On Display

“A representation is a construction process based on the action of reality on our senses but also on our acquired memory, on fantasies that make us favor certain aspects over others. This construction is then projected onto the real” (1) 

Thomas Julier’s practice unfolds through the image, whether it is fixed, animated or in volume, which he deploys in subtle installations where the spectator is confronted with questions raised by the artist on the status and meaning of the image produced. In fact, what Thomas Julier is interested in, is as much the mental conception of this image as its material translation in an exhibition space that is both physical and psychic.

This process of work and reflection (production, selection, layout) is found at the heart of the exhibition. He focuses here on the question of representation, a question which stands at the crossroads of aesthetics and philosophy. Indeed, the idea of representation is to believe that there is a right way (and therefore a method) to recreate reality. But the conception of a fair representation of reality depends on many considerations that go beyond the simple reference to the data of our sensitivity. (2)

As Nelson Goodman writes: “An image, to represent an object, must be a symbol, [...] referring to it; but [...] the resemblance is [...] by no means necessary. An image that represents an object — or a page that describes it — refers to it and, more particularly, denotes it. The denotation is the heart of the representation and it is independent of resemblance ». (3) Thus « about an image just like any kind of label, there are always two questions: what it represents (or describes) and the kind of representation (or description) it is ». (4)

Here Thomas Julier is more specifically interested in the question of the body’s representation. He explores it through the presentation of several objects: sculptures, drawings, photographs. This variety of medium helps him to inventory different ways of seeing and showing, to explore different techniques of making that allow him to implements this denotation evoked by Nelson Goodman. It focuses more particularly on two elements of the body, the head and the hand, which, in the art tradition, are those whose elaboration is reserved to the great masters, although here these elements are more like some scrap materials, the hand from the remains of a broken 19th century plaster sculpture, from a collection of a Swiss museum, and the head of an anonymous mannequin purchased online.

In doing so, he decomposes and recomposes their essence through their mechanical reproduction, assembling and dissembling the original and its double, questioning their identity as a symbol of the identification and legitimation of each individual.This work of decomposition and recomposition also extends to the exhibition in herself. In the choice of materials that compose it, both physically and mentally, Thomas Julier seeks to disrupt our bearings, our way of thinking things. What he shows us is a variation of and on representation, a play on the issue of presentation, layout, composition of an exhibition, of what an exhibition can be or tell.

He thus questions the relationship that different works of art can foster between themselves, between their representations, between the environment of their production. He experiments with their potential and limits within their description and representation and questions their language and objectivity.

—Vincent Verlé, 2022

1 E. Morin : La méthode : «La connaissance de la connaissance» 2 E. H. Gombrich, L’art et l’illusion, op. cit., p. 33. 3 Nelson Goodman, Langages de l’art, trad, franç., J. Morizot, J. Chambon, 1990, p. 35, ainsi que Esthétique et connaissance, trad, franç., R. Pouivet, L’Éclat, 1993. 4 Ibid, p. 56.

What is the starting point of the exhibition?

There are two starting points: representations of bodies in contemporary consumer culture and in art. I take an example each from both worlds: an anonymous and androgynous mannequin head, which is used to display sunglasses, and a broken statue from the 19th century by a forgotten artist. Based on these pieces I made new works and created simple displays to support them. They are reminiscent of furniture for stores, fairs and museums: aluminum pedestals for stacked plaster casts of the mannequin head and floating shelves for the original sculptures hands. Then there are computer drawings of these pieces made with a variety of digital techniques: photogrammetry, motion capture, 3 D - m o d e l i n g and animation. Through the use of different media and by presenting the works in a particular way I want to connect the mannequin head and the s c u l p t u r e s hands so that the visitor can think of them as part of an incomplete composite body.

How do you proceed to conceive this show?

The idea to work with the mannequin head and the sculpture came to me early on. I see both as cultural artifacts and I try to draw relationships between them. To do so I created various juxtapositions and assemblies of different pieces in my studio. The process of developing the show took place here: while it seemed relatively easy to come up with alluring compositions, it was quite hard to conceptualize a coherent exhibition based on relationships between the objects I use. I tend to think of exhibitions as grammatical systems that establish certain rules and reading protocols. The exhibition at openspace allows visitors multiple entry points and different ways of drawing connections between the works. I would like it to be playfully complex and strangely „readable“.

What interest you in the body representation? You already made differents works andexhibition on this subject…

To me, representations are constructions that give shape to how we think bodies – their substance and what they signify culturally. By representing bodies, we cast projections that will shape us. I see representation as an ever-changing cultural process full of conflicts and contradictions, in which past projections are haunting present and future. In my work, I act and react reluctantly. I am more concerned with the representation of body parts than whole bodies. The representation of bodies I have in mind is one of incomplete and ever-changing composites. A representation whose fragments invite us to reflect upon the cultural constructions that lie within acts of representation.