In his 1961 essay “Un nouveau réalisme en sculpture,” critic Pierre Restany recounted an afternoon spent in a scrap yard with his friend the sculptor César, scrutinizing the work of an hydraulic pump as it crushed cars, ovens, trucks, and bicycles into compact bales of folded metal. When the Viscountess of Noailles gave the sculptor her new Zil, a Soviet luxury car and the only one in Paris at the time, he used the same technology to compress it to a fourth of its original volume. César’s compressions spoke to the expressive beauty and heavy symbolism of debris in post-industrial society; a discourse that never really gave in to the sexy, reifying violence of the hydraulic pump.
In his exhibition “An alpha disguised as a beta,” Matias Faldbakken’s compressed sculptures at Giti Nourbakhsch might be the stylistic antithesis of César’s messy realism. Discharged of their function and content, empty newspaper racks are squashed together in three bales of nine, ten and two, bending at mid-level under the tight clench of industrial straps. The sculptures are black, silver and filiform, and seem to stumble across the ascetic gallery space like emaciated models dressed in Dior Homme: vulnerable, but cheerfully aware of their own desirability on the luxury market.
On the opposite wall, behind a partition, 10 photocopies are framed, each showing the same newspaper photograph of five seated men taped to a white background. Each varies minutely by cropping and the application of tape the same thrill with laconic seriality that haunts and Faldbakken’s output. On the gallery’s second floor, the room was filled with a stock of white plastic bags: the first few were framed, others overlayed and taped directly to the wall, while the rest left as a pile by the door. Each reads “THE ZZZZZ,” printed in black Helvetica. Scribbled acronyms, obliterated words, and black marker strokes deface most bags, sketching out a disarmingly unambiguous vernacular of nihilism: from language to chatter, chatter to babble, and babble to confusion.
Faldbakken’s delivery is deliberately crude, stylized such that the installation appears to have occurred according to depressive gravitational pull, in the same way that the news racks were carelesly dumped across the floor. The artist was once quoted describing a feeling of being “upset because there’s nothing to be upset about.” When negation folds on itself, it splits and blurs and ceases to operate dialectically, orwith clear motives. The compressed news racks could have resulted from the violence of over-zealous storage-space managers, or a disgruntled caretaker. Either way, the works belong to a system of administration and maintenance, one in which any perverted negative always a distorted positive affirmation.