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Béthune 2011 Capitale régionale de la culture
Le 360
14 June - 31 July 2011


Theo Jansen - Animaris Ordinaris Longis, Animaris Umerus
Chico MacMurtrie - Totemobile
Maywa Denki - Nonsense Machines
[The User] - Coincidence Engine One

Curator: Richard Castelli (Epidemic)

TRANSFORMER takes as its theme the notion of transformation as manifested in a range of art forms.

Every art work, even a supposedly "static" one like a painting or sculpture, is subject to transformation.  It changes form in the eye of the viewer, as the viewer himself evolves and passes through varying states of perception.
As soon as the work of art enters the consciousness of the viewer and becomes a work perceived, it begins to move. Whether or not the work itself is in physical motion, it is drawn into the movement of the spectator. Through this movement, the work undergoes change and transforms. It becomes not one but a series of works, each supplanted by the next. There is the work as first apprehended, the work as inspected in detail, the succession of works tracking the approach from global overview to close-up and those describing the return from close-up back to overview; although any overview following a close examination will differ from the work originally discovered. Each of the successive steps of viewing a "fixed" work revisits the object, correcting its perception, transforming the work, causing the work to transform itself.

The transformation of the fixed work is also in evidence during the prolonged beholding of a work, causing the perception of colour and light to evolve. This phenomenon was described, among others, by Kandinsky in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912).

According to Bergson, for whom all was mobility and transformation and who attempted to analyse the role of duration in perception, the transformation of the work of art is in constant flux during both the time of seeing it seen and the time of having seen it (Time and Free Will, 1889).
The passage of time transforms not only our consciousness of the work but also the work as material object: it alters the work, literally "rendering it other." Both patina and artefacts of deterioration, once they appear, become indissociable from the work as perceived.
In general, the restoration of a degraded art work does not return the work to a distant past. Rather than freeze it in its origin, restoration violently projects the work into the future. The work is in fact not restored, but transformed: the passage of time is neither halted nor reversed; rather, it is accelerated as the transformation of the work leaps suddenly forward.

Of course, the most important transformation of all in the case of fixed works is that resulting from the evolution of societies themselves. Regardless of whether the art work materially degrades or is perfectly preserved, regardless of how long one spends looking at it and from what vantage point, the fact remains that a work cannot be seen, heard, or felt in the same way by generations following that of its creation.
The art work dies along with its contemporaries, then is reborn as a cultural artefact, yet is no more immutable in this form as it is perpetually informed by shifts in perception which continually traverse and transform all living cultures.

TRANSFORMER is devoted to presenting works whose transformation is active and contemporaneous with the visits of spectators: works characterized by transformation.

The last century saw the appearance of a certain approach combining mechanics and optics, with more or less emphasis placed on one or the other. Examples of this form include the kinetic works of Moholy-Nagy, Soto, Schöffer, and Tinguely. The vocabulary
established by these artists has progressively been extended over time through the use of new materials and new technologies, notably by computer technology.

The concrete transformation of ordinary objects as the basis for an artistic expression of the very notion of transformation forms the first category of works included in TRANSFORMER.

Theo Jansen's practice is based on the methodical reiteration of a folding process applied to PVC electric pipe. The transformational rules are established by a Modulor that would recall Le Corbusier's if not for the fact that it was developed by the artist with help from the algorithmic sketches of a very primitive 20th century computer. Successive repetitions allow the system to spawn generations of Animaris, creatures evolving through mutation and natural selection, gradually becoming extinct and giving way to new generations more highly evolved or better adapted. Béthune 2011 is the opportunity to discover his longest and most
«evolved» creatures, the Animaris Umerus.

In the case of [The User], transformation is applied to clocks or to dot matrix printers, both artefacts already approaching obsolescence, re-imagined in musical terms. The resultant works pay tribute to Ligeti's 100 metronomes (Coincidence Engine One).

Totemobile by Chico MacMurtrie is his homage to an icon of the twentieth century, already honoured by Roland Barthes in one of his Mythologies. The work is a scale model of a Citroën DS automobile which transforms itself within a few minutes into a totem capable of reaching the 18 meter roof of the dome. More impressively still, it then transforms back into the same automobile in an even shorter time.

Maywa Denki, a Japanese electrical equipment company that was very prosperous until its failure during the 1970s oil crisis, was restarted years later by the founder's descendents under the new mandate of "producing" objects where the absurd competes with an unparalleled plastic and aesthetic sensibility. Its CEO, Nobumichi Tosa, cites among his sources of inspiration the forms of mountain flowers and certain species of fish.

Four artists or artists' collectives whose point of convergence is the creation of works of largely monumental scale, either in terms of size or quantity: works in transformation.