Machines, Affects, Islands

Since 2010, the work of Yoan Mudry, the associated paintings, drawings, prints, sculptural objects, installations and performances have been fed by a process of selecting pictures that the artist has removed from the flux of images in which the contemporary subject immerses himself on a daily basis. Forming an ever growing inventory, his repertoire draws a horizontal landscape, placing on the same level motifs coming from television, media, social networks, comics, art, music, cinema, pop culture, philosophy and activism. One of the first major differences between Mudry’ system and what happened in the 1960’s, lies in a change of context. The exponential augmentation of information one is exposed to today. The time one spends in front of a screen, the increasing use of technological devices colonizing one’s lifetime, one’s brainspace, makes the question of the choice of the pictures itself exponentially significant. The images that Mudry is selecting are rarely unique: in When Maggie met Steve (2015), the image of an HDMI wire organizes the painting in the form of a network of signs, looped with each other, as if the composition’s aim is to create a larsen: TINA’s slogan, referring to Margret Thatcher’s rhetorical affirmation that « There Is No Alternative » (to capitalism), is painted in large letters over the body of a man sitting in lotus pose (the one of meditation), with the sign of Chinese Tao behind him. The title refers to a certain « Steve » (one might think of Steve Jobs). This painting reveals different historical processes that have been at work on a global level in the last twenty years, and since the invention and commercialisation of the first personal computer, the subtle and progressive power shift between traditional politics and technological companies, the ideological transformations of the possibilities of technologies from emancipation to control, the ever-growing capture of attention by technological devices of the early 21st century subject.

Mudry’s works seem to navigate history from within, copying and pasting signs collected inside the informational matrix, as if the artist had built himself a specific device, a tool, an extension of his own body to explore the image matter, to dig holes within it, digesting it. A work such as Just another Tube (2015), that represents an intestine, seems to stand as one perspective on the artist’s way of working. The bodily shape evokes the process of appropriation that Mudry exposes through his whole work: all of the print matter that the artist uses from comes from outside. But the appropriational process, that the painting symbolizes, is also the one that is at stake within the whole cultural system. On one hand, the one that is dramatically structuring the cultural industry, cannibalizing signs from the below, coming from independence, the street, the underground, to become the matter from which the mainstream market makes profit. On the other hand, it evokes the way popular culture itself, like in a mirror, appropriates signs to produce it’s own singularity, associating, melting, appropriating, in a chaotic and lively way the various icons of dominant and oppressed culture. The artist’s method lies in between, like a medium, a machine that captures these circulations and reveals, like a prism, the complexity of these cultural intertwinings.

The aim of the artist is neither to « elevate » the chosen pictures, coming from the « low fidelity » information realm to the the level of emblems of contemporary history, neither to place icons of « low culture » at the one of « high art ». In If value, then copy (self-portrait) (2016), the face of Britney Spears after her « burn out » appears in the back of a painting that shows a bottle of pills into which an insect seems to have taken an anti-depressant, while the slogan If value, then copy, (stolen from the artist collective Superflex) is superimposed onto the composition that evokes the fatigue of an artist. The enigma that lies at the core of this « self-portrait », lies in the fact that it is difficult to know if the text refers to the tiredness of Spears as a pop icon, a body onto which all the images could be projected – as a symbol mimicry, of a person becoming a persona, of a blank subject becoming an object within the cultural industry – or to the artist himself, finding value in this picture of disruption within the pop machine, or even as an image of his own fatigue. In The Future is Wild (2017), the black silhouette of Sponge Bob Square Pants is represented on a background showing train rails. The collage of the two, associated with the title, evokes a menace on different levels. First, the danger that comes from the character itself, as if the friendly character could sooner or later become a menace, coming from outside, the infiltration of our childhood, our visual education, our early psyche, an ideology contaminating our minds from far before our adult lives. As if cultural seeds had been planted within us that would grow and then return against us. But the painting also evokes, on another historical level, a call for insurrection, another menace that would be coming from within us, towards other forces, the rails being a possible reference to the Tarnac affair when, back in 2008, a group of French thinkers and activists, including Julien Coupat, associated with the anonymous Invisible Committee, were accused of sabotaging train electrical devices, and were incarcerated.

