A house that is haunted, the cultural theorist Michel de Certeau once wrote, is at least a house that has been lived in. It is a space that has been imbued with personality, with history, with locality. What is really frightening, he noted, is the house that bears no trace at all. By definition, the contemporary art gallery is an example of the latter space, or, to use the term De Certeau’s student Marc Augé introduced, a ‘non-place’. It is part of the same tradition as motorways, shopping malls and airports: a place to come and go, where your presence is scripted; a space to experience without affecting it or being affected (a gallery is rarely the accumulation of dialectics between shows, after all; on the contrary, it effortlessly renews itself every few months).
In this respect, David Douard did something rather extraordinary for his exhibition at rongwrong. In ‘Lord Anthony’, he deconstructed the simulacral nature of the gallery precisely by constructing the very experience deemed impossible: a space haunted by all sorts of memories and dreams, moving the visitor – or at least this visitor – long after he had left. Douard’s method was as simple as it was effective: he turned the charmingly cramped gallery into a teenage haunt; not so much a place as a realm based on the memories of the artist’s upbringing in France in the 1990s. The teenager, after all, is the embodiment of the double-bind: living in a house that is not his, with a body that doesn’t suit him and no identity to speak of outside of consumption, he is nevertheless filled with desires that are entirely his own. This is, not incidentally, also the crux of the Belle and Sebastian song, ‘Lord Anthony’ (2003), which I presume Douard was referencing.
The show was divided across three rooms: an entrance hall, a small unevenly shaped adjoining salon and a cellar. The gallery’s entrance hall was decorated with a poster of the mysterious Lord Anthony (all works 2012) an introverted boy reminiscent of the girl from Poltergeist (1982), blank eyes lit up, the contours of his face disappearing in the darkness of the frame. The message was clear: I was entering someone’s childhood, formed and understood through popular media, but it wasn’t going to be the nostalgically tinged tour of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) or Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Douard’s show announced another genre – the horror flick.
Underneath a hat stand, sneakers were cast in plaster, instilling and immobilizing the teenager’s mode of transport. This work, All of Us (Mama), evoked not only the metaphor of shoes filled with lead, but also the idea of the so-called cement shoe: the person dropped in the sea with his feet cased in concrete. By putting the desires of the teenager in the non-space of the gallery and fixating them, you kill them. What remains is their ghost: dead desires eternally living on.
Further back in the salon there were evocations of the claustrophobic rooms the artist grew up in: pieces of stucco and plaster coming undone from the walls, reaching out for the frightened kid inside (S’Slo). On them, the artist had scribbled dreams, memories, rambling thoughts, along with pictures of aliens. Most objects were adorned with sculpted roses, thorny and withering but bringing (after)life into these instilled memories.
The exhibition’s most compelling piece was an installation of two video loops played over one another on a wall in the cellar. Cursed Sleep, a film Douard put together by filming YouTube clips, alternately showed teenagers playing themselves into a frenzy with guitars, doing drugs and lying around in a trance, wide-eyed, their thoughts far away. Douard’s stream-of-consciousness sentences were displayed across the images, talking about expectations and the teenager’s ways of using music and drugs and consumer objects to escape and divert those expectations. The 16mm film Floraison portrayed more abstract images of shamanistic dancing, graffiti turned into secret symbols, and fading colours and shapes.
In these works, the show’s purpose was felt most intensely. The clichéd infused with the mystical, the seemingly empty with the all too significant, they opened up in the non-place of teenage life a space of life and death and life, of meaning beyond their own grasp. Media-saturated and consumption-sick, there is a spirit that is uniquely a teen spirit, which lives on through those precise media and commodities. Even after Douard has left, I am certain that ‘Lord Anthony’ will stay behind, haunting the next artist that comes to work here.
Timotheus Vermeulen is associate professor in Media, Culture and Society at the University of Oslo and a regular contributor to frieze. His latest book, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism, co-edited with Robin van den Akker and Alison Gibbons, is published with Rowman and Littlefield.
First published in Issue 152