Toulouse: Printemps de Septembre
27 September – 13 October 2002
After more than a decade, it’s truly amazing how little recognition this annual event receives outside of continental Europe. On a scale to match Manifesta, it is Europe’s leading festival of photographic and video art, with side helpings of music and performance thrown in for good measure. Yet despite over 50 artists participating in eight principal venues, and a further eight outdoor locations scattered around the town, on past form it is unlikely that the anachronistically titled Printemps de Septembre will rate more than a mention in the English-language arts press.
This year’s invited curator was Marta Gili, a specialist
in contemporary photography at Barcelona’s La Caixa. Flagged by Gili under
the title Fragilités, this thematic is more of a marketing exercise.
Printemps is best taken as a showcase for (mostly) young talent that has
over the years introduced audiences to an impressive catalogue of works.
Insofar as any one artist stole the show, for me it was Simone Decker. This Luxembourg artist’s forte is literally ‘stealing buildings’, a feat achieved by drowning selected architectural details in such intense light that, in the photographic record, overexposure leads to total bleach-out. Paradoxically, these missing buildings are replaced by unearthly replicas of themselves; strange, glowing doppelgängers emitting an ethereal white light, made all the more incongruous by being situated in otherwise unremarkable suburban settings.
Japanese artist Tomoko Yoneda also photographs unremarkable scenes: unremarkable, that is, until contextualised by their titles. Thus we discover that a tranquil stretch of water is in fact Cuba’s Bay of Pigs and a hotel room is where Hitler rested before the Nuremberg rallies, while other seaside vistas (beach scenes crop up with insistent regularity in Yoneda’s social archaeology) mark the site of the D-Day landings or the exact spot in Brazil where the infamous Dr Mengele’s drowned body washed ashore.
Also of interest were the video vignettes of Hans Op de Beeck. Perhaps a little too Viola-like at times, his nuclear family of mum, dad and two kids endlessly running towards us on an unseen treadmill evoked just the right combination of pathos and humour. Naia del Castillo makes surreal images in which human protagonists and the inanimate merge – usually through the mediation of bizarrely fashioned items of clothing – although it is a shame that this exact same body of work had already been shown earlier in the year at Madrid’s ARCO. Overexposure also marred the appreciation of Lorna Simpson’s and Barbara Kruger’s contributions: the multiple-image videos of the one, and the one-line sloganising of the other being now just too predictable to carry the day.
Although it only served to prove that rehearsal is the key to good performance, Lucy Orta’s Nexus provided a diversionary piece of street theatre. Orta has been physically linking her performers since the 1995 Venice Biennale to construct a shambolic and symbolic matrix that subsumes the individual into the whole. Actually, it’s just a bunch of students running around with interlinked clothing (not unlike the fashion accessories of del Castillo), but it’s all harmless fun. Not as much fun, however, as the collaborative performance of Pierre Bastien and Pierrick Sorin. In this night-time son et lumière, Dutch musician Bastien provided the sounds while Sorin pieced together a mix of live and recorded visuals. France’s answer to Mr Bean, Sorin’s speciality is creating tableaux in which video projection, mirrors and reality combine to create an excuse for the artist to play the part of miniature clown. In last year’s show at the Fondation Cartier, for example, one piece had a mini-Sorin apparently marking time on a record player’s turntable, an image which briefly reappeared in the Toulouse mix.
While Printemps’ brevity doubtless contributes to its lack of wider exposure (the event lasts just two weeks), it is also one of its most endearing aspects. Despite its relocation last year from the more intimate environs of Cahors – and the scale of its programme and ambitions – it still retains the atmosphere of a ‘small’ event.