Avignon. By installing in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Caumont a bronze sculpture representing a couple united by the common thread of erotic tension (Tug of War, 2007), Pascale Marthine Tayou (born in 1966, in Cameroon) deliberately chose an old work, difficult to identify or, at least, that the public will not spontaneously associate with her production. It has been almost thirty years since the work of the visual artist living between Belgium and Cameroon gained recognition on the international scene, notably thanks to his participation in Documenta 11 in Cassel (2002) and the Venice Biennales of 2005 and 2009. Eager to not let himself be assigned to a few emblematic pieces – such as his famous “Pascale Dolls” in crystal – he explains that he got involved in this exhibition, entitled “Little Nothings”, with the desire to open up the gaze.
At the foot of the letter
By making sure not to be where we expect her to be, Pascale Marthine Tayou gives herself the opportunity to surprise us and pique our curiosity. Even if it means pushing us, from the moment we enter, “beams in the eyes”, in the form of three vertical stakes sharpened like colored pencils, blue, white, red (BBR seeds2023) and judiciously placed in the perspective of a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from the Collection. “I listened to him talk about the necessity and urgency of “de-zombifying” oneself, of remaining in a state of alert, of not giving in to the songs of the sirens, whatever they may be”writes Stéphane Ibars, the curator of the exhibition, in the catalog.
The sirens are notably those of the market or, here, of the economic forces which transform the common Earth into a global maze (world maze, 2023). On one side, a world map like a brown skin, without borders, on the other, a geometric composition aligning flags printed on pieces of plastic. The formal proof works by itself. It’s the starting point. Two visions of the world which perhaps also reflect two artistic approaches, one in direct contact with the clay associated with the “primary arts”, the other with a radicalism evoking the minimal art once in vogue. The idea of this offered land comes back later as filigrees in the installation Berlin Conference – Germany, 1884-18852023. Used plastic chairs, patched up [voir ill.]appear, by their grouping, the major geopolitical conferences of Rio, Yalta, San Francisco, “during which Africa was cut up like a cake”, recalls the artist with a broad smile.
Universal love (I love you, 2023), statistics, information channels, everything mixes in this “chaos-world” (the formula is from Édouard Glissant) seen by Pascale Marthine Tayou, who in turn calls the visitor to witness. In the middle of the route, the artist used the architecture of the place to create a passage, a sunny yellow crossing lined with cruciform sculptures. Each of them is made up of glass figurines like those found on African craft markets, tourist trinkets, “settler art”, assembled here with nails, thus forming a strange station of the cross (Colonial Ghosts2021-2022). “In my dream, I see people working in sugar cane fields. Sad, bitter people making sugar”says Pascale Marthine Tayou (Sugar Cane A, 2019). In the same way, the visual artist creates beauty with the ugly, light with the serious.
The exhibition thus culminates in a series of installations, like so many fireworks, produced with the means at hand. Trees topped with colorful plastic bags forming a guard of honor, or a sky of corrugated metal sheets floating like fragments of a pallet above our heads (Tornado, 2023, see ill.). Between Arte povera and a nod to Henri Matisse.
The mastery of space, the joyful dimension would almost make you forget the seriousness of the subject. The titles are there to establish the gesture and the intention. This installation of branches whose fruits are colorful and patched plastic bottles is called Oxygen. The one that, as a storyteller and conjurer, Pascale Marthine Tayou tried to encapsulate in these “Little Nothings”.