Jean-Luc Mouléne Torture Concrete
Miguel Abreu Gallery | September 7 – October 31, 2014
Jean-Luc Moulène’s Torture Concrete, his first solo exhibition at Miguel Abreu Gallery and in New York, gathers together a group of enigmatic sculptures, drawings, and photographs. Spread over both of Abreu’s locations, the “sculptures,” a term which Moulène himself disavows in their description, appear like the amputations of absent, impossible bodies: a bone is suspended in mid-air like a model in an abstract space, an inflated flesh-colored balloon protruding from it like an aberrant expansion of skin. In the main gallery, a series of concrete heads (cast from the inside of Halloween masks) lie on blankets, their partially effaced features reminiscent of the images of Picasso’s proto-Cubist period or the shattered remnants from the conquest of some fantastic city. A series of pieces titled “Noeud” (2010-2014), bronze sculptures mounted on thin metal mounts that extend from the floor, look like contorted hip-bones. They appear as a series of grotesque mutations of impossible organic forms—ones that could only appear in a scientific textbook or theoretical drawing.
Torture Concrete is accompanied by the publication of an essay on Moulène’s work by the philosopher Reza Negarestani, “Torture Concrete: Jean-Luc Moulène and the Protocol of Abstraction,” in which Negarestani argues that the model of abstraction most often used in discussions of art and philosophy—the pure separation of thought from matter—is explicitly challenged in Moulène’s work. Moulène instead proposes that the framework of abstraction creates a space of “perplexing ambiguity” wherein thought and matter intertwine. Negarestani writes, “There is something particularly cruel and uneasy about the ambiguity that the procedural framework of abstraction…establishes between thought and matter … [it] makes thought enter into unsettling entanglements with precisely that which it seeks to escape.”
It is this territory that Torture Concrete explores quite successfully. A corporeal sculpture, “Gymnaste (Paris, Summer 2013)” (2013)—an oblong assemblage of steel and grey plaster with a form resembling a hand bursting forth from its interior—is mounted on a wooden support which expands in three directions, not unlike the directional arrows representing the X, Y, and Z axes of a Cartesian plane. Viewed from different angles, it looks like a non-orientable surface, an impossible shape that folds in on itself.
Using the motif of a knot—a figure which plays an important role in the philosophy of Jacques Lacan—as a kind of unifying image throughout the work, the exhibition is spread over a series of galleries, each space alluding to a variation on the show’s central premise. Two colorful blown glass sculptures (which bear an immediate resemblance to Klein Bottles, a surface that deconstructs into two Moebius strips) occupy the center of the Orchard Street space, alongside two drawings on paper that show similarly tortuous figures.
On display at the Eldridge Street location, the exhibition is bookended by two pairs of photographs. Leading into the gallery is “Viviane (Paris, May 2, 1999)” (2001), a portrait of a woman lying on a pillow, her face and the crown of her head occupying the majority of the frame. Mounted next to it is “Organe dur (Paris, April 22, 2010)” (2011), an enigmatic shot of the crown of a man’s head, the rest of the image wreathed in shadow. In the final gallery leading out of the space are the photographs “Os pariétaux (Paris, January 6, 2009)” (2009) and “Commode Coulemelles (Bonny sur Loire, October 5, 2007)” (2011). These show the parietal bones of two skulls and circular formations left on a table by mushroom spores. All together, the four images repeat the simple circular shape in varying levels of abstraction, a movement that is mimicked throughout the works in the rest of the exhibition.
Particularly powerful is the aforementioned series of cast masks (“Tronche”) that occupy the back gallery. They are splayed out on the floor in rows and sit on blue blankets, the kind often found in galleries to cover works of art that are being prepared for transportation. A series of bronze monochromes of varying sizes, “Monochrome Sample” (2014), are hung on two facing walls. Each with a green patina, the pieces appear like swatches of the faded skins that the denuded floor-sculptures might once have inhabited. Viewing the two disparate elements, one is riven with the same anxiety that permeates the entire exhibition.