Paris-based artist Matali Crasset (b. 1965) is best known for her edgy industrial designs, but her visionary body of work extends into a wide range of genres and mediums—from sculptures, textiles, furniture and architecture to electronic music, film, performance and interdisciplinary collaborations. Her themes often embrace the sociological and environmental. One of her recent projects involved the building of “low-impact living pods,” constructed with local materials, for an artists’ residency program in the Fresnes-au-Mont forest in France. Crasset has shown extensively in Europe, and this was her fifth show with Thaddaeus Ropac, but her first to take place in Ropac’s new five-building, 55,000-square-foot art center in a former boiler-works factory that opened last year in the Pantin suburb of Paris.
Titled “Voyage to Uchronia,” the exhibition occupied one gallery in the complex and featured an installation of furniture pieces and a film codirected by Crasset and the Berlin-based artist Juli Susin. “Uchronia” is an invented term based on the word “utopia,” and refers to a fictional time period or constructed world; it was coined by the French philosopher Charles Renouvier for the title of an 1876 novel.
The installation comprised 10 roughly cylindrical structures made of gray felt seamed together on metal frames, measuring up to 6½ feet high, called the “Permanents” (all 2013). At one end of the large gallery, the walls were painted a glowing orange, and the sculptures were huddled in close pairings and a trio. Further away, another duo stood opposite each other in front of pale blue walls. Slightly Beuysian in character, these cocoonlike entities, inside of which viewers can stand or sit, are meant for contemplation. Sometimes they are appended with talismans or photographic portraits (of 19th-century French architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and philosopher Charles Fourier) strung up with yellow string or red ribbon. Inserted in pockets mounted on the structures’ interiors are other objects, including a book by social activist Jane Addams. Two other pieces are accessorized with overhead speakers piping in ambient urban noise and nature sounds. From afar, the arrangement of the gray structures evoked hovering, hooded druids or the giant menhirs that punctuate Brittany’s coasts. Over meandering lines of fat black tape on the floor, suggestive of river currents, one of the “Permanents” rested in a supine position, like a canoe on a trajectory toward inward shores.
The 15-minute film Voyage to Uchronia, salvatico è colui che si salva (salvatico is the one who saves) was projected at the other end of the room. In what could be construed as a series of Fluxus-type scenes, it offered a whimsical world in which the “Permanents,” among other props, are spontaneously brought to life through interactions with nature and in goofy ritualistic choreographies. In one scene that recalls Lygia Clark’s “vestiary” sculpture, Crasset and her friends cavort in a field with colorful versions of the structures over their heads like hoods. During other acts, the participants don enormous collars made by the artist out of reflective material that strangely suggest both sun-tanning accoutrements and Elizabethan ruffs. In another passage, the camera focuses for a lengthy time on the comings and goings of a sounder of wild boars feeding in a forest around an immobilized biplane veiled in semitransparent material.
In keeping with her modus operandi, Crasset brilliantly subverted the forms, materials and simple gestures of everyday life, allowing them to become zany springboards for poetic impulse and release.