Method of Loci is an exhibition about everything that is happening right now.
For over a month, The Breeder Gallery has been transformed into a vault of information where French born – New York based artist ITEM IDEM (Né Cyril Duval) has been building his referential universe. Exploring new dialectics with local components, he follows the principles of readymade contextualization and creates a multifunctional environment that maps the current human condition.
The narrative structure is based on Method of Loci, a memory enhancement technique that was used in ancient Roman and Greek treatises. Also known as ‘memory palace’ or ‘mind palace technique’, this mnemonic device uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory to quickly and efficiently recall information. To the artist, it serves as the connecting constituent for the unusual and circumstantiated personal representations of the archaic and modern aspects of the time he lives in, while also abates the echoes between the works. To the viewer, it reads as the conceptual manual of the show.
Method of Loci is emphasized on a collection of sourced mass-marketed products and packagings. As a cataloguing venture, it stands as the post-apocalyptic turnover of Marcel Broodthaers collage walls, or Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. By pointing out on what our eye can not see anymore, Duval picks and arranges the products of our rampant consumerism, turning it along the toxicity of the current world into an art medium by itself, based on the poetics of commerce.
Through the obsessive metaphor of King Ludwig II’s Neo-Romanesque bavarian Neuschwanstein Castle, the main aesthetic influence behind Walt Disney’s plans for the iconic Cinderella Castle, the artist draws connections with Disney’s Frozen castle: the company’s most successful commercial blockbuster in recent history, here triggered as a recurring allegory for the mind palace technique and the poetics of memory.
In her video installation Black Friday currently on view at the Whitney Museum, Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria focuses on the Gulf’s embrace of the shopping mall as “a place of weird pilgrimage in an era where to consume is to absolve yourself”. The empty extravagant malls in Doha featured in Al-Maria’s film, seem to have something in common with Method of Loci, as if all the loots from the malls were stored in the gallery, where Duval appropriates and transforms the items he sources globally. The co-founder of Shanzhai Biennial project thereby recreates what the Chinese idiom suggests; the “mountain hamlet” that ancient warlords would use to stockpile their stolen possessions.
With similarities to the practice of Josephine Meckseper, Duval’s installations verge on the political and at times mimic the aesthetics of window display and commercial presentations: through his neatly arranged elaborations of visual languages, combining household products and capitalistic erratums, the artist perforates the membrane of the consumerist matrix that surrounds us. By creating sculptural shelf altars and mind palaces, he draws storylines that interrogate modern-day fantasies and problematics.
A work entitled Endless Economy, addresses the politics of austerity that are currently flagellating the Greek Economy, as a mirror of the contemporary condition of the Euro Zone. Constantly creating bridges between consumerist mythologies and actual myths, Duval got inspired by the street name where his own current physical mind palace (The Breeder Gallery) resides. Golden Fleece, a flamboyant altar of black and gold refers to the insidious connection between religions and cults with power and authority, via the idolization of money.
Aesthetically, the works in Method of Loci draw parallel lines with the Neo-Geo artists such as Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach. The notion of urgency in Duval’s approach though, becomes the fundamental difference that sustains the core of the exhibition. Instead of focusing on the void of the image behind the shopping product and try to reanimate it through the stance of art, ITEM IDEM’s method feels more like a scream of agony towards the debacle that follows the Earth Overshoot Day, when Capitalism will out resource itself.
Referencing the Hellenistic school of Stoicism philosophy, Duval plunges into the referential art image of Memento Mori. ‘Remember that you will die’ is the true apex motto underlined by the artist through the entire exhibition: his metaphysical approach on death and afterlife, is manifested in the short film (6’) JOSS that is presented in the basement of the gallery. JOSS, created in collaboration with Chinese artist and filmmaker Cheng Ran in 2013, has been featured in many exhibitions internationally, among which the façade of Palais de Tokyo during FIAC, in 2014. Joss (Zhizha, or Hell Money) are the papier-mâché offerings burnt in veneration to the spirits of the deceased in Taoist culture to wish godspeed and opulence in the afterlife. From fashion to electronic gadgets, fast food to pop cultural icons, these possessions are set to timely explode in the slow-motion film, referencing the sequence and momentum of Fischli and Weiss video, The Way Things Go and end sequence of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.
The recurrent symbol of Praying Mantis emits a predatory echo all around the exhibition. Fascinated by Superorder Dictyoptera, a classification of insects that incorporates mantises and cockroaches, Duval places the visual alliteration of predators and parasites in a constant context of objectification of the socio-ecological responsibility in a world of disarray: the Anthroposcene. Crumbs, a large installation of pool floats reformed into bombproof rubber sculptures, depicts a post-apocalyptic scenario of gigantic roaches praying on junk food symbols. Meanwhile, the premiere of Duval’s new medium-length film (35’) NUII, emphasizes on the use of drones and sound of insects as metaphor for video surveillance and remote control warfare.
Reflecting on the metaphysical mixology of the exhibition as a whole, Cyril Duval quotes the french philosopher and pioneer of modern Skepticism Michel de Montaigne: “Let us deprive death of its strangeness; let us frequent it; let us get used to it […] To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
Method of Loci is an exhibition about everything that is happening right now, and it is all item idem.
Based in New York, Parisian-born artist Cyril Duval (b. 1979) travels through the mediums of art, design, film & visual communication under the fictional alter ego brand ITEM IDEM (Latin for “the same”). Item idem’s solo show at The Breeder is the result of his stay in Athens as part of The Breeder Residency program curated by Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos. His work has been exhibited at Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Garage Center for Contemporary Culture (Moscow), MoMA PS1 (New York), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), New Museum (New York) among others. He is also the founding member & co-president of Shanzhai Biennial.