Nathalie du Pasquier

Kunsthalle Wien, Austria

Bottles, cups, stones, bricks and small wooden constructions form the language of Nathalie du Pasquier’s still life paintings. In Du Pasquier’s paintings, objects – which hint at a wild domesticity – are transformed just enough to make it seem as if they do not really exist, have not yet come into existence, or do not exist as depicted: they have no shadows, sides or backs. The water in her half-filled bottles is rendered as only surface; it is no longer wet. Cups are turned upside down, made impotent and functionless. Until recently, Du Pasquier’s paintings began with physical models: the arrangements of actual objects found in her studio, and later on, assemblages of leftover wood pieces from a local carpenter, which were then painted and rearranged.

This process is the reverse of what Du Pasquier did as a founding member of the 1980s Memphis design group in Milan. There she began by drawing patterns to cover seemingly anything. At this exhibition at Kunsthalle Wien – Du Pasquier’s first comprehensive institutional show – are remnants of Du Pasquier’s designs alongside her paintings from the last 30 years, organized into various rooms by theme and scale, including early works, design objects and drawings. Patterns cover the walls throughout and small rugs lie on the floor like functional rugs, albeit tucked in out-of-the-way places. These patterns serve as sudden moments of noise from an otherwise silent floor and to mark the floor as potential surface to be covered. They also elide the question of whether distinctions are to be made between Du Pasquier’s design work and her work as an artist, suggesting instead a natural continuation, or an inevitable evolution.

Nathalie Du Pasquier, o.T., 2009, installation view, Kunsthalle Wien, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Exile Gallery, Berlin

Nathalie Du Pasquier, o.T., 2009, installation view, Kunsthalle Wien, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Exile Gallery, Berlin

While it’s routine that the design of three-dimensional objects begins in two dimensions, the reverse does not always hold: Du Pasquier’s still lifes and wood constructions result in imaginary objects and abstractions which have capabilities, noises and behaviours acquired through the process of being painted in certain positions, scales or arrangements. An untitled sound recording captured from a day in her studio playing in the exhibition says: ‘Submit like a potato, soar like a tree, gurgle like a brain’.

These impossibilities are a constant in the unlimited combinations of dissociated surfaces and shapes in Du Pasquier’s untitled paintings, which are underscored by the arrangement of the paintings themselves: non-chronological and hung in and through a series of rooms where inside surfaces are largely undifferentiated from outside. Her arrangements are harmonic convergences of wildly different times, objects and meanings: a black figurine sits next to work tools bringing to mind Lee Lozano, bottles whose placement suggests a certain story recall Giorgio Morandi. But where Morandi’s bottles fight one another for space, hers are perfect constellations, stably balanced, and most of all static. This brings to mind the question: what does it mean to bring to one object in the vicinity of others, so that they appear together, in any combination or surface?

Nathalie Du Pasquier, C.R.A.F.T. (Porcelain Still Life), 2002, installation view, Kunsthalle Wien, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Exile Gallery, Berlin

Nathalie Du Pasquier, C.R.A.F.T. (Porcelain Still Life), 2002, installation view, Kunsthalle Wien, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Exile Gallery, Berlin

In the exhibition, a single room stands out in stark contrast. It is filled with assemblages that are demonstratively beige, variously sized and sit on pedestals of varying height, and covered in the same beige as the walls. In the exhibition catalogue Du Pasquier says that it’s very silent here, maybe even deaf. But the lack of noise, porousness or reception all point to something else that results when Du Pasquier’s shapes are juxtaposed and layered onto one another: we hear not only the noise of friction, but a coincidence of different times and situations. Du Pasquier’s still lifes do not testify to the fleetingness of time, but seem to contain ‘time’ itself. They form a singular temporal experience made up of the scattered leftovers of now.

Helen Chang is a writer based in Vienna.

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