Mon semblable, mon frère
”Mon semblable, mon frère” is a 2 minutes 55 seconds video piece (always displayed right next to the entrance), in which a child (almost a teenager) is uttering obscenities at the public entering the exhibition room.
This artwork picks up, by means of a visual formula, a rhetoric element used by poets for centuries on end: the addressed prologue.
The prologue functions as a paratext, as an anticipatory element, as a visual ornament situated outside the work itself, introducing the mood for the public entering the exhibition. There is also a direct address to the everlasting tradition of portrait as a dedication, to a whole art of the portrait that adulates, flatters, praises the very subject that is being described.
“Mon semblable, mon frère” is in fact a line from the well-known poem “Au lecteur” which Charles Baudelaire places at the beginning of “Les Fleurs du mal”, a poem that stands for a preface-prologue.
With classical prologues, solemn formulae of worship and gratitude flattered prominent patrons, as they were meant to be a captatio benevolentiae strategy; over the 19th century, Baudelaire’s dedication was no longer addressed to a patron, but au lecteur, to the one who was about to enter the artist’s universe on a firmly traced path. In this option, the artist chooses to please by naming the reader (spectator) – “Mon semblable, mon frère”.
In our case, the gesture of affective overlapping aims at disengaging the spectators and even provoking their hostility and revolt. They will enter the intimacy of a visual universe in which we deconstruct all taboos – all parti pris, every habit one may have upon entering. The obscenities, the welcoming child’s violence cause the spectator to feel as an outsider to our discursive universe, inside an anything but comfortable world, a world with no meaningful linearity, a world that is inciting, provocative and that is neither easily transited, nor deciphered.
The image of the revolted child, uttering obscenities out of a perfect, frontal shot and therefore visible in a portrait-like manner (out of the gallery of painting and sculpture classics) appeals at the visual comments enclosed in the technique of detail as a cropping of convergent notes, and so the dedication turns into counter-dedication.
This visual prologue is intended as an anticipatory element, as a visual rhetoric tool used for the purpose of generating discomfort and alert in the beholder.
On the other hand, during the communist regime, official addresses in opening exhibitions and upon vernissages brought excessive praise on the mighty, flattering and worshipping them and exhibiting them in “golden frames” along with the ideological models which they stood for.
Our piece was born out of prolonged, ever postponed frustration with these excessive vernissage speeches, anticipatory, surpassing, “forward-thinking” speeches employing the prologue as a dominating force.
Communist authorities exercised their power by means of endless speeches praising the regime and whatever public officers upon the opening of any exhibition, inside the artist’s very vital space, altogether implying the artists’ tacit consent.
As a refusal to accept this tacit consent, in 1987, during Pervolovici’s exhibition opening at the Village Museum, blue colored wheat grains were distributed among those present instead of the vernissage speech.
The imperative, authoritarian, commanding official speeches at institutional vernissages were in fact artwise empowering and legitimizing speeches on the part of the communist regime.
As a compensation and supracompensation response to this prolonged, postponed frustration, our own vernissage-like, dis-empowering and de-legitimizing counter-discourse in “Mon semblable, mon frère” is born; the result is a role reversal situation in which the aggressed subject becomes the aggressor. It is “a mechanism of dominance in order to achieve the no, both verbally and physically” (René Spitz). Hence the child’s hostile attitude and verbal violence displayed at the entrance, his fierce obscenities as a counter-discourse in the vernissage fashion, a counter laudatio.
Embedded in the new structure of visual discourse, our prologue, our vernissage speech interacts with sequences from different, textual spaces; we re-contextualize a cliché into a META stance.
2META, Bucharest, 2000
“[…]The video piece marking the entrance to the exhibition is an emblematic act of the 2META group, Romelo Pervolovici and Maria Manolescu. And yet, this precise artwork seems to be the one representing the idea behind the exhibition in the most evocative way. The viewer to the exhibition is confronted with the close-up of an almost teenage child who, in a high-pitched voice, spills some of the most unthinkable obscenities ever...”
curator and art critic
*from the catalog of The Young Artist Biennial, third edition, Re-construction, Bucharest, 2008
“Mon semblable, mon frère” can be viewed from a visual perspective as parergon (para=contrary, ergon=work) in relation to the works in the exhibition, “which adds to the work and at the same time which is opposed to it” (V. I. Stoichiță).
“The parergon comes against, beside, and in addition to the ergon, the work done, the fact, the artwork, but it does not fall to one side, it touches and cooperates within the operation, from a certain outside. Neither simply outside, nor simply inside. Like an accessory to be accepted into a liminal position” (J. Derrida). The rim, the edge of representation, the frame of the painting, “marginalia”, are part of the parergon paradigm, “an element too visible to be seen” (J. Genette).
As parergon, the artwork of 2META group is always placed right next to the entrance, on the threshold of the exhibition. “Para is an antithetical prefix signifying at once proximity and distance, similarity and difference, interiority and exteriority, (...) something simultaneously on one side of a boundary line, threshold, or margin, and also beyond it, equivalent in status and also secondary or subsidiary, submissive”(J. Hillis Miller).
“Mon semblable, mon frère”, as visual parergon or discursive paratext, is a space of thresholds, of upheavals, creating a crisis into the conventional discursive space. Regarded as an anticipatory commentary, this parergon/paratext can also be regarded as metaergon, as metatext.
art historian, curator