Super Terram exhibition in Paris: Urban International artists, the new wave of contemporary art15 February 2023
You know to what extent I am not in favour of compartmentalising the urban arts. Putting graffiti artists, taggers, muralists, sculptors and contemporary artists in boxes is simply preventing them from evolving. The artist questions, he can even provoke, offer you delicious sensations of wonder as well as a few cold sweats and a dose of discomfort. So when I was invited to discover the Super Terram exhibition in Paris before it opened, I did not hesitate. Super Terram is 11 international urban artists invited by the Desperados Foundation for Urban Art to create works in situ at the Espace Voltaire, a Parisian building that will soon be renovated.
Super Terram deals with the universal and worrying subject of the progressive destruction of nature, the relationship between man and nature and the state of human beings who are totally disconnected from the natural element… Without forgetting the new technologies which have a major impact on our co-existence.
Entering Super Terram is…
… to enter the artists’ heads, to enter a subdued world. To have your feet on solid ground, to feel its humidity. A parallel world that emits contradictory signals with the noise of the street and the touch of the tarmac that you left a few seconds before.
Videos of Jean Lambert-wild‘s disturbing white clown – named Gramblanc– appear on screens, like signals from the beyond, he enjoins you to offer him a soul like a strange Master of Ceremonies. With our feet on solid ground, our eyes get used to apprehending this world as if it were upside down. The installation by the CELA collective projects images on the ground in a very real half-light, reflected on mirrors covered with moving water. The slides thus projected on the ceiling take us back to a world of holidays and carefree moments. It is as if the end of the world has passed and only memories persist in a sky of water.
The first few minutes may seem disconcerting, it is a new world that opens up before our eyes. A world where humans have passed through and devastated everything. It is not oppressive, rather mysterious like a forest in the mist. The magnificent marble sculpture by Amir Roti – whose dark graffiti I only knew – seems to spring from the bowels of the earth, like a new sun.
This immense space covered with brown ground absorbs us. The immersion is total. The works are spaced out, breathe and leave you time to concentrate on your feelings. My entry into the place provoked a flashback in me. I felt exactly the same strange sensation as when I visited Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition at the Luma Foundation in June 2021. The sound muffled by the earth, this strange relationship between man and nature. Pierre Huyghe had made huge cocoons imprisoning ants whose sounds were played back in an oversized hall. I wanted to make this digression, because you will see that it makes sense later on. I can’t get it out of my head that this alertness of the artists and this questioning is more than certainly a strong marker of our time, even indelible.
The occupation of the Espace Voltaire is skilfully carried out; it allows to create surprise and to offer you strong sensations. So when I found myself in the chaotic room completely occupied by A.L. Crego. I had the feeling that an army of shadows was coming towards me… A human apparition in this devastated world. His work on the GIF, constructed in the form of repetition, gives a very particular rhythm to the work. A music full of a certain enchantment even if it is illusory.
I had the immense privilege of being inducted into this experience by the artist Stéphane Carricondo, artist, founder of the 9th concept collective, and Artistic Director of the Desperados Foundation for Urban Art. I was extremely lucky because he introduced me to the artists while they were working on their work. I must admit that I more than appreciated the exchange with Germain Ipin, who offers us a contextual work with several levels of reading, and above all a work that will fade – or even be damaged – under the human impact! At first glance, we see a giant QR code that could make us think of a mosaic creation. This QR code takes you directly to the definition of biometrics in Wikipedia! This is not surprising since biometrics was first used to measure the living… but the artist wonders about the evolution of this definition, since over time it has been transformed into a tool for security and more recently for surveillance. On reading this definition, one understands how exceptional human beings are at distorting nature itself. And the work in all this? Germain Ipin actually made this QR code with naturally pigmented ground… When you approach his work, a light comes on and a sprayer lightly sprays the tiles. We indirectly have an action on the work that will transform before our eyes. The tiles slowly melt, the earth sinks, the lines become uncertain; a beautiful allegory of our impact on nature. Poetic and effective, since I still think about it!
Before leaving this first exhibition space – should I say universe -, a second work by Germain Ipin jumps out at me. Unfortunately, only one word comes to mind: Alas!
Gonzalo Borondo‘s breathtaking transition
The Espace Voltaire is designed in such a way that you have to go out into the courtyard of the building to continue your discovery of the exhibition. A bubble of air is necessary to catch your breath before entering the space invested by Gonzalo Borondo. This Spanish artist is, in my opinion, the spearhead of the new guard of contemporary art. His intuitive, complex, elusive work and his immense mastery of different techniques make him a key player. If you follow the blog, you have already discovered his knife-cut faces in Vitry sur Seine or the incredible trompe l’oeil in Boulogne-sur-mer. Here he offers us a breathtaking installation! His characters engraved on glass appear and disappear according to our movements, magnificently drawn Greek statues, dissociated bodies, superpositions. These strange, ghostly creatures, as if covered in moss, surround us, until we feel like an intruder in their world.
The artist delivers a powerful, disconcerting work, worthy of the greatest museums of contemporary art. It is a work that is rarely seen in Paris, which nevertheless has a great cultural diversity.
At this stage of my wandering, I already know that this exhibition is an explosion, that there are not often such successful exhibitions and that this freedom to create works in situ given to artists is the most beautiful gift we can receive. After this enormous “slap in the face” I sincerely wonder what else this place in transition has in store for me.
