TEXT ME Young Curators 2022

Repulsion / Fascination

Inspired by conversations with Damien Troadec

 

By Dhia Dhibi

This piece is composed of five parts, five moments and five phases that I experienced with Damien Troadec’s artwork Highway to Hell.

Encounter

Noises scattered and allured through the exhibition, as I advanced they seemed to pullulate from one place; I advanced as the senses arose to encounter these clamoring sounds. I met the source and was baffled. The artwork seemed to be an autonomous exhibition on its own, it has its own dimension that did not shy away from repulsing me. I remember strongly disliking the poisonous atmosphere it presented when I first beheld “Highway to Hell” by Damien Troadec. The flickering light on dark rectangular ceramic pieces spouting thorns, the multiple videos that did not correlate nor seem to have a direction at first sight, the sounds that were equally confusing merging screams, operatic notes, demonic laughter … and even an extract from the song “Comme Ci, Comme Ca” [1]?… logic seemed to deteriorate but the sensation felt captivating nevertheless.

Reflection

All the elements seemed erroneously placed, it triggered me and resonated a feeling of agitation within my experience viewing it. As I advanced through the hallways, the screams echoed back into my psyche and festered some questions and curiosities for this thought-provoking piece. I started to reflect on my aversion to it; the lurking, lingering feeling of eeriness it possessed unraveled a tingling uncanniness and a seducing mixture of intrigue and revulsion. “The unknown has its uncanny attractions, alluring and at the same time anguishing [2] and this allure of the unknown riddle Damien’s work presented, started arousing something reminiscent of the “unheimlich” concept; it presented a sort of familiar strangeness that emphasizes an intersection of emotional duality. 

In Jacques Lacan’s seminar “L’angoisse” he highlights how the state of “unheimlich” positions the individual in a state of “In-between” where “pleasure and displeasure” fuse, and through my conversations with Damien; this concept of dwelling upon duality seems essential in his approach, he noted that he is seeking this “altering between comfort and discomfort, triggering but intriguing” in his artworks. I started to become fascinated and wanted to investigate its encrypted stories.

Curiosity

Following the stream of this bouncing on the edge of intrigue, I wanted to unsnarl this seemingly chaotic mesh by scrutinizing its muddled origin. 

The central piece of the installation is a grid of ceramic rectangular plaques ornamented with scattered abstract forms that exude industrial exuberance with towering thorned metallically glazed shapes. The ceramics originally belonged to Damien’s graduation project entitled Bruised grounds. This is where the duality started to emerge in his approach; he wanted to create a timeless environment. Time flees this ceramic landscape in the sense that it is hardly distinguishable whether these shapes form the ruins of a war ground or an uninhabited barren land. 

Taking his relationship with his brother’s military profession as a catalyst for his creative process, he persuaded a playful dichotomy: oscillating from the fragility and innocence of the organic quality that clay molding poses, to the brutality and violence of morbid spiked silhouettes and glaze. These contrasting aspects of the piece mirror how the frolic childhood memories he had with his brother are varnished with a hard, camouflaging dark surface. In his thesis about this project, he mentions that “this idea of going back metaphorically to the playgrounds and acting upon violence with the energy children have when they are devoted to building their own reality,” and the duality between children’s purity and war’s viciousness is vividly delineated in these flickeringly lit ceramics.

Damien Troadec. Bruised grounds, 2021. Installation view on Young Masters 2022 group exhibition.

Surrounding “Bruised grounds” are five video artworks displayed on 4 screens with different resolutions and one beamer. Tracing the origins of this mystifying combination of sequences, I discovered that they all belonged to the same 38-minute movie evidently entitled “Highway to Hell”. The ensemble of footage originally had an order, but Damien chose to deconstruct them and dismantle the order into chaos for this installation. He suggested that it is a more “thrilling” process to demolish what is organized into non-linear narratives and abstractions. Through exhibiting these sequences in different scales and with different light qualities, another layer is added to the experience of viewing them. From the intimacy of a little tablet screen to the inevitable presence of a beamer projection; the videos fluster yet intrigue the senses.

Damien Troadec. Highway to Hell, 2022. 38min video.