The word LOOPS, on the surface of the painting, written in capital letters, first sounds like a warning, evoking the way history seems to repeat itself, ten years after the aforementioned affair, coming back on the front page of the news at the moment when the painting was made. It also refers to a loop the artist organized in between a series of shows that were articulated in the form of a net of works interconnected through time and space, with the intent of deactivating the very idea of the « new » and « surprise » associated with the work of emerging artists. The show that took place at Art Bärtschi gallery in Genève was looped in with two other installments that repeated works, motifs and gestures, linking to a performance at Salle Crosnier in which an artist’s book was made live out of the cutting up of the catalogue of the show. The second act of the loop took place at Le Commun in the same city, in which the catalogue was glued together. Then, the loop was looped with The Future is Wild, giving the « clue » of the whole series of live acts. A series of second hand shoes, into which a mechanical device was placed, walked alone in the gallery, like « zombie » objects, and then placed on cardboard boxes, like in a shop, on which the name of the atist, « Mudry », ironically appeared in the form of a brand logo.

LOOPS, like Mimicry (a series of drawings made out of pictures coming from his own paintings) or Feedbacks, (the title of another series of works, prints in which the artist appropriated his own work to produce new collages) reveal Mudry’s method, and appear as keywords for the artist’s practice, that forms itself at the junction of the machine and the organic. Silent organs (2016), a sculptural installation made out of large microphones, produced in textile, might represent an image of this specific technique the artist has patiently developed in his studio: observing, selecting, and then reproducing, with the most precise attention to the pictures, mounting them with each other, synthetising them in the form of a complex node filled with references and layers, the artist also renders the images silent, deactivates them, through reproduction. The power of these images, filtered throught the silent organs that the artist constructed for himself, thanks to this other « tube » he uses (that in the painting from 2015 mentioned above), is obviously the one of the painter, is transformed into something else, neutralized, through the silent power of reproduction, of montage, of the medium of painting. Mudry’s last paintings do not propose anything else, but solely radicalize this process, via a crystalline conceptual meditation on pictures, knowledge and power. Using covers of books coming from his private library, Mudry produces a series of large scale paintings that show and share frontally, his own sources, in the form of a literal bibliography: a book on pictures and Propaganda, published in 1920 by Edward L. Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and an author considered as « the father of public relations », Armand Mattelart & Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman’s How to Read Donald Duck (1971), Subliminal Seduction, a book from 1974 by Wilson Bryan Key about subliminal messages and advertising and Selected Essays by artist Öyvind Fahlström in their translation into French published in 2002.

There, in the mute gesture of literal reproduction of these « tools », in the act of revealing the things that lie behind the work, through a technique that makes each invisible image progressively appear after weeks of meditative reproduction, lies one secret of the artist’s alchemy that loops, once again, the work with itself, within Mudry’s oeuvre, and that might give us an another clue for interpretation. Effectively, back in 2014, Mudry presented, as a sort of subtle, symbolic and kind of soft, but lyric « goodbye » gesture to the art school where he used to study for five years, a sculpture in the form of a palmtree that was made out of punk textile patches. Printed with anarchist logos and alternative slogans, the pieces of textile formed a black and white tree, evoking the imagery of paradise. At this time, it was almost impossible to understand whether this « paradise » was the one that was about to be lost (the suspended moment of the art school, supposedly cut out from the « hell » of the life of an artist in the « real life »), or another one, one that he was in search of. Almost half a decade later, it seems obvious that the method that the artist has set up made him build this island much before he had left the school, that it is a one of islandism, a space-time of isolation and resonance in the meantime, of distance and connection, of critique and immersion. Gilles Deleuze, in an early essay from the 1950’s, wrote that deserted islands were not a place where the world would be forgot, put at distance. It is a place where the things of the world would be reinvented, recreated and transformed. Indeed, Mudry’s works reveal the affects that pictures produce on our bodies, on our minds, on our lives: what the artist has started to achieve, in less than half decade, is to reverse the intensity of the forces that animate these visual vehicles, in order to make other pictures, from a place that acts from inside, a universe controlled by surfaces and representations, prisms that make him more readable.

Yan Chateigné, Machines, Affects, Islands, texte d’exposition, Union Pacific, Londres, 2018