist on the standard formula of Brooklyn artists on view in Brooklyn. The gallery’s mission is to showcase events and works that address the issues of context and art history by exploring the “problematics” of painting and sculpture through all types of media, including video and installation pieces. Another, no less important mission of Parker’s Box (www.parkersbox.com), is to encourage and enable artists from all over the world to engage with Brooklyn artists, and this particular exhibition features five young French artists all showing their art for the first time in New York.
Significantly, these artists, Saâdane Afif, Lina Jabbour, Nicolas Moulin, Olivier Nottellet and Samuel Rousseau, have all been affiliated with the Triangle Residency program in Marseilles, France. An offshoot of the Triangle Artists’ Workshop program, founded in 1982 by the British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro and Robert Loder, a London-based collector, the six-year old Triangle France residency program is currently housed in the old arts complex, “Friche Belle de Mai”, in Marseilles, otherwise known as “the Friche” (www.lafriche.org).
In fact, Williams is the founder of Triangle France, though his heart is in Brooklyn now, and his energies are focused on bringing interesting European artists to Brooklyn, and particularly to Parker’s Box. The concept behind the Triangle workshop and residency program is to empower artists to see their work in a new light by changing notions of environment and context. It is not by coincidence that context, and displacement of context, is at the core of the gallery’s current exhibition, Any Where Out of The World.
Any Where Out of The World, which is curated by Williams and Sandra Patron, Director of the Triangle France program, immediately intrigues us, since the word “anywhere” seems to be misspelled. However, the phrase is in fact Baudelaire’s and is taken from a poem in which the poet talks to his soul about his search for the ideal place to settle down, deciding finally on a place “out of this world.” The title is appropriate because it captures the concept of displacement, an idea which is crucial to the work of all five of these artists working in various media.
Lina Jabbour, who has shown at both the Hangar in Barcelona and the Transpalette in Bourges, is a Lebanese-born artist whose work focuses on physical and emotional displacement through travel, fleeing, and exodus. Jabbour endows objects and simple materials such as cardboard and tati bags (plastic bags often used by North Africans in France) with political meaning. “La Diplomatic,” a work included in this exhibition, consists of a wood and metal armature shaped like a car and covered in red, white and blue tati bags to evoke nomadism. It is noteworthy that Jabbour herself left Beirut for France because of political conflict.
An artist of North African descent, Saâdane Afif has a special interest in displacement through language, and creates objects and situations that allow him to decode or explain the unclassifiable. Through “readymade” installations, Afif derives meaning from a seemingly random repository of ideas, phrases and songs. One work consists entirely of a designer shelf with a collection of books about pirates and an accompanying written contract assigning ownership of the collection. In this piece, Afif explodes the definitions and roles of artwork and collector, while simultaneously exploring the concept of appropriation and piracy in all its manifestations.
Similarly, Samuel Rousseau uses video and quotidian objects such as eggs and armchairs, placing them in bizarre environments in order to transform their meaning. Rousseau has worked on projects throughout Europe and South America, but in France he is well-known for a video work installed in each window of a tall building that appears to passerby as a giant imprisoned within the building. His in situ installations often melt into the environment around them, and raise questions about the “problematics” of video and sculpture.
In one work in this show, Rousseau places a video projector inside a sculptural structure and uses it to project an image of a goldfish inside an egg at the top of the sculpture. As in the piece that created a giant, Rousseau here appropriates banal objects (an egg and bird’s nest) and uses them in an unexpected way, employing them as equally important components of a structure.
Nicolas Moulin is a photographer who has shown at the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris, as well as at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Sète and in Tours. His work deal with both physical and psychological displacement, and in this exhibition, the photographs consist of futuristic images of both urban and suburban worlds. “A333”, an installation of 28 images made of inkjet prints of photographs, conjures up an otherworldly universe. Perhaps these are classified NASA photos? Moulin’s work creates fictions from the real details of existing cities, but also hints at the subjugation of humanity to civilization and urbanity.
