Swiss artist Fabrice Gygi is a critic of order and authority. Known mostly for his performances and installations—though he also works with engraving and painting—Gygi subverts industrial and military materials to challenge ideas of freedom and expose the mechanisms of power.Read More
Gygi's artistic interest in the socio-political is a result of his having grown up in Switzerland, where the state policy of armed neutrality has resulted in a perpetual military presence. By destabilising the functions of industrial materials and military paraphernalia such as stainless steel, tarpaulin, tents and tension straps in his artworks, the artist seeks to uncover the systems that sustain authority. For his 2000 retrospective exhibition at Magasin, Geneva, Gygi organised a campsite complete with tents that offered no space for comfort or intimacy. Only one tent seemed passable for rest; lacking bedding, however, the tent left its user to sleep on the hard floor. Behind the tent, Gygi placed police equipment for regulating riots and protests such as helmets with visors, riot shields and batons, bringing attention to the tools the state wields in the name of public safety.
Gygi also utilises objects associated with institutions and bureaucracy as a way of critiquing the various mechanisms of authority. For Press Conference Room and Meeting Room—installations both created for a solo exhibition at Istituto Svizzero di Roma in 2010—two rooms were furnished appropriately for official meetings, with microphones, pedestals and chairs. The preparations fail to fulfil their purposes, however, as the meetings never took place.
Other installations resemble both a structure intended for harmless entertainment and something more sinister. Aquarium (2006)—created for an exhibition at Magasin 3 in Stockholm—on the one hand appears to be an innocuous aquarium: a rectangular container made of lacquered steel, mounted on four legs, with glass walls and filled with water. On the other hand, the aquarium is otherwise empty, negating its function to display aquatic organisms. It is large enough for a person to fit in, placing the work in an ambiguous state between whether it is intended for torture or meant to be playful.
In many of Gygi's performances, the artist tests the limits of his body by subjecting it to extreme conditions. For Immer Aufrecht (Always Upright) (1995)—conceived for the exhibition Performance Index at the Warteck Brauerei in Basel—Gygi walked across the room with a pair of metal wires passing through his earrings. The wires were engineered to project a loud noise when they touched the rings, forcing the artist to keep his posture upright at all times. Similarly painful, in A Gentleman's Agreement (2002)—performed at the Cetinje Biennial in Montenegro—Gygi attached a small metal house to the back of his hand and lit its contents on fire.
Over the years, Gygi's subversion of function has expanded to include jewellery. In his solo exhibition at Zürich's Galerie Francesca Pia in 2010, for example, necklaces with silver pendants were suspended from the ceiling. Removed from their conventional environments, such as inside a box, behind the glass or around a person's neck, the jewellery ceased to be simply ornamental and was transformed into sculpture. In order to further unsettle the viewer's sense of perception, Gygi fashioned the pendants in forms suggestive of other objects; one untitled piece, for instance, resembles an upturned airplane with small knobs protruding from its body.
Since then, Gygi has worked with sculpture composed of angular, geometric shapes, the austerity of which would translate into later paintings. Working primarily in watercolour and inspired by his time in Marfa, the artist's 2018 series of untitled paintings (exhibited at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris) depicts a single straight line or a grid of rectangular blocks intersecting each other at right angles. In contrast to the controlled strokes, Gygi allows the watercolour to naturally thicken in places as a reminder of its nature.
Gygi has exhibited at Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris (2018); Galerie Francesca Pia (2017, 2010); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2011); Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Rome (2010); and Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach (2005), among others. In addition to having represented Switzerland at the 53rd Venice Biennale, Gygi contributes to Swiss contemporary art as an educator; between 1997 and 2002 , he taught at École cantonale d'art de Lausanne, and he now teaches at Haute École d'art et de design in Geneva. His participation in other international exhibitions include the Triennale d'art en Valais (2014) and Bienal de São Paulo (2002).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018