From the bowels of the earth to the white paradise that is human hell
As I start to climb the stairs to the first floor of the building, I start to see a little more light. Like a mole coming out of its hole, my eyes wake up and see these trees transplanted into cubes of earth. Uprooted, like humans who migrate… reseeded with flowers of different varieties hanging from the branches. I have the strange impression of crossing the Mediterranean… And then this voice of a woman who had to flee Algeria. The work is strong, perhaps a little too strong for me. Poetic certainly, with its play of light and shadow, powerful certainly with the multiple interpretations that one can make of it. The work of Addam Yekuli, aka Know Hope, is invested, political and personal. The work moves me but I couldn’t tell you yet how! I think it gives me a little too much insight into the bad part of human nature to let it fit into my own little world.
Back in a shell, I go into the next room and there the shock! Half natural, half human works in pain. A gaunt sculpture whose pulpit is made of plaster tree leaves. Organic elements rotting in the head of a decapitated deer push this shocking spectacle to its paradox. And then the most inhabited artist on the Spanish scene, Joaquin Jara, comes forward with a broad smile to tell us about his inspiration. I let go of my invisible protection and listen attentively to the fruit of his inspiration. He tells us about the story from Greek mythology where Eresichthon cut down a sacred tree as a demonstration of strength and power. The goddess of nature chastised him and sent him hunger. Eresichthon swallowed his wealth in food until he sold his daughter Mestra as a slave. His daughter, who had the power to transform herself, returned to her father each time and was sold again and again to cover his hunger until he finally devoured himself.
This allegory, which highlights the worst sides of human beings, simply shows us that the thirst for power, excessive capitalism and the lure of gain lead us to our own downfall. Joaquin Jara, who creates a great deal of work in the forest, is an alarm bellwether, a modern-day knight. His works are strong, violent, and make people react so that a reaction finally occurs. He draws his persuasive force from mythology and history to show us the absurd side of this ignoble farce that we play on ourselves. Through his statues he gives nature back its place with rage and power.
Sincerely, the writing, the scenography of the exhibition, led by Gaël Lefeuvre with a master’s hand, is getting stronger! As I climb the steps to the second and last floor, I sincerely wonder where this climb will take us!
As I enter the first room, I recognise the signature of Michael Beitz, who has developed the habit of transforming insignificant objects, distorting them and reassembling them in order to modify our perception of reality. One work in particular attracts my attention. Pieces of carpet in the shape of human silhouettes reminiscent of those drawn at crime scenes are nailed to the floor. I walk around them and remain perplexed by this painting. I sail around these carpets, when I should be trampling them. If they didn’t have human form, what would I do? That is the question, I leave it to you to find the meaning!
Stepping back from this work I see this huge blood red painting by Axel Void. I know his giant frescoes on city walls; sometimes very humanistic, sometimes close to photo journalism, his works are often as disturbing as they are captivating. But here again I am speechless. The photo I am sharing with you does not pay tribute to the quality of his work and I am sorry for that. The faces seem frightened, subjugated, even mad! This little green square in the middle of the work attracts my attention and I discover a completely different composition… I understand that I am looking at a reinterpretation of the Raft of the Medusa. The circle is complete. We are there. The scenographic writing is so perfect that I will end my visit with this exceptional work, others that were in the process of being finalised will be discovered during your visit and will perhaps offer you a more optimistic finale than mine!
Entering Super Terram is…
… Do not come out unscathed! It means gradually forgetting our reality and the certainties that build it in order to slip into the intimacy of the artists, who give us the opportunity to see our universe as it is in their minds. It is to understand that we are extremely lucky to have a freedom of expression that allows us to develop a sharp critical sense of the world as it is. When I left Super Terram, I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t even know if I was going to write an article. I incubated!
And then a few days later, I was at the Bourse de Commerce for the “Before the storm” exhibition and I sat in front of a video: A dog wandering around in a dark and gloomy atmosphere came across beetles and other crawling animals… In front of the images, those of Super Terram came up one after the other. I see the film of my visit superimposed on this one. I see the same language, I feel the same emotions. So I go to the label presenting the work… The video is by the artist Pierre Huyghe! The circle is complete! I went home and got behind the computer to share this experience with you.
If there is one exhibition to see in Paris at the moment it is this one! For lovers of contemporary art, you will undoubtedly remember the incredible installations at the Palais de Tokyo some twenty years ago. For Urban Art’s lovers, you will better guess the depth of the artists you discover on the walls of the cities and what they have to offer us. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make you want to go with this long article, but what I am sure of is that it is a Masterpiece exhibition that I will not forget.
Before leaving you, I would like to thank the Desperados Foundation for Urban Art for this magnificent discovery, Gaël Lefeuvre who made an exceptional curation, Stéphane Carricondo for his subtle visit and his time and all the artists who were generous enough to share this moment with me. A huge thank you to all of you and congratulations again for what you have achieved… the renewal of the MONUMENTA of contemporary art.
The Super Terram exhibition is free of charge, like all the ones I talk about on the blog. You can visit it until March 19th from Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm at the Espace Voltaire, 81 boulevard Voltaire in Paris.
I’m putting my sneakers back on and I promise my next Street Art adventure will be outdoors 😉
See you soon