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"Pascal Rousson: The House of Pain"
2008-08-21 until 2008-09-14
Vegas Gallery
London, , UK United Kingdom

For his first solo show, Swiss/French artist Pascal Rousson presents work which elaborates upon Museum of the Dispossessed, an installation previously exhibited at Vegas Gallery as part of the Loose Booty exhibition. Rousson's work ironically debunks the ideologies and values embedded in Modernist art. His current installation scavenges elements and themes from his own work, including flea market and charity shop paintings reworked with satirical references to canonical Western artists, an interest in the metaphorical potential of American pulp and amateur D.I.Y. craft-making manuals, and a preoccupation with the constricting myth of The Great Artist as Rock Star, destined to burn out and leave a trail of beautiful, history-altering corpses.

Museum of the Dispossessed incorporated paintings, which appropriated covers of the late 1960s D.I.Y. magazine Practical Householder. The paintings presented comical narratives that cast American modernist artists as self-obsessed bricoleurs with nameless and compliant female sidekicks, whose great works echo by the "low" aesthetics of amateur home improvement projects. Through juxtapositions of imagery and text within the canvas frames, and through their status as components of an installation rather than singular art objects, the paintings challenged the concept of art and artists as self-contained entities by foregrounding plural presences, influences and voices inhabiting the installation.

In his latest work Rousson extends the D.I.Y metaphor into darker territory. In the centre of the gallery stands a structure resembling a garden shed, constructed from a skin of closely packed paintings that mix references to canonical artists with American pulp novel cover art, teenage bedroom aesthetics and trippy pop surrealist-inflected imagery.

Traces of the artist as sinister loner, blazing comet and petty criminal reverberate through the structure. Rousson rams textual references to famous artists (Andy Warhol, Christopher Wool, Dan Flavin, and Sigmar Polke) against snippets of kitschy science-fiction landscapes that mock the hallowed inner-space model of artistic imagination, and lurid Russ Meyer style mannequins disrobing for virile men wielding palettes and paintbrushes in place of guns.

These latter images are copied and reinterpreted from American pulp novel covers to emphasise the macho dynamic entrenched in artistic production by high-priests of the canon including Picasso and Pollock. Threaded through the installation, a group of paintings that reproduce a famous photograph of Picasso in a stereotypically French striped sweater and underwear extend the dissection of this dynamic by turning the artist into an auto-erotic spectacle entranced by his masculinity and nationality.

The pulp imagery highlights another satirising device, the character of the criminal anti-hero, culled from the "noir" films and novels which Rousson admires. This character dovetails into the installation's reference to the deceptive nature of a film set, which sets the stage for a presentation of artists as self-mythologizing thieves of ideas and images. The installation's garden shed silhouette ties into this strand of associations by conjuring a spectre of a solitary hunter-gatherer obsessive exemplified by Theodore Kaczynski, The Unabomber, cobbling together lethal missives. Kaczynski's disturbed actions represent the epitome of a solipsistic life-performance with devastating consequences, a grotesque parody of artistic subversion.

Drawing on a musical metaphor, Rousson describes the installation as a cover version of Kaczynski's remote cabin. It is a hybrid unit, a shed that doubles as a large, three-dimensional canvas made of jammed-together articles. Each element acquires meaning relationally, from other elements. Shapes, objects, text, imagery and colours reconfigure into wisecracks, insinuations and combinations that are literally on the surface.

This surface, evocative of a salon-style bedroom poster display, alludes to a past-tense idyll of adolescent rebellion. Rousson mocks art's dissident vision of itself by comparing it to a secret teenage bedroom garden of jumbled, fomenting drives and intoxication. The paintings' enamel veneer also puns on teeth, which, in the vocabulary of pop-psychological dream analysis, signify sexual neurosis. This added layer of textual-visual repartee circles back to a caustic joke, which sticks another knife into the fiction of originality at the heart of the great artist myth.

Viewers stepping inside the installation encounter empty and uninhabited square footage lined with the raw backs of painted canvases reminiscent of the trickery of painted film set facades. A popular conception of the artist, portrayed in films such as Lust for Life, depicts him as possessed, literally occupied by an inspired spirit that creates and self-destructs. The installation's interior slyly exposes this story. Its blank inside highlights the "beautiful illusion" of the art object, which appears self-supporting and erect but is, in fact, created and kept aloft by a network of supporting devices and performers traditionally hidden from view.


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