An Artist Exposes the Absurdity of Modern Systems and Logic

Incorporating found objects and simple industrial materials, French artist Pierre Clément’s sculptural configurations challenge an established logic of signs, tools, and systems. He reveals the many frameworks we have developed to manage the world, and exposes their absurdity.

Clément’s artwork builds on the legacy of minimalist forebears such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre, artists who championed the pure form over the emotional, impulsive work of abstract expressionism. Clément’s work is similarly bare-bones, without extraneous flourishes, but unlike minimalist practice that makes no reference outside itself, it is highly metaphorical and dialectical. He often employs readymade objects in order to lay a logical foundation, only to then fundamentally alter it. The change is always subtle, as in Hectares (2013), an installation work composed of 196 tape measures standing on their backs, tapes unfurled, upright, and rigid in the air. Here, a utilitarian object is rendered useless. In Fossile (2014), a sculpture composed of polystyrene (unbranded Styrofoam) and metal-tipped arrows, the arrows are swallowed by the styrofoam and thus rendered impotent; the act is simple yet entirely transformative. 

In niveaux (2014) and A la ligne (2013), Clément juxtaposes measuring and graphing tools with kitsch images of nature. The former contains a retro postcard of a mountain scene next to a metal triangle ruler, and the latter shows a graph-paper cut-out superimposed onto a digitally distorted image of a mountain scene. The ruler and graph paper suggest mathematical precision, whereas the postcard and photo allude to mythologies and narrative—and yet, they are both a means to understanding the natural world and some of the many ways we attempt to flatten and control it. Clément engages nature again in La Harde (2013), an installation of several deer-crossing signs grouped together in a grassy field. In this work he takes the familiar sign, designed to represent and signify the existence and behavior of deer, and then translates it literally. Thus, in an absurdist gesture, a herd of signs comes to represent a herd of deer.

guilty (2013) embodies a bizarre version of a crime scene made entirely of broken china. Small numbered signs litter the scene,  correlating to forensic records, which are typically used in investigations and court proceedings. Here, the numbers are placed seemingly at random, rather thant clearly indicating specific pieces of the china. The signs point to nothing, and the numbering system is nonsensical, with no start and no finish. Again, Clément contrasts a rational system (numbers) with the immeasurable (disorder). With these qualities pitted against each other, we’re led to question our reliance on logical systems and tacit compliance with them. 

M.A. Wholey

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