GEORGE HENRY LONGLY
The Tissue Equivalent.
In the sensitive fabric of perceptions.
by Adélaïde Blanc
One of the strategies employed by the artist George Henry Longly to question presentation systems, be they commercial, museographic or scenic, consists in “producing breaks in the sensitive fabric of perceptions and in the dynamics of sensations”.(1) As a result, in his installations, the presentation and the devices directing the gaze are manipulated and corrupted. In The Smile of a Snake (Valentin, Paris, 2016), Longly questions the very nature of the exhibition, the staging of which creates a virtual image that recalls a 3D simulation in its appearance. As soon as we enter the exhibition, the physical reality of the gallery fades into an installation that is nevertheless fully perceived through sight, hearing and smell. The performance Parks Night (Serpentine, London, 2013) reproduces and distorts with irony the codes of the fashion show. The presentation of the clothes disappears, shifting the focus onto bodies and poses, the true protagonists of a choreography positioned halfway between fashion, advertising, and the performative aspects that our lives can have.
The artist will continue his exploration of presentation strategies with a personal exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo (February 16 to May 13, 2018), which he describes as a “4D exhibition experience.” Traversed by a liminal movement, the installation skirts and changes while it is being perceived. The lighting, the sound and the set up devices appear to be animated by an aleatory mechanism that innervates a space undergoing movements of retraction and expansion.
Invited to participate in a joint exhibition between the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet, which presents an exceptional collection of objects related to daimyo,(2) Longly develops an installation involving armors, banners and spear shafts from the 18th and 19th centuries, examples of an outstanding technical mastery. Made by master armorers to protect the daimyo at war, the armors also showed their power and authority in peacetime: in a sitting position, the empty armors were displayed in the homes of their owners. In Longly’s exhibition, the perception of these objects, exerting strong symbolic power, is constantly altered, creating the conditions for a fresh outlook.
According to the artist, the attempt to change the perception of the exhibition space and, more in general, of the contemporary world, can be revealed through a phenomenological approach to what surrounds us. “To feel means to rely on appearance without trying to possess it and to draw a truth from it”.(3)
The Tissue Equivalent is based on what the philosopher Merleau-Ponty describes as a return to the body, to the embodied consciousness, according to which the subjective knowledge of the world is based mainly on its physical and sensorial understanding.
The title of the exhibition refers to such a body, crossed by sensations, and recalls the name of a material that mimics cellular tissue and allows a measuring of the waves that cross the body when it moves for a lengthy period of time out of the atmosphere. A receptacle of invisible waves, the tissue equivalent takes the shape of torsos. While Longly’s exhibition We All Love Your Life (Red Bull Studios, New York, 2016) aimed at representing “the body in relation to external forces,” his installation at the Palais de Tokyo exposes the visitor to distortions, compression effects and other external movements. From the entrance, the exhibition space falls over thanks to the image on the floor of a grid of stretched and suspended chains. Constrained and contorted sculptures seem to bear the weight of gravity, nevertheless challenging it through their being placed on walls.
The experience of the exhibition differs from phenomenology as conceived by philosophy: it is in fact made up of a layering of references and a network of correspondences. The video installation ROV consists of robot-shot images from underwater explorations. The work shows a still unexplored deep-sea world populated with unknown shapes. The robots that explore, analyze and sample this underwater world are able to reach depths whose pressure man could not stand. Like daimyo armors, robots are technological wonders that extend and duplicate the human body in its exploration of the territory. From bioluminescent fishes filmed in deep sea, to an elongated image of a male nude, and from the pop love song heard throughout the space, up to the representation of a sensory deprivation mask,(4) the work swings between skin, protective casing and exoskeleton. Longly’s work dwells at the intersection of experiences and references to popular culture, the unconscious, beliefs and sexuality, in a space impossible to grasp fully, in constant change from an arena to a battlefield to a stage.
1. Jacques Rancière, Le spectateur émancipé, La fabrique éditions, Paris 2008.
2. The daimyo were powerful feudal governors who ruled most of Japan between the 12th and 19th centuries.
3. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception, Gallimard, Paris 1945.
4. A mask that isolates the individual from any external sensory perception. Sensory deprivation is used for therapeutic purposes, as an instrument of torture, and in sadomasochistic practices.
Portrait by Tintin Jonsson
Industrial Debts Photo: Alex Paganelli Courtesy: the artist, Koppe Astner and Galerie Valentin
Installation view, Toxungenous Activities, Fiorucci Art Trust, London, 2017
Courtesy: the artist and Fiorucci Art Trust