Damien navigates these videos as what he calls “an observer of moments”, moments caught in the midst of instantness that arouse hazed feelings. It all disperses fragmented moments of ambivalence where emotional polarity amalgamates. For instance, in one of the video fragments, a joyful or enjoyable juncture such as a concert sequence is reframed through an abstractive lime-hued lens. It makes the image lean towards discomfort, thus generating this feeling of oscillation between contrasting emotions.

The subjects that Damien chooses to capture are at core mundane, but through a Lynchian [3] manner of editing and adding layers of enigmatic subtitles that do not help the viewer to decipher the meaning, but complicate and shift the image into complete dissonance. The abstract collage of phrases that accompany the sequences are cathartic extractions from the artist’s psyche. Tatters of lines from poems or films melt with liminal imagery of disorientation and shattered memories. 

A line from these subtitles that loitered into my curiosity is “are we just a memory?” It amplified all these sensations of being trapped in the questioning of past experiences, of restless memories. Similarly to the resonating scream and deranged accompanying sounds that aggravated me when first encountering the installation, These haphazard phrases and the feeling of being caught in melted souvenirs are not only materialized by the sound of the videos but also explicitly announced and disclaimed by the welcoming hanged panel of a dissipated poem and floor ceramic triptych. 

Damien Troadec.  Highway to Hell, 2022. 
Installation view on Young Masters 2022
group exhibition

The preluding sort of “doormat”, the entrance to “Highway to Hell” warns the visitor by a bas-relief depiction of a trap and daggers on three ceramic tablets on the ground. Hovering above them is a smudged, grimy back-lit board that arrays lyrical lines and poetic Mephistophelian phrases. 

All the elements converse and interlink within each other in the installation. From its core, “Bruised grounds,” to the surrounding video dispersion of “Highway to Hell”, a dialogue is created. A dialogue of emotional duality, of a reminiscing over the sensual yet liminal memories and of an exchange of media that stretches from tangible primitive clay molding to digital video editing.   

Allegorization

Across the plethora of stimulating thoughts on duality exchanged with Damien through our conversations, he expressed a fascination for the myth of Orpheus. A myth that he portrayed in this installation intricately. It should come as no surprise that this passion for this myth was a strong element, after knowing that the artist in fact has a poetry background. He navigates the narration of video pieces as Orpheus, as the poet going to hell.

Damien Troadec. Highway to Hell, 2022. 38min video.

An analogy could be traced from the order displayed on the original 38-minute film: beginning with the door peephole sequence as the ingress of Orpheus to hell, steering through the hyenas that mimic Cerberus, the three-headed dog of hell, or the hallway passages that abstractly represent Charon, who grants the transit through the Styx … the similarities could metaphysically be pursued, but the sense of equivocalness these elements can cause when deconstructed not only mystifies the journey of this poet’s pilgrimage, but disconcert the senses into this perplexing emotional quandary.

However, this cacoëthes for the journey of a poet’s descent to the abode of the damned does not cease at the mythological analogy. In fact, the disposition of the elements of the installation imposes a certain circular movement in order to progress from one element to another. Having the ceramic pieces of “Bruised Grounds” at the center suggests a certain rotative itinerary. Subsequently, it leads to an alluding to Dante Alighieri’s circles of Inferno [4]. The poet in this case is not only depicted only through the videos but also personified as the visitor of the installation who spirals around this twisted labyrinth of eerie imagery. 

Culmination

Departing from repulsion to arriving at unforeseen fascination, this artwork unveiled different possibilities and sensualities. It is not an installation in the classical sense; it’s a constellation. A coalescence of different fragments into a personal pattern that each viewer can generate. The polysemy of connotations that it evokes makes each subjective intermingling and connection of its elements a valid alteration layer to the ever-shifting peeling work. 

The descent to this uncanny eerie territory of psychic turbulence reframes this idea of hell as an abstract concept of perception. The liminality of melting memories and the eldritch sense of duality questions our senses. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven [5], the infamous words of John Milton poetically resonate in this bewildering yet alluring constellation; emphasizing this sense of perceptual duality of emotions.

References
[1] A song by “French Affair”.
[2] An extract from a quote by Heinrich Heine
[3] An adjective deriving from the film director’s name David Lynch
[4] Reference to first part of Dante’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy”
[5] A passage from Book I of “Paradise lost” by John Milton

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