Photo: Annik Wetter, Eva Herzog, Michael Brzezinski
For more than a century, advertising, the luxury industry and media have, simultaneously, created fetishes out of commodities, transforming them into objects of desire. Throughout the twentieth century and today critical art practices have kept track with consumerism, the most profound revealing truths about our relations with these objects of everyday life – objects typically encountered without questioning.
The artist Magali Reus has, for more than a decade, developed a body of sculptural work that perturbs the habits of the gaze and sensations linked to our relationship to design, ever present in a utilitarian world based on mass consumption. Through sculpture and photographic works that hybridise and juxtapose conceptually or functionally incompatible objects Reus is able to disrupt our habits as consumer-users of objects.
Frequently starting with ubiquitous objects (chairs, refrigerators, tables, signs, lamps, etc.), which she reproduces employing sophisticated industrial processes that are paired with manual studio labour, Reus creates strangely mutated sculptures that do not correspond to any code of use. Her sculptures thus resemble functionless yet autonomous utensils. More broadly, they maintain an ambiguous relationship with everyday design, allowing the artist to question the often implicit yet overlooked hierarchies at work around us.
Without the need to justify themselves since they are devoid of utility, Reus’s autonomous sculptures escape the constraints to which objects are ordinarily subject, giving them a new degree of emancipation. As sculptures we might say that they look like ready-mades: the artist’s selection brings the beauty of the object into the field of art and contemplation. It is this reframing that questions the connections and personal relationships that each of us hold with the supposed neutrality of factory-made forms.
If post-modernity eventually levelled the status of design, the ready-made, and traditional sculpture, there remains, still today, a certain residual perplexity as to the way we value these categories. Reus teases at the perplexity, playing with the codes of mass-produced design and sculpture, always maintaining a subtle and generative confusion between artisanal fabrication and technological production.
In Reus’s work, as for many artists of her generation, nature has lost its essentialist metaphysical meaning and is, instead, understood and often translated as a fabrication, endlessly modifiable and adaptable in the same manner as the artifice of commodities we surround ourselves with. Reus incorporates biological elements through the hi-tech craft manufacture of fruit, vegetables, fungi, and plants, which increasingly intrude within the solidity of the resin and composite materials that make up her recent artworks. In the sculptural series titled Candlesticks we see a representation of fruit and vegetables as frozen hybrids, an expression of the fossilisation of a now-obsolete concept of nature. We could suggest that Reus’s works insist on the porosity between nature and culture – as strange, wondrous, or dangerous as it might appear.
In Delme, a rural village pervaded by the incessant to-and-fro of freight trucks, surrounded by an intensive agriculture that is now indispensable, but in which the notion of the authentic countryside manages to resist all the same, Reus’s work finds a fertile base in the space of the former synagogue.
At her exhibition Le Plat Principal at the CAC - la synagogue de Delme Reus is interested in conceptually exploring the synagogue’s rural environment, as well as its historical context. Responding to the famous plant breeder and horticulturist Victor Lemoine (1823–1911), a pioneer of modern botany born in Delme, Reus has devised a body of sculptural and photographic works deconstructing what is commonly perceived as natural as well as a “rural” aesthetic.
The exhibition hosts a series of artworks dealing with hybridisation, intensive agriculture, agrotechnology but pairs these with explorations of traditional recipes to reveal our domesticated bonds with nature. How might we think of authenticity now that it has been absorbed by the techno-capitalist industry and transformed into a marketable consumer product?
The ambiguous status of the objects and images shown in Le Plat Principal examine a technological vision of the food industry which is continuously looking for more efficient ways of feeding an ever-increasing population within a world of ecological crisis. While the landscapes around us shapeshift at a heady pace, so do our food habits and the objects and tools we use continue to adapt.
Nature, like any other commodity, is an object typically encountered without questioning. For many it is central to our personal and natural habitats and anchors a powerful emotional relationship. Reus’s art, which keeps track with consumerism, reveals how it is being transformed and in doing so helps us to question our relations with this subject of everyday life.
Following this exhibition, a monograph on Magali Reus's recent work, edited in partnership with Mondriaan Fonds, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens and Atelier Calder, will be published by Nai010 publishers.
This exhibition was organised in partnership with Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens (where was presented Magali Reus‘ On Like Scenery from October 30th, 2022 to February 12th, 2023), and Atelier Calder (where the artist will be resident from May 2023).
With the generous support of Mondriaan Fonds and the Netherlands Embassy in Paris.