I tend not to write about exhibitions with which I am directly involved but every rule has an exception. The Shoreditch exhibition of Gérard Rancinan’s Wonderful World is one such exception.
Gérard Rancinan, Desperate Marilyn. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net.
Although Rancinan is represented by Opera Gallery, The Future Tense is responsible for mounting this museum-quality exhibition. The Wonderful World series has never before been seen in the UK; it is the final part of Rancinan’s phenomenal Trilogy of the Moderns, a series that has been seven years in the making. The works tell the story of a humanity that is obsessed with the cult of celebrity and guided only by an absolute desire for prescribed happiness. Those in the works are the Moderns – people today who incessantly use electronic devices and who idealise celebrities and iconic figures, longing to lead their lives and play their roles. Ultimately though, the joke is on us as Rancinan peels back the charade behind which these characters hide to look at the reality. His photographs are about not taking everything at face value and the importance of individuality.
Gérard Rancinan, Jumping Gis. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net.
As committed witnesses of the metamorphoses affecting society, Rancinan, and writer, Caroline Gaudriault, have engaged in an ongoing dialogue, delivering their dual observations on a generation seeking relentless progress at any cost.
Gérard Rancinan at the exhibition. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net.
Rancinan’s works have incredible visual impact; he first picked up a camera when he was 15 years old and knew straight away that photography was for him. Even today, he can’t imagine the idea of doing anything else, saying he wouldn’t know how. He is a photographer and the master of his camera. Rancinan began his career as a war photographer, capturing images on the front line, travelling the world and bearing first-hand witness to events of historical importance. Although different these new artworks are equally valid. He delivers startling images of our contemporary world filtered through an ever-evolving aesthetic prism. For Rancinan, photography is above all an instrument of thought, a militant perspective on our era.
Gérard Rancinan, Saint Sebastian. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net.
Rancinan is already an international star having come to London fresh from La Triennale di Milano and it is now time for him to star in the UK as well. On 17th May, in the Philips de Pury photography auction, his work Batman Family Girls set a new world record for him. It was also a record sale for a living French photographer and showed the growing importance of Rancinan’s work and the high regard in which it is held among collectors and institutions.
Gérard Rancinan, Batman Family Girls. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net.
Walking into the Londonewcastle Project Space, where this show is being held, one is immediately struck by a photograph of the head of Mickey Mouse served on a platter (a detail of his Salome). If this doesn’t grab your attention then who knows what will. Rancinan’s works don’t whisper; full of complex subtleties they scream. Following the exhibition round past his Saint Sebastians we come across a wall of Batman masks, dramatically lit to create strong and striking shadows. I first saw a Future Tense show last year and was immediately impressed, not only by the quality of the works, but also by the lighting. The gallery ethos is about doing things properly and the lighting of this show is again exemplary.
The Future Tense presents Rancinan’s Wonderful World. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net.
In the next room, alongside the Batman Family works, a chandelier lies on the floor, straight from the wall into real life. It is an immersive exhibition that includes and captivates the visitor, displaying the 15 large format works cleverly integrated with props from Rancinan’s studio. But in no way is it over the top. The methods of display and the clever curatorial decisions successfully bring the works to life and portray the dramatic themes of the series.
Props with the works. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net.
The barcode wallpaper in Family Watching TV has been theatrically extended onto the gallery wall – the exhibition becomes an installation piece in its own right. Other such clever tricks continue. A small enclave contains the dress from the Salome photograph, installed on chequerboard flooring, exuding an air of mystery and intrigue.
Theatrical installations. Image via www.thefuturetense.net.
A video shows the making of these works and, through watching, the methods of the Rancinan studio become clearer. All of Rancinan’s photographs are created in just one shot. There’s no clever manipulation in Photoshop. It is his perfection and eye for detail, his understanding of what makes an immediate impact that creates these amazing visions.
The head of Mickey Mouse. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net.
The last room hosts a purpose-built set and studio. Public auditions are taking place this weekend for the final composition for the entire body of work which will be shot on this set on Tuesday 12th June. This presents a rare opportunity for visitors to see what goes on behind the scenes of a major fine art photo shoot and, potentially, to be immortalised in art history as part of the photograph. A black rectangle on the wall shows where this work will hang – a solitary gas mask is hooked in the middle and Rancinan’s signature shines out in white paint. There aren’t yet many clues about the content of this last piece (and, no, I’m not telling). Repeat visits will reveal the organic nature of studio life – part art installation, part film set, part soap opera – as the shoot moves from concept, through production and postproduction, to the climactic unveiling of the finished work.
Rancinan’s studio comes to Shoreditch. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net.
At first the works are striking, even rather comical, but look a bit closer and the many-layered meanings start to come through and hit home. They are incredible works and Rancinan deserves the acclaim that this show is receiving. Despite having now seen his photographs many times, every walk through the gallery offers me something new and reveals further detail. Even without my involvement with this exhibition, I would still be urging people to visit and I would still be making several trips there myself.
Gérard Rancinan: Wonderful World is at the Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, until 24th June 2012, www.thefuturetense.net.