Societé Réaliste in Zürich

In Flash Art, January/February 2012: download the PDF here

Anne Mosseri-Marlio Gallery, Zürich, CH

At first, Société Réaliste’s Zero Euro (2010) and Infinite Dollar (2011) sculptures seem like facile comments on the economic situation and the stability of the political structures supporting them.

However, knowing the research-laden process of the politically engaged French collective, it was not a surprise to find that aspects from the history of symbols, economy and power were embedded in those simple signs. For their Swiss gallery debut, they explore the connection between writing and architecture. In the impressive wall installation Commonscript (2011), 24 stills from The Fountainhead (Société Réaliste’s recreation of the eponymous 1949 Ayn Rand movie, but sans people and sound) bring the viewer further and further into a media mogul’s office overlooking the modernist city below. These are interspersed by 24 enamel panels with short quotes by Howard Roark, Rand’s hero of extreme individualism and integrity. Changed from the singular to the third person plural, the quotes take a much more ominous character, as they seem to describe an elite group concerned only with protecting its own interests. The juxtaposition of quotes and architectural images creates a convincing indictment of capitalism, as the “they,” the power holders, “will not consider anybody’s judgment but their own.”

Modernism’s idealistic failures are the sub-text of the exhibition throughout. From Le Corbusier’s plan of La Ville Radieuse, which appears at the center of Hazard Abolished (2011), an almost architectural transcription of the English translation of a Stéphane Mallarmé poem; to the lightboxes that criticize the bombastic architecture they represent with short and poignant comments like function as fiction as function; and ending with Fingerprint Architecture: Switzerland (2011), an installation of a pile of books laid out in the same pattern as the design of the cover and inside pages, but that in fact represent empty fingerprint books totaling the number of undocumented migrants to Switzerland in 2010 — the work of Société Réaliste is a philosophical battle against the myths that we hold dear about our society’s liberties and values. And for this exhibition, this philosophical battle chooses the gallery as its site, a highly contested space, where capitalism and utopianism clash to create a hybrid form: reality.

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