Paris-born midcareer artist Dove Allouche’s abstract imagery seems utterly autonomous: tied to no philosophical system, no social cause, no psychological model, no aesthetic doctrine. His artwork is simply there, though how it came to be there, and to have its particular nature, is often fascinating—the result of a concatenation of offbeat subjects, materials, and processes.
In the past, Allouche—who also shows with Peter Freeman, Inc., in New York and in 2013 had an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris—has made works alluding to stalagmites and stalactites, oceanic hydrothermal vents, Venezuela’s Angel Falls, World War I battlefields, sunspots and solar flares, Paris sewers, and forest fires in Portugal. To do so, he has subjected substances including lampblack, ethanol, metallic powders, zinc, and lavender oil to obscure, frequently antiquated and time-consuming techniques: heliogravure, ambrotype, physautotype, chalcography. In many cases, the works are an amalgam of photography, drawing, and printmaking.
For the seventeen pieces in “The External Characters,” his recent show at gb agency, Allouche employed two related methods of fabrication. Some works he made using destructive spores gathered from the Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections, a government bureau helping to preserve cultural artifacts both in France and abroad. The artist transported the fungi to petri dishes, where they bloomed into roughly circular patterns reminiscent of tree rings, penumbrae, or stains on microscope slides. He photographed these growths and printed the images as lithographs, which he framed behind panels of blown glass. The results—in which roundish flat shapes in odd muted browns, grays, and greens are endowed, by virtue of their being covered in the vitreous medium, with an illusion of three-dimensionality—are as baffling in their import as they are curious in their origins. For the other works on view, Allouche cut “cave pearls”—grains of sand covered with multiple layers of calcium—into slices that he then scanned and printed as lithographs, again displaying the final images behind blown glass.
Clearly, Allouche favors a certain eccentricity of making. In this sense, he is an heir of Duchamp, who fashioned cryptic works from air, dust, shaving cream, and his own ejaculate. But Allouche strips Duchampism of narrative and oracular impulses, leaving us only the physical stuff of the world to puzzle over. His goal seems to be to subvert legibility at every level, while preserving a few tantalizing traces to enhance the enigma.
Allouche also has procedural affinities with Anicka Yi, Pamela Rosenkranz, Josh Kline, and other artists using materials such as molds, bacteria, scents, and acids. Yet his outcomes are, unlike theirs, unmistakably premeditated, his works still semi-conventional objets d’art. Allouche seems to be—somewhat paradoxically—a fine craftsman preoccupied with the primordial. For two decades, he has consistently scrutinized and played upon various natural phenomena that resist and complicate human agency: cosmic and geological forces, molecular interactions, microscopic life forms—not the fashionable post-human but the elemental prehuman.
Thus, we can ask about Allouche’s artworks what we might ask regarding alien specimens—not only “what are they?” but also “why are they?” The first query can be answered with adequate research; the second remains a mystery. Such frustration, deliberately induced, invites even grander questions. Why do we, as humans, compulsively make things for which we have no practical use? And why, as Leibniz riddled, is there something rather than nothing at all?