It is the combined symphony of Olivier Nottellet’s drawings that leave an impression on the viewer. Like Rousseau, who focuses on the “problematics” of various media, Nottellet is also concerned with how drawings, video, light, and objects relate to each other. However, drawing is his chief medium and reality is the point of departure. Like many of the other artists in the show, Nottellet deals with a curiously familiar syntax that has become strange and displaced.
Without a doubt, Triangle workshops and residencies have played an enormously important role in the development of these artists and emerging artists all over the world. The two-week workshop program in New York was originally intended to “alleviate the loneliness of the studio by offering artists contact with peers and discussions with visiting artists and critics.” In addition, the Triangle program (most recently held in 2000 at the World Trade Center) has always had a uniquely global mission, and it now draws artists from 19 countries on all six continents.
The idea, which somehow seems absurdly simple, is that artists can focus better and occasionally have incredible insights when they are undistracted and separated from their everyday environments and context. The website (www.triangleworkshop.org) explains, “Confronted by new ideas and new points of view, detached from familiar surroundings and entrenched habits, [artists] often find the courage to deepen established lines of inquiry, or to explore fresh possibilities.”
Over the past two decades, Triangle workshop programs based on the New York model have sprouted throughout the world in fifteen countries, including ten African countries, and many of these workshops have also spawned residency programs. A residency offers an artist the opportunity to live for three months to a year in a new place, as well as a studio and most importantly, the key connections often needed to be considered for inclusion in exhibitions. Currently, there are Triangle residencies in London, Marseilles, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi, and New Delhi, each operating as an autonomous entity.
It comes as no surprise that Williams himself is an artist who graduated from the Triangle New York workshop in 1993. After accepting a position as a Board member, he became interested in creating a workshop program in Europe. At the time, he had been working as an artist in Marseilles, and a local art school where he happened to be teaching seemed like a natural venue for the 1995 Triangle summer workshop.
A year later, Williams had negotiated enough funding from the French government to welcome applications for the Triangle France residency program in the Friche, a formidable arts complex that once housed the tobacco for Gauloise and Gitanes cigarettes. Now the factory is occupied exclusively by creative energy—performing and visual arts organizations and studios, exhibition spaces, and communications, graphics, and web companies. It is difficult to imagine that many of the original occupants were “squatters” who united to convince the French government to renovate the building and fund many of the activities inside. This support has translated into the city’s relatively new reputation as a creative “laboratory.”
In addition to hosting numerous international artists per year, the Triangle France residency program also promotes international exchange with other Triangle programs overseas, and assists artists in showing their work in exhibitions at the Friche and elsewhere. The residency is a “trampoline where artists can work together,” says Williams, “…and after their time in Marseilles, we try to blast them off to somewhere else.” Two good examples of this principle are Triangle France residents Bruno Peinado and Jim Lambie, who exhibited in a 2000 show called Fictionary in Paris, and have since been selected for important projects in New York.
Ward Shelley, a New York-based sculptor who went to Marseilles in 2000, called his Triangle residency experience, “an artists’ fantasy.” Though admittedly budgets were tight, Triangle provided crucial resources—carpenters, volunteers, web designers, technicians—for the 100-meter sheet metal and wood tunnel he built and lived in for three weeks in the Friche building. “Because of funding and resource challenges, this was a project I would have never been able to do anywhere else,” said Shelley.
Not surprisingly, triangle France artists form a tight network that sustains over many years. “In many ways, we continue to help these artists as they move on to other places,” says Williams. After participating in the residency, artists remain affiliated with Triangle, and often start their own workshop/residency programs in new countries. It’s a self-generating system.
Any Where Out of The World at Parker’s Box is an exciting journey into the individual worlds of five very different French artists, all of whom make the game more unpredictable. By playing with the notion of context, and showing French artists in Brooklyn (and Brooklyn artists in France—stay tuned), Triangle France, Alun Williams and Parker’s Box are partners in forging an international arts dialogue that is bound to keep us intrigued for a long time.