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hot, hot, hot, Piotr Krzymowski and Cedric Teisseire, l’etrangere gallery, 2017

Hot, hot, hot

Sylwia Serafinowicz

hot, hot, hot is the first artistic encounter between Piotr Krzymowski and Cedric Teisseire. L’etrangere invited the artists, originally from two different ends of Europe: France and Poland, to explore together the creative and intellectual potential of process-based art. Whilst it may seem that they are returning to a well-explored area of art, there is an unexpected twist to their investigation. Both artists use high temperatures to transform their chosen materials of celluloid film and car lights, two signifiers of cultural forces that shaped the modern world, into a whole new artistic adventure.

After the appearance of the influential novel, Crash by J. G. Ballard in 1973, the car stopped being merely a vehicle. It became a metaphor for the over-sexualised reality of ‘sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy’. However, Ballard was preoccupied by the idea of a suggestive relationship between man and his new machine even in the years prior to his novel’s publication. In a short feature film, titled The Atrocity Exhibition (J. G. Ballard and the Motorcar), 1970, directed by Harley Cokeliss, we can hear Ballard saying:

 

I think the key image of the twentieth century is the man and the motorcar. It sums up everything. The elements of speed, drama, aggression, the junction of advertising and consumer goods, the technological landscape, the sense of violence and desire, power and energy, the shared experience of moving together towards an elaborately signalled landscape.

Cedric Teisseire expresses the complex relationship between cars, life, death and transformation in his exhibited series, Les Avatars (after A. Odermatt), 2016. This body of work consists of a group of objects, surprising on first sight, with their sleekness and seductively organic, shiny, pinkish and red surfaces. In fact, they are back-tail car-lights that have been melted under heat administered by the artist. This intervention is reminiscent of the much more violent thermodynamic processes that take place during a car crash.

In his series, Teisseire refers to the accidents captured by Arnold Odermatt, a Swiss police photographer. Odermatt was born in 1925 and his work spanned over 40 years. For Police records and documentation, he rigorously and systematically photographed all the car crashes that occurred whilst he was working for the Nidwalden district police from 1948, until his retirement in 1990. In his images, corrugated sheets and melted lights appear disturbingly beautiful. Moreover, the vehicles are often set against a peaceful, captivating landscape of suburban roads, parks, meadows and lakes. In his series Odermatt seems to be able to depict the double identity of cars as both objects of desire and the ultimate machines of death, as expressed by Ballard. There is something extremely attractive, and extremely silent about those photographs.

 

This subject of abrupt and violent transformation caused by heat is also buried within Teisseire’s use of the term ‘avatar’. The word was famously used by Theophile Gautier as the title of his novel, published in 1856. In Avatar, Gautier described the phenomenon of a body swap, the complex idea of transformation from one subject to another thorough a semi-scientific, semi-magical intervention, dictated by desire. He tells the story of Octavius de Saville who falls in love with Countess Prascovie Labinska. The Countess is married to Count Olaf Labinski and rejects his advances. Octavius, who does not want to accept this, agrees an offer made by a physician to swap his body with Olaf’s. Although the comparison between an exchange of bodies and the transformation of a car light into a work of art may seem a far-fetched analogy, the fleshy quality of Teisseire’s work lends it a feeling of reality.

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I believe I can imagine a colour I have never seen before, scan of a heat-treated 16mm film strip, digital print on Hahnemühle

archival paper, thermochromic paint, 70x52 cm, 2017

Piotr Krzymowski often works with images of men and women that adorned the covers of Polish magazines in the 1960s and 1970s, and defined the then modern image of beauty. He has previously produced fictitious film posters that look as if they were made in the same era. Krzymowski used the images he unearthed in Polish vintage illustrated magazines, such as Ty i Ja published and distributed between 1960 and 1973. In the body of work exhibited in hot, hot, hot, Krzymowski surprises with his video piece which although very much in the spirit of his other works, puts the iconography of desire aside in order to focus on the origins of colour. Like Teisseire, Krzymowski uses heat as a main tool of his investigation. The work, titled, I Believe I Can Imagine a Colour I Have Never Seen Before, 2011, was realised while Krzymowski was still a student at Central Saint Martins. Whilst working in the college editing rooms, furnished with old Steenbeck editing machines, he would collect the off cuts of 16mm film discarded by his fellow students. Krzymowski took them home and boiled them in his kitchen, melting the emulsion on the film and in the process revealing new hues and forms. After many unsuccessful attempts at finding the right temperature and formula, Krzymowski arrived at a result he was satisfied with; he subsequently scanned these transformed strips of film, and used them as the basis for his video piece. The image is confronted here with artist’s voice narrating his quest for the previously undiscovered colour which he calls ‘P’. As the film progresses, the artist discovers that every shade which appears on the screen is in fact already packed with meanings and references to some of the most iconic paintings in the history of art. In fact, escape beyond the existing cannon of colour feels impossible. Krzymowski explains that in this piece he wanted to transform other students’ failures – rejected film strips which did not meet their expectations - into something constructive and new. However, since his search for a new colour was unsuccessful Krzymowski eventually felt he was transforming one failure into another.

The aim here is the enjoyment of the creative process and of the unexpected discoveries it brings. This is just one of the meeting points of Krzymowski and Teisseire’s practices. They also share the urge to subvert the materials that influence the reality we inhabit. At the end of the nineteenth century, film started its competition with photography for the position of most reliable provider of information and pleasure to mass audiences; in the decades that followed, film revolutionised our knowledge of the world. The unprecedented access to images captured all over the world, shown on cinema and television, laid the foundation for our ever-expanding global perspective. Krzymowski, by boiling the celluloid and transforming it into an array of colours, not only makes us focus on film’s seductive materiality, but also reminds us of the long-lasting and often troubled relationship between film and painting. When cinematography started, photography was still trying to establish its own ground as an artistic medium of expression, and was positioned as antagonistic towards painting. Decades later in the 1960s, when process-based and ephemeral art boomed, film and photography became the main media of new art, but still largely failed to be recognised as more than documentation. An exception to this dynamic is the film Somnambulists, 1958, a collaboration between the painter Tadeusz Kantor and graduates of the Film School in Lodz: Mieczysław Waskowski, and camera operator Adam Nurzynski; the film is an expressive attempt to bring Informel art to the screen. We find the same substance and playfulness in Krzymowski’s work, where the colour of the paint is replaced by hues extracted from the celluloid emulsion.

Krzymowski and Teisseire’s engagement with energy and temperature in their experiments with process is well captured by the title of the show – hot, hot, hot... Their mischievous and elaborate experiments result in significant transformations of well- known matter into apainterly materials.. The artists’ works are rooted in rich traditions of visual art and popular culture, but significant energy and desire is felt, bubbling under the surfaces of the works. Krzymowski and Teisseire challenge yet again the traditional boundaries of the media and make us think again about what defines a colour, what constitutes a painting, what creates the essence of a for a work of art. One thing we know for sure - celluloid film and car lights have never looked so seductive. (Sylwia Serafinowicz, curator)

hot, hot, hot, Piotr Krzymowski and Cedric Teisseire, l’etrangere gallery, 2017