The School for Objects Criticized
French-born, Uk-raised, and New York-based artist Alexandre Singh’s Art.
The world I inhabit is just about waking up to the art of Alexandre Singh. The boundaries of his work are intimidating. Its the kind of art which offers many “I-don’t-get-it” moments. That is because you haven’t seen or heard his work, but only read about it. While skimming through his interviews you would receive the kind of jitters that is reserved for the highbrow intellectual debates of the snobbishly alpha-literati. It is but otherwise. His work is delightfully simple and witty. It mixes life, ideology, and philosophy and peppers it with a bawdy, sensual wit that keeps you grinning while you introspect.
It reminds one of Frasier, the sitcom for the nerds, much before Silicon Valley and The Big Bang Theory rinsed our palate. There the protagonist, a radio host cum psychologist, said, “I’m not trying to make him happy – I am trying to cure his depression”!
Singh’s art too, is a bit tongue in cheek, jibing away at the hypocrisy that surrounds us with enough Grecian philosophical and literary references to make any intellectual delirious. His scripted narration is reminiscent of the ancient traditions of loud poetry recitals but delivered with a classic British dry wit. In his show, The School for Objects Criticized, he sets his stage with actors that are mundane, inanimate objects. He then breathes life into it with a Woody-Allen-meets-Aristotle-meets-Monty-Python-esque dialogues that tickles the mind and yet burdens the heart. Using the narrative style of a pre-recorded scripts here text, performance, everyday objects et al combine to curate a refreshing experience, expanding the mind in a way that only art can.
One hopes Alexandre Singh’s work will travel the world and be more accessible for its ground-breaking structure. For he is charting new territories in a world that is either stuck-up on the greats or fussing over the sensationalists. It would be a triumph for art if his authentic voice is more in reach.
The School for Objects Criticized AE
Over the last two decades, contemporary art has seen a remarkable shift towards the performative. This change in emphasis from art-object to process is expressed in the current revival of performance art, site-specific and time-based projects as well as process-driven painting practices. Nevertheless, the boundaries between the spheres of visual art, theater, literature and film have remained remarkably intact.
French-born, UK-raised and New York-based artist Alexandre Singh’s practice blurs these boundaries in ways that are as surprising as they are rigorous. His idiosyncratic, playfully investigative spirit is manifest throughout his works. In the Assembly Instructions (2008-12), conceptual collages take the form of surreal flow-charts; The Marque of the Third Stripe (2007), is a gothic novella about the founder of Adidas and The Humans (2013/14), is a three-hour theatrical play re-imagining the creation of the world. In Singh’s universe, the floorplan of an IKEA building serves as a map of all human knowledge and the lowest part of the lowest animal, a donkey’s rectum, is the secret dwelling place of the divine creator.
Here, Singh presents his installation The School for Objects Criticized AE – an earlier version of which was exhibited at the New Museum, New York and Palais de Tokyo, Paris. At first, it appears to be an elegant, theatrically-lit ready-made installation in which seemingly banal objects – a bottle of bleach, a toaster, two cassette recorders, a derivative abstract sculpture, a stuffed skunk and a slinky toy – are presented on pedestals much like important historic sculptures are in museums. But the installation soon reveals itself to be an elaborate, dramatic set-up.
With astonishment, viewers come to realize that not only can these inanimate objects speak, they also have dramatic, finely-contoured characters and fascinating relationships to one another. Effusively, they discuss art and criticism, creative processes and mass production, God and life, sex and death; yet they always come back to an art installation they recently saw – a work by an artist named Alexandre Singh. Although the objects note the installation’s similarity to their own constellation, it never occurs to them that they are actually talking about themselves.
Whenever a ‘character’ enters the scene, a spotlight illuminates the pedestal on which that object rests. The theatrical effect is compounded by elaborate sound effects and dynamic lighting that adds momentum to this object tableau and makes it appear alive. Little by little, viewers come to realize the technical sophistication behind this seemingly simple installation and how much of its highly complex technology remains hidden (much like the centuries-long tradition of stage magic).
It is no coincidence that the work’s title references Molière’s one-act comedy La Critique de l’École des Femmes (1663), in which the French dramatist brings to the stage the theater critics who had attacked his piece L’Ecole des Femmes (1662), and roundly refutes them. Further references to theater lie in the profusion of dialogue, as well as the characters’ tendency to speak in paradoxes and express themselves with witticisms that recalls plays by Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. Its setting in the art-loving city of New York is reminiscent of films by Woody Allen and the penchant for one-liners and sexually colored jokes evokes the tradition of American sitcoms like Seinfeld. In some ways, The School for Objects Criticized AE can be described best as a contemporary comedy of manners, with the art world and its conventions as its lynchpin. With finely-honed powers of observation, Singh analyzes the art scene’s anti-intellectual and neo-Marxist currents, as well as its ambivalent power structures, bourgeois sense of complacency and sometimes vacuous ambitions.
Singh’s practice seems to elude art historical classification: the jocular quality of many of his works recalls, only sometimes, the tradition of conceptual provocation found in the work of John Baldessari or Peter Fischli David Weiss; his affirmation of the theatrical only occasionally brings to mind Christoph Schlingensief. Perhaps Singh’s attitude towards his work is best compared to that of Piero Manzoni and Yves Klein – who very theatrically staged themselves as ‘artist characters’ and repeatedly subverted the seriousness of their artistic propositions through use of irony.
The thread connecting Alexandre Singh’s disparate works is his unique inquiry into the value of narrative. Singh combines masterful craftsmanship in a variety of media with a single conceptual and narrative structure – one that relies on associative leaps and detours that might at first seem absurd, yet turn out to make surprising sense. Whether his influences are drawn from literature, theater, philosophy, science, or history, the structure of his work is built upon narratives and ideas that, in very unexpected ways, open art to systems of knowledge and experience otherwise alien to the field.