Cyprien Gaillard (Paris, 1980) imposes himself on the viewer by the ambitious and visionary quality of his works, often based on lengthy preparatory research. His multimedia practice – which includes installations, photography, videos, engravings, sculptures and performances – is a reﬂection on the concept of the “ruin” as both a cultural and existential metaphor.
Gaillard’s works mingle references to the past (remote or near, as in the case of the drift of Western modernism) and the present (the contemporary urban reality), and relate both these dimensions of time to the expectations and visions that humanity has for the future. This superimposition of temporal planes collapsed on each other expresses the artist’s desire to reﬂect on the tensions between reality and utopia, between the project and its failure.
An example of this methodology is the series of engravings Belief in the Age of Disbelief (2005), in which the artist reprises and distorts the style and technique of 18th Century Dutch landscapes. The idyllic atmosphere of the landscape genre is distorted by the presence of surreal residential blocks in Brutalist style, the style of the great housing units that have populated the suburbs of many Western cities since the 50s, characterized by the “brutality” of Rationalist forms reduced to a minimum and the use of exposed concrete. At the time of their design these buildings were the expression of a project which aimed to achieve equality and social emancipation, but over the years they have been transformed into places of marginalization, conﬂict, crime and blight. Gaillard fuses the urgency of these issues with a fascination with the romantic theme of the ruin that, ever since the etchings created by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in the 18th Century, has been explored by artists to represent the revenge of nature over culture and the ascendancy that disorder and entropy gain over rationality and planning.
The work in collection at Madre comes from a larger series entitled Geographical Analogies, which the artist has pursued for many years as his personal form of mapping and archiving of the contemporary concept of ruin. Consisting in its entirety of hundreds of images, this body of work is structured around a series of polaroids that Gaillard took in the many places he has visited around the world, documenting disintegrating sites, abandoned buildings and other forms of decay that we could term “spontaneous” ruins. The principle of the systematic collection of visual material, organized according to a typological and/or taxonomic criterion in a series of classic museum vitrines, repeats a deeply expressive strategy that has characterized both minimalist sculpture (an example of which is the work of Carl Andre, present in the same room) and Conceptual Art (represented here by the work of Lawrence Weiner, a veritable invitation to connect the space of the museum’s white cube and the exterior), all the way up to Land Art, whose concern for the concept of space as the “site” of the artist’s intervention is evidenced in the work of Douglas Huebler and Dennis Oppenheim.
The grid structure in which Gaillard’s photographic images are neatly arranged and the choice of photography as the medium for recording reality can be ideally connected with the themes that Huebler’s work evokes, in particular the deceptive nature of those material instruments and conceptual devices which humanity has equipped itself with in order to know, understand and dominate the world around it. The inclusion of Gaillard’s work in the walkthrough of Performing a collection corresponds to the desire to broaden the horizons of the collection itself including in it not only what pertains to the history of art and the cultural avant-garde in Naples and Campania, but on several occasions including works by artists who interact with the issues raised by the whole project, creating openings into contemporary artistic production and possible unexpected interpretational shortcircuits. In keeping with this methodology, the museum’s collection not only preserves the memory of the past and records the present, but goes further, presenting hypotheses about its own future.