05/03/2020 - 07/05/2020
Opening 05/03/2020, 6 pm
Text byJulien Verhaeghe
Géraud Soulhiol’s solo show Arcadie at 22.48 m² is an opportunity to return to a practice focused on drawing. The four series of showcased compositions feature a variety of representations that are sometimes based on the immediate reality, like flying planes seen from the above, inspired by Google Earth’s aerial photography, or other times invented landscapes and architectures that are conceived from scratch, drawn from the artist's imagination.
Various compositions have meticulous execution and fineness of details in common; formats, relatively humble in size, make this practice bear comparison with the art of miniature. Perhaps, the spectator’s gaze is encouraged to look at these drawings and paintings, because it is taken by curiosity for what it does not perceive in the first place, unless it is taken by a form of dexterity of the gesture which consists in shrinking the world. This same gaze, however, is baffled, not only by the fact that what he observes does not really exist, but also by the fact that surreptitious elements interfere with his desire to interpret. Mirages, for example, highlight what might be called pastoral islets. The mountains and reliefs that emerge from the water are assisted by the overhanging presence of numerous construction cranes; that seem strange, almost supernatural, because they denote unaltered landscape, besides they do not diffuse any reflection on the surface of the waters. Mirages are therefore, as their name indicates, an illusion, just as one that is misled by the circle painted on the glass that covers the work. The circle gives the impression of a magnifying lens, but it is never more than a layer of paint.
Therefore, there is, a kind of paradox in Géraud Soulhiol's gesture, insofar as his compositions call for more attentive observation, whereas they aspire to counterfeit the act of perception. This apparent contradiction can be found in the other series in the exhibition, in different ways, as in the triptych Mouvement n°1, where the three compositions seem identical at first glance. A closer look reveals the differences in the orientation of the construction cranes. Moreover, these cranes resemble orchestral music stands. At the same time, they show the minute variation in material that distinguishes things, provided they are seen at the right distance. The Palais series also plays on this interval between identification and subterfuge, for example when the architectural structures unfold according to rigorous perspectives, while the play of symmetry subtly alters the sense of realism. As a result, the gaze is disturbed by the resolutely ordered character of these constructions. It may expect to find a form of imperfection, unspeakably uneven but a characteristic of the real, while on the other hand, these structures refer to a sense of completion in terms of their seating and capacity. This is also what allows these structures to be inscribed in the register of utopian architecture.
Géraud Soulhiol admits, however, that he does not focus on the social or cultural implications of the architectures he develops, that, as a general rule, underlie utopia. The Palais, which possess a form of monumentality, neglect, for example, the functional dimension accompanying any construction project. Utopia is, moreover, neutralized by references to architectural archetypes whose physiognomy or style are recognizable. By including references to Western cathedrals, pre-Columbian pyramids, Orthodox architecture or Khmer temples, among others, it gives way to a desire to build a structured landscape whose proper function would be to associate a form of creativity with an existing reality. This, moreover, is what makes it possible to make the link with the cartographer concerned with translating the world with truth, whereas his renderings always have an element of arbitrariness. In the same way, if the places summoned by Géraud Soulhiol give rise to a particular geography, it is also because the names he gives to each of his palaces are inspired by the Miller Atlas of 1519, some of whose motifs speculate on the physical reality of various regions of the world, by fabricating the existence of fantastic characters or animals, or by attributing to imaginary cities a name that solicits a medieval mystique. The rather chipped character of Géraud Soulhiol's structures also reinforces the allusion to a bygone era through the revelation of a semantics of ruin. This last one all the more disconcerts a glance that would turn towards the future, infusing an atmosphere marked by a form of melancholy usually conducive to daydreaming.
For the rest, one perceives with these Palais perhaps more than in previous series a mode of work based on a combinatorial and associative approach. For Géraud Soulhiol, it is a question of experimenting with configurations based on samples of reality, thus proceeding according to the logic of montage. This is even more the case with the Envols series in which views of airports gleaned from Google Earth are reproduced on tea saucers. Attention is focused on the very singular moment when planes are at a reasonable height from the ground, so as to leave an apparent shadow, while the circular nature of the saucer bottoms gives the impression of observing the world through a porthole. Here artifice acts as a way of stimulating the act of perception, the work of miniaturisation being pushed to its extreme, as is the precision of the colours adapted to the slightly pale texture of the screens, that one would try to represent by other means. Immobilized in its appearances and forming part of landscapes synonymous with travel, these airplanes participate in a kind of carefree attitude. The gaze that slips away thus catches up with the figure of the solitary dreamer as Géraud Souhiol invests it, that explains him going for a search of these photographs of planes on the Internet as one goes in search of butterflies. This aspect brings us back to the essence of his work. Often accurate and orderly, sometimes facetious, it gives the appearance of a pictorial investigation aimed above all at trapping the gaze in various ways; above all, it brings the sense of vision back to an experience where rejoicing mingles with escape.