This focused and carefully calibrated exhibition is Baptiste Debombourg’s third at duplex, but the first in the new 100m2 space on Obala. Previously exhibiting in 2007 and 2010, Debombourg returns this time with a thought provoking show of drawings, sculpture and video. The show deals with some of the artist’s signature interests; the relationship between destruction and creation, between the collective consciousness of memory and imaginations of the future, and the power of the image to surprise, and to make the viewer think again about what they imagine to be familiar. Moreover, the show demonstrates an ongoing, evolving interest in materials, and a real inventiveness in delineating and organising internal space.
The exhibition is dominated by one video installation. The video slowly rotates the forms of a crumpled plastic shopping bag, plated fully in gold, to the accompaniment of a beautiful ambient soundtrack, adding a breathy tone to the hushed, dark space. The plastic shopping bag- a throwaway symbol of contemporary capitalism that has no status as an object in everyday life, is transformed and made precious by its gold plating. The video slowly turns the form of this sculpture around, almost allowing the viewer to turn it over in their minds, as a collector would get to know a new precious ornament by turning it over slowly in their hand. The piece makes a huge, meditative impact on the viewer, not only on an immediate sensory level, but also in terms of the way in which we perceive everyday objects.
Moreover, it is clear that this is the piece which is the foundation for the whole concept of “Retrovision” in the show. The artist defines retrovision as “A retro-furturistic allegory, questioning the place of memory sites in our collective consciousness…and archaeology of the future…based on repressed untold or neglected stories.” This is made clearer in the presence of the actual sculpture in the next room. underneath a glass case, the gold plated shopping bag is a curious object. It almost has the appearance of a find from an archaeological dig; the possession of a Viking or other such nomadic warrior. Glittering softly in the light, the mundane original function of the object is totally forgotten; an enhanced 21st century readymade, a concept that Debombourg has played with before.
There is a chilling counterpoint to this fleck of gold in the room. Around the walls, in clinical pencil, the artist has hung a series of drawings entitled Tradition of Excellence. This is a series which takes its visual impetus from the outlines of individual weapons- landmines, pistols and rifles. The drawing Tradition of Excellence XX– the Yugoslav made PMA-2 anti personnel mine particularly resonates in view of the destruction it has wrought in recent times here. The drawings ape technical drawings- appearing to show the mechanical workings of the landmines. the viewer is seduced by the spiky, mathematically exact forms within the space of the weaponry, associating them with their potential destructive power. Then, when one has had time to think, the realisation dawns that these drawings are- technically- a nonsense, and deliberately so.
Maintaining the tension between destruction and creation, Debombourg has re-imagined the insides of these destructive instruments in terms of positivity, and creativity. In the drawing Tradition of Excellence VII, we are confronted with the very familiar shape of the Soviet AK-47 rifle. Again, the weapon’s internal space has been carefully organised- not as a showing of its internal workings, but in an imaginary architectural space. The artist, with a passion for architecture and spatial organisation, has worked with architects on these designs, imagining the interior of these weapons as architectural space, and turning them into dormitories, hospitals, and prisons. This provides another intriguing re-imagining, a scrambling of familiar codes, and a clever use of what appears to familiar to use our imagination.
Overall, this show leaves the sensation of an artist who has carved out a familiar territory, but who is not content merely to replicate that as a formula; rather, to use that territory to challenge assumptions of imagination, form and material, as a means of expansion and development. With a substantial body of work already behind him, and ambitious plans for future work, this is an artist very well worth watching the the next few years.
Retrovision opened last week and will be on show at duplex 100m2, Obala Kulina Bana 22 1st Floor, until the 31st October. Admission is Free. You can find out more about the work of Baptiste Debombourg at his website- http://baptistedebombourg.com . The images accompanying this article have been taken from there.