The central character in the exhibition “An Atlas of Dramas” by Lausanne-based Guillaume Pilet (b. 1984) greeted the visitor with open arms. Formed from lumpy grayish polyurethane foam, and just short of six feet high, the cartoonish figure of Introducing Heliodorus (2016) sits on its posterior with its arms and legs spread. Its head is a huge disc with large round holes for eyes. The figure was situated in front of a freestanding, curved painting that looks like a stage set. Titled La Mesure harmonique, De l’humain applicable aux règles transgressées de la peinture étendue à l’espace (The Harmonious Measure: From the Human, Applied to Rules of Painting, Transgressed and Extended into Space), the painting screams with stripes, dots, waves, circles, splashes, and pourings.
This show, Pilet’s third solo exhibition at Rotwand, dropped us in the midst of his enigmatic world, entangling us in thematic strands relating to past work, current endeavors, and future plans. Pilet’s previous subjects have included monkeys, primatologists, bricks, and Bach. Pilet has stated that he wants to extend his work into opera and that Heliodorus will be one of his characters.
The backdrop painting was made during a weeklong performance event at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris in October 2015. Le Corbusier’s Modulor scale of proportions, based on a man with his arm raised, was an inspiration for the work, which is eighty-nine inches high and consists of multiple panels. Pilet applied body paint to a performer, who then moved on the canvas according to the artist’s instructions. Pilet’s interest in modernist architecture, tribal-esque body painting, and wave patterns can be traced to an exhibition he had at the Kunsthalle São Paulo in 2014.
In the current exhibition, a gap to one side of the freestanding painting allowed the viewer to pass through, as if being granted backstage access. There, one found Almond Milk (2016), a ribbonlike shaped canvas with fine pink and brown markings that resemble wood grain, and Thanatus Vulgaris (2016), a black spider sculpture about three feet tall. A cluster of diminutive glazed ceramic Heliodorus figures was positioned on the floor, and the word drama was stenciled in black three times on the wall. Two more shaped canvases, with dizzying striped imagery, and a large polyurethane sculpture titled Black Swan completed the show. The swan could be interpreted as stirring itself to flight or struggling to shed clinging oil.
Pilet disregards genre divisions and institutional solemnity. His paintings make light of the great Lausannois abstract painters—Olivier Mosset and John Armeleder among them—who have been so influential on young artists from Pilet’s region, while his repeated iterations of primitive forms suggests a distant culture’s fetish objects, referencing ethnography as much as art. In addition to Pilet’s constellation of influences, this show offered an exciting sense of a live experience to come. It registered as a script or a storyboard, with the sculptural objects as props waiting to be activated.