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Photography: C-type, Color, Photo on Paper.
Wendy’s World Series
When it comes to creative play there are two types of children. Those who build structures, be they complex towers in their minds or structures with Meccano, and those who build stories; not that the two are mutually exclusive but in play they often polarise. The child’s theatre, a cardboard interior often made in the form of a pop-up book, becomes the ultimate non-architectural space. It is all innards and no architectonic structure. It is all dress and no frame, whilst the Meccano tower is the essence of rationalised integrity with little space for humanity. This of course is an unacceptable dichotomy. Etienne Clément’s intensely alluring but deviously complex photographic works weave these two types of play together. The formal drama of architectural photography abuts the personal and political allegories of his play-mobile-esque narratives. They jar, when Clément wants them to and then merge in a tricksy fashion when he wants to entice the viewer into closer communion.
In the background of the works there is often a building, a landscape, a ruin, or more accurately a photographic image, which the artist has previously taken and then has used as a stage backdrop. In the foreground there are toy figures, miniature magazines, false-modelled landscapes that merge with the backdrop. The introduction of neglected objects, items of juvenilia, has the immediate effect of sharply undercutting the romanticism inherent in the art history, and biblical allegory referenced in the scene. What is presented is the inside out of architecture, with an artificial, parodying grandeur created by the seamless move from the macro to micro narrative. In his most recent series, Wendy’s World, he has added a third layer of complication to the story. In front of our focal point (the camera’s focal point) is a figure that stands with us, shadowy, blurred. This is Wendy.
Wendy is an artist, perhaps a cipher for the Artist; she is a viewer, a pervert and a voyeur. She is childish, plastic, sexy, naïve and unshockable. She is a ghostly presence on the photographic plane. She draws our attention to the surface of the photograph, to our own position, to questions surrounding the construction of that plane and what is beyond it, on it, behind it and…to the excitement and absurdity in voyeurism. Wendy is just one of the many miniature figures who inhabit Clément’s tableaux. Most are plastic, the sexiness of plastic mixing with its pathetic ephemerality. However, once the figures are enlarged and taken from their symbolic, generic meaningless and given their place at the centre of the melodrama, a change takes place. From their mass produced absurdity, via the depth of their surface, emerges a certain profundity. Acting as touchstones for contemporary desire, the figurines in Clément’s works invite you to question the hierarchy of truth that is placed on all narratives, objects and places.
In 1959 art critic and agent provocateur Lawrence Alloway issued forth a call to arms to all artists, he asked them to fight on the ‘Long Front of Culture’ against the anachronisms of high culture, the dead weight of the academy and the static notions of artistic value which were no longer applicable to a throw away economy. Clément is au-fait with art history, with biblical myth, with architectural beauty and yet he celebrates ruins – not the type that are preserved, that fall into sentimental contemplation, but those which are over looked. He rescues that which is discarded, even neglected to the point of invisibility, as in the stripped innards of a tower block, photographed in his celebrated series Gutted, which documented the last moments of a Hackney tower block just before demolition. Gutted reveals not only the unseen of architecture, but the flattened idiosyncrasies of personal taste, with each stripped room bearing the markings of bizarre personal flare. It is this ‘flare’ that the architect rarely considers, but which, under Clément’s glare, becomes an heroic artistic gesture. Similarly, things that have outlived their function, which have become separated from their cultural meaning, like faded stars of a once popular sit-com, he reanimates to perform in scenarios both personal and epic. The figures emerging from the dirty puddle in La Vierge de Miséricorde look just like the chaotic detritus of a boyish game played out in the backyard. However, on more careful inspection we realise we are witnessing a biblical drama, with the Virgin Mary saving the animals and children from drowning. All of this takes place in Battersea power station, that most glorious of industrial fragments, with Wendy looking on, showing us only her incongruous baby blue bow.
Wendy is learning, imbibing, imagining, creating, witnessing and re-mythologising place and history. She stands in her platinum blond arrogance in front of scenes out of her reach. Well, she is only plastic, but Clément’s suggestion seems to be that she holds in her as much meaning as the giant statues, which promise to concretise an entire history of the Cuban revolution, as pictured in the backdrop to The Fall of Santa Clara. She stares not seeing, only looking at her own reflection, just as we all tend to do in the face of icons from pop and political culture; the introduction in Santa Clara of the ubiquitous image of Che Guevara in amongst the toy abstractions of fallen soldiers illustrates this.
Wendy is the artist, perhaps. Wendy is us, the observer, yes probably. Wendy is a warning, most definitely; Wendy’s world of absurd indifference does not need to be our world.
Other Signed Limited Editions available:
50 x 60 cm Edition of 12
122 x 154 cm Edition of 7
180 x 226 cm Edition of 3