Arles – 10 – Gilbert Garcin

Gilbert Garcin - exhibition space

Gilbert Garcin – exhibition space

My favourite exhibition, it made me laugh as well as intrigue me, was that of Gilbert Garcin. He creates photo-montages working with traditional black and white materials (film, chemically processed prints, cut-outs etc) rather than Photoshop and delivers witty surrealistic viewpoints. References are made to Jacques Tati’s “Monsieur Hulot” and Alfred Hitchcock yet his work for me recalls that of Rene Magritte (Garcin has been called his spiritual son) with the smartly dressed gentleman (a self-portrait of Garcin) that appears in every image.

Here is a definition of surrealism by a founder of the movement, Andre Breton, who writes “”Psychic automatismin its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” One can see this approach behind his work.

visitor to Gilbert Garcin exhibition

visitor to Gilbert Garcin exhibition

Of Garcin, Barbara Oudiz writes … “75 year-old Gilbert Garcin’s photographs and method are outrageously unique, and the story behind his career no less extraordinary. Mr. Everybody does raise, nonetheless, a number of universal questions about the meaning of human existence – or the lack thereof. By placing himself, via the character he embodies, in absurd or inextricable situations – labyrinths, concentric circles, deserts, or struggling with boulders, like a modern-day Sisyphus – he invites us to ponder such philosophical quandaries as time, solitude and the weight of existence.”

Captioning is important in Garcin’s work and often helps to underline the humour. For instance, in one image entitled “Master of the world” he stands on what might be part of a globe holding onto pieces of string while assuming a defiant gesture. There is an aspect of the absurd here as in much of Garcin’s work which he refers to as “small histories”.

His photographs are carefully constructed with a clever use of perspective as he montages different images together to make one surrealistic picture. He is commenting on life from a largely existential viewpoint characterized by a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Of his work, the catalogue states … “His work casts its spell because Gilbert Garcin shows us obvious things that concern us all: life passing by, the fleeting nature of time, the tenacity required to continue Hence, he recalls in images, along with the help of evocative titles, that it is preferable to ‘do one’s best’ and to ‘know one’s limits’, because, deep down, all we’re doing is ‘replaying old familiar tunes’, those of Sisyphus and Atlas.

There are photographs of him performing Sisyphusian tasks, impossible mock heroic gestures. One image that actually refers to Sisyphus, shows Garcin pushing a giant stone up a hill; it is titled “One must imagine Sisphus to have been a happy man.” Garcin uses a number of such classical images.

Perhaps my favourite image is that of a flowering seed head under which Garcin stands looking down on an individual seed head that has fallen; there is no clear-cut meaning to this image yet it is full of poetry, humour and existential discourse. The title is “When the wind will come!”

visitors to the Gilbert Garcin exhibition

visitors to the Gilbert Garcin exhibition

One image called Nocturne made in 2004 makes reference to Paul Klee; there is not only an artistic effect in this picture as the couple sit together in the moonlight, there is the characteristic underlying humour and wry observation. Although we see Garcin here honoring an artist, there are also images such as “The dangers of images”(1999) in which large white balls threaten to fall onto viewers of art.

The Peacock” is a self-depreciatory image in which Garcin stands holding up a large number of portraits of himself; this seems to be concerned with pride.

Although humour helps us to bear these depictions of the human dilemma, some photographs are more directly serious; in “The Accused” Garcin seems to be facing a firing squad although all those pointing at him are Garcin himself.

Another image that makes me laugh is “True Notoriety” in which Garcin has modeled himself into a bust on a mantelpiece. As well as the individual psyche being explored, Garcin explores human relationships; one image in which he seems to be mirroring the fraughtness that underlies many marriages is “The Union” (2001) is a classic example. Here a couple are holding each other up – if one lets go (as eventually they surely must) then the other will fall.

There is much humour here yet the longer one looks, the more one sees that it is not just for a laugh that Garcin constructs these images but for more philosophical purposes in which the real is being addressed.

Sue and Rob, fellow OCA students, looking at Gilbert Garcin photographs

Sue and Rob, fellow OCA students, looking at Gilbert Garcin photographs

I visit this exhibition for a second time with the OCA and wonder what they think. Gareth, OCA CEO, while admitting to being tired finds they do nothing much for him. A student, Rob TM aka Birrel feels that the images do not need to be exhibited and would do just as well in a book. For me it a welcome relief from the seriousness that often seems to surround photography.

A final image to consider is “At the Museum”; looking at looking, another surrealist motif.

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