Pioneer of the ceramics’ rebirth in contemporary art, Johan Creten is back with his exhibition named Entracte, his fourth solo show at the Parisian gallery. This exhibition can be considered as a symbolic pause. It’s an invitation to reflection and a way to take a deep breath. With Entracte the artist underlines the importance of beauty in his work, while reaffirming his humanist consciousness and the social and political resonance of his practice. This exhibition is built as a dialogue with I Peccati, his monographic exhibition at the French Academy in Rome - Villa Medici, from 15 October to 31 January 2021.
'You have already held a fish, haven’t you? It’s slippery. At once pleasant and rather disgusting. Contrary to what one might think, it’s not the humidity that makes our phalanges slither on the scales, but a viscous secretion produced by the animal itself. This substance has a protective function and many virtues. The mucus acts as a wall against parasites, bacteria and certain heavy metals. It limits external aggressions. Depending on the species, it enables the fish to swim faster, like a performance catalyst. Lastly, it ensures the fish’s relative survival outside its natural environment. Its slimy texture lubricates the fleshy walls, like any living organism whose membranes, which cover the cavities that are open towards outside, are called mucous membranes precisely. They are precious interfaces that connect the interior to the exterior, and this is what gives them an extreme sensibility.
This is Johan Creten’s third solo exhibition at the New York Gallery. Everything shines here. Depending on the finish of the pieces, this shininess is more or less offensive, from the clarity of a patina to the stark brightness of an enamel. In the main room, several ensembles collectively form a panorama that calls to mind a marine world. Algae and shells remain identifiable motifs, swelling the iconography in the room through their graphic nature and their manner. Several emerging Venuses are spiked with still humid petals. Their finery seems to consist of a density of tonic lips fixed in the impermeability of the glaze. One can smell the tide. The feminine contours take shape in series such as 'Odore Di Femmina' and 'La Perle Noire', and of course 'The Herring', which surveys this drenched landscape in a god-like manner.
The fascinating mood exuded by various glands thus wraps the body in a film that equips it with a transparent armour. Today the properties of this gelatin have drawn the interest of the scientific community, who see in the exceptional mucus a promising material that might revolutionise industry, especially the textile industry. Still underwater, the excretions of some specimens are composed of fibres whose quality may resemble the most delicate of silks. Thus, in its adult state, the hagfish, a kind of sea serpent that has haunted the abyss with its digestive tract since the dawn of time, is said to produce up to a million kilometers of this thread that is a hundred times thinner than a single hair. What a vertigo-inducing resource. This potential passementerie remains a defensive system of fatal efficiency for this type of eel. Once expelled, their mucus can occupy up to several hundred times its initial volume, instantly suffocating any predator, whose gills it causes to explode.
Johan Creten constantly stimulates the temptation to touch. A primordial taboo in many religions, including the religion of art, contact feeds the swelling of desire, making the other senses seem like preliminaries with regard to the fulfilment it demands. The ultimate taboo often claims to preserve the status of untouchable works in contrast to the vulgarity of objects that can be grasped and handled. To caress a bronze, to touch a ceramic are acts of transgression. There is the dual risk of hurting oneself and of damaging the artefact. Here the artist even goes so far as to make us sit on the works. With his new series of 'Boulders', seven possible seats each possess a deadly sin. The installation develops a certain symmetry with its Italian counterpart on display at the Villa Medici in Rome, to which an important monograph is devoted, ostensibly entitled I Peccati. Set up in the expectation of a catch, the situation recalls the stimulating articulation between pécheur (sinner) and pêcheur (fisherman).
Halieutics, the science of fishing, aims for a sensible management of aquatic ecosystems. It intervenes in the agronomy of the liquid biosphere. It also intervenes in research and informs scientists in their experiments in zootechnics. But for the moment, the creature with the miraculous mucus has resisted domestication and has failed to reproduce in captivity. It thus refuses to see its invaginations exploited for the benefit of fashion corporations. And it is satisfied with its existence as a monster of the deep – a scavenger at that. Because it is indeed necrophagous and has a habit of making its way into the remains to devour them from within. It cultivates in its own way a passion for the carcass, a tradition of the grotesque, that imperative hollow of cast iron or terracotta. Wrapped in its cloak of mucus, it remains ungraspable. Having said this, as any fish farmer will tell you, it is best to hold a fish with wet hands. It will be a little less slippery. It is therefore covered in drops of water that the surfaces touch. One generally takes part in such an intimate act in order to eviscerate. The swollen belly is then sliced cleanly, spilling its shimmering viscera.
Johan Creten opens up his shapes and their connotations enough not to freeze them in a single reading. The interpretations must remain malleable, from humour to disgust. He himself feeds off this ongoing quest for an image to gorge on. The series entitled Glory testifies in particular to this act of evasion. Its golden lustre prevents the gaze from anchoring itself, its luminous intensity making us skid on the reliefs. A certain dynamism operates through motion and light, affirming the kinetic component of these modules. Theirs is a penetrating perspective. It draws us into a hypnotic vortex which inhales, which exhales. The rays expand towards the baroque splendours erected to exalt the sacred, all the while contracting to pierce the most secret depths of human morphology. In the distance lies this original black hole, a gap. Let’s call it Vulva. And since everything has always passed through a slit, that is precisely where the artist wants us to begin.'
Text by Joël Riff. Courtesy Perrotin.