The “conquest of space” that the rivalry of the Russians and the Americans considerably
publicized would have greatly marked the artists of the 1960s whom Patrick Tosani
attentively studied when he was a student. The images of the moon were moreover
used on the covers of the activist ecological magazine Whole Earth Catalog of the fall
1968, the spring 1969 and once again the fall 1970 issues, while at the same time,
Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, synthesizing in a certain
way the minimalism and the conquering intentions of the two great world powers of the
period, the whole on a cosmic ballet in which the planets rotated on a melody from
Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube.
This light from interstellar space to which I alluded is found in the most recent
series by Patrick Tosani, who discovered, in that famous month of July 1969, those
celebrated images of the moon. But it is in no way the artist’s intention to replay,
based on an enactment, the fascination that an entire generation felt at the time.
His starting point is moreover not the stars but earth itself. Speaking about his most
recent works, he writes: “These images spoke of a ‘photographic’ memory of the city,
of nature, events, facts… in a distant environment, one that perhaps was destroyed,
perhaps was recreated, certainly in another temporality.” He then evokes the [moon’s]
surface whose presence drew his attention and that became, for him, “the vector of a
timeless representation and an infinite horizon” exploring the limits of photography.
Through these images then, which he captures, today, it is the appearance of what he
calls “generic land,” based on which we imagine any kind of surface and any kind of
space. It is what permits us to see the images brought back by NASA and also to imagine
the world in which we live. Consequently, photographing plaster planets under
stellar lights is not more artificial than restoring an image for us using a camera,
no matter how precise it is.
Seen from a distance, we have the impression of being in the presence of a collection
of astronomical images but as soon as we draw nearer we understand that this cannot be
the case. What we thought was the uneven surface of the moon, or a comparable star, is
only a simulation that does not try to pass for something else: plaster, clay, crumbly
fragments and cracked paint. The procession of spheres that advance toward… the corner
of the room where they were photographed immediately shows its colors: “an ironic
and illusory exploration of a false stellar space that multiplies the ambiguities of
interpretation,” as Tosani so aptly says.
Nonetheless, the trick works, a little like at the theater where the protocol states:
everything here is artificial but you are going to believe it, you are going to feel
things that seem to you to have come from your direct experience but all the while
knowing that this is false. Yet the beauty of this work it that we dream in a papier-
mâché or rather in a photographic concentrate world in which it is nothing but
the light of volumes and expanse.
What is this planet hung above a concave surface on which it casts its shadow? And
this other one that could be the photograph of an eclipse but that we quickly realize
is nothing other than a shadow on a flat surface in a halo of light that is slightly
larger than the supposed planet that produced it. These bodies floating in space evoke
stars but aren’t and they tell us, inversely, how much of what we believe real when
we give credit to scientific images is… only a group of photographic images. Which
doesn’t prevent us from pondering the nature of this strange aircraft topped with a
sparkling luminous specter like an aurora borealis and that, perhaps even more than
the others, accentuates the ambiguity of what we see: folded rubber, a jellyfish or
a flying saucer, a creature from the cosmos or from the nethermost regions, or the
metamorphoses of the visible that art makes us aware of.
Extract of «Spationaute», 2017, Gilles A. Tiberghien