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Title: Fareed Armaly, Maison de la Culture, Saint-Etienne
Author: Helmut Draxler
Source: Artforum, January 1991
Artforum, January 1991
"Fareed Armaly, Maison de la Culture, Saint-Etienne"
Fareed Armaly has put together an exemplary exhibition that reorients
the site-specific strategies of the early ‘70s. Here, a distancing
from that which is inside the frame (the sacrosanct pictorial object
of the ‘80s) is accompanied by the interest in that which surrounds
and constitutes the frame. This exhibition analyzes the functional components
of present-day architecture as well as the resulting cultural policies
and the socio-political conflicts between former Minister of Culture
André Malraux and the protesting movement. Thus, a leitmotiv
of Armaly’s show is the passage or the transition from one state
to another — from the imaginary to the actual — that affords
political access to culture.
At the entrance to the foyer of the Maison de la Culture, there are
three video monitors, each running footage from Jean Cocteau’s
movie Orphée (Orpheus, 1950), specifically, the sequence in which
Jean Marais steps through the mirror into the other realm, interrupted
by motorcycles revving up. On the sixth floor Armaly has borrowed the
architectural principle of separating production offices, administrative
offices, and galleries but reversed it by revealing the working space
and closing the gallery. You can view an object in the exhibition space
only through a glass door. It is a wooden frame in triptych form, identical
in size to the mirror used by Marais in the film sequence. Furnishings
from the early days of the building have been hauled out of storage
and presented in the foyer. The space is hung with children’s
drawings, executed under the artist’s direction, that take the
door as their theme. The main part of the exhibition is concentrated
in the work rooms; three monitors show different adjacent rooms, and
a fourth monitor runs a different sequence from the Cocteau film. Marais’
voice dissolves into a radio speech given by the mayor of Saint-Etienne
about a strike. On a table in front of the monitors, we see photos of
the building plus documentation about the regional labor conflicts and
the May 1968 events in Paris, while printed information on the wall
clarifies the overall contexts.
Armaly has found a way of opening up highly complex structures to discussion.
Texts, movie footage, and the spatial arrangement, which is revealed
only by the viewer’s movement, make the disparate factors comparable:
Cocteau’s evocation of the frame, through which one can step while
forced to remain inside it; the access to this frame, which Malraux’s
cultural politics aims at opening, but also controlling; and the total
transgression of all frames that motivates the utopian protest movement.
The invoking of the imaginary unites all three positions, as does the
undervaluation of the reality of work.