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The complex body of work developed by Gilles Barbier is articulated around the principles of doubt, polysemia and ambiguity. He explores the paths taken by reason, subjective and objective processes, overlapping ideas, interactions, dysfunction and mistakes, while joining up the dots in surprising ways. He does not produce any theoretical models. Indeed, the main idea is not to hierarchise facts but, on the contrary, to get rid of distinctions between dominant and dominating codes.
The exhibition at the Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois presents a set of pieces which have in common an interest in the body as a symbolic and real place of transit, at once consumer and consumable. On the floor by the entrance, a slab, La conquête de l’espace (The Space Conquest, 2003) refers to Carl Andre’s floor pieces, the difference here being that the sculpture takes the form of a huge slab of gruyere ‘eaten up’ by the holes that shatter and multiply the surface into a mass of dips and curves. On the left, alone in the room, Le prince des ventres (The Prince of Bellies, 2003) is home to a tapeworm that relates its development, from its original state to learning how to speak. Just as the man is dispossessed of his main attribute, language, so the worm epitomises the penetrative object whose sole aim is to keep filling and then emptying itself. In the main room, the Plexiglas toilets of Business architecture (2003) open up the intimacy and opacity of people’s last place of privacy, the toilet’s transparency penetrating our last refuge.
All around, on the walls, some fifteen large-scale black-and-white drawings form a kind of big narrative. This includes long monologues, digressions or diagrams about violence against the body, the loss of privacy or interstitial displacements. Here we find a factory producing dream-vaseline, which slides along and penetrates the skin. There is also a cosmetonaut floating limply in his own space capsule, surfers with a faculty for entering tubes under the propulsion provided by the waves, and Club Shred (2003), comprising bits of dislocated bodies, dreaming of union as their fantasies indulge impossible desires. And then there is a two-part representation (one general, one a particular instance) of the Pornosphère, which since 1997 has been Barbier’s ideal prototype of the penetration of thought by the compressive channels of information.
And so Gilles Barbier depicts the absurd postulate of media capitalism, in which the slightest living creature is immediately transformed into an object that is simultaneously emitter and receiver, violated and violating, stripped of its status as a thinking being. A world where objects gain in subjectivity as if to compensate for our own semantic and political inadequacy.