text by Julie Ackermann

Sultana, Paris

Nov 28 – Jan 25, 2020 

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Why do we consider it an insult to call somebody a whore? Do we imply that there is something degrading about being one? The word ‘prostitute’ is so firmly fossilised in our linguistic systems as “bad” that this insult, meaningless as it is, persists as a verbal defence mechanism even amongst the most progressive people. The whore, the essentially despicable woman, exists in language only because of the one who gives his name to this exhibition; the conservative divinity invented by the English poet William Blake, Urizen. Dissecting the fabric of reality with his compass, this old bearded man undertakes the enormous task of dividing the world into fixed categories. For Blake, Urizen is a malevolent figure. He wages war on the poetics generated by confusion by imposing baseless and often outdated taxonomies. Although obsolete, these taxonomies continue to impose themselves onto reality at the speed of light: like the whore, or like the zombie police officers speeding down an admonishing index finger in Justin Fitzpatrick’s painting Seeds of Urizen (Frieze!). 

In his second solo exhibition at the gallery, Justin Fitzpatrick’s paintings show us the persistent and delirious circulation of ‘ Urizian’ categories, as well as the feelings of shame and fear they bring forth. Laws, social networks, rumours, and tics of language are all revealed as the bearers of Urizen’s judgements: sealed, discrete entities, easily digestible and potentially deadly. These judgements, embedded in language, act like viruses. They mimetically replicate themselves from one body to another, from the individual to the group. They can infect the auditory system (Stage Design for a Musical About Paranoia), or a torso and its intestinal flora (The Evolution of Anxiety). The bodies and objects depicted by Justin Fitzpatrick are in the middle of metamorphosis. External energies are relentlessly manipulating and mortifying their flesh, and transforming the networks of their minds. 

Inspired by a modern and playful range of visual references linked to the idea of production (from socialist realism to advertising) ; the artist reveals the inner workings of the performative machinery of categorisation. Although often absurd, carceral and inherently restrictive, categorisation ( as a part of creative and critical projects) can also be emancipatory. When it is excessively applied, however, or starts to be used systematically or unthinkingly, it often becomes convoluted, labyrinthine and paranoid. In an age of post-truth, mass surveillance, and the collapse of grand narratives, paranoia is no longer the preserve of unhinged people, geniuses, and addicts. We have all become paranoid, and Justin Fitzpatrick is no exception. As a gay artist, his ear is definitely attuned to judgement and labels. A cross between a circus, merry-go-round, and psychosomatic opera, this exhibition is therefore an attempt to exorcise Urizen, who, when faced with a climate of uncertainty and a crisis of trust, offers us an archaic system of order that enslaves us. 


Courtesy of Justin Fitzpatrick & Galerie Sultana
Photo by Aurélien Mole


LAYR, Vienna
High Art, Paris
Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand
Der Tank of the Art Institute, Basel
Lafayette Anticipations, Paris
Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon
JTT, New York
Édouard Montassut, Paris