The Pale Fox by Camille Henrot – The universe of unanswered questions

Text: Sini Rinne-Kanto 7.10.2014
Photo: Aurélien Mole / Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche

In Paris, Bétonsalon – Center for art and research opened its exhibition season with The Pale Fox, a major solo exhibition of Camille Henrot. The previous year, this French, New York-based artist was recognized with a Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale for her video Grosse Fatigue (2013) – a video seeking to resume the history of the universe in thirteen minutes. This video serves as an outset also for The Pale Fox, while unveiling Henrot’s strong affiliation towards the surrounding universe as a subject matter. This time, the artist takes however a more a meticulous approach towards the theme, while conducting a philosophic study on contemporary identity construction, as an ongoing and a historic process.

In the exhibition space, the surroundings are straightforward: there is only one big room structured by deep blue walls. This could be a room of a regular house; a living room decorated with posters on the walls, together with electronic devises in the corner. Nonetheless, this one room enfolds a whole universe, a fascinating path, which finds its crossroads from combinations between technology and astrology, museum objects and eBay commodities: the interrogation on the theme of possession is studied through these objects. Henrot analyzes this everyday, even banal subject matter in a universal level, at the same time reflecting the topic with the individual lifecycle and evolution.

“The main focus of The Pale Fox is obsessive curiosity, the irrepressible desire to affect things, to achieve goals, to perform actions, and the inevitable consequences”, says the artist herself.

Henrot’s interdisciplinary work – which includes found objects, drawings, bronze and ceramic sculptures and digital images – creates together a complex architectural installation in the exhibition space, an accumulation of objects and images, confined in a highly introspective context. The work of Henrot is influenced by an often featured element in the current contemporary art scene: the strong interest in the flow of images is clearly visible in her body of work, with references to ephemeral pleasure and lust. Even though interested in this popular theme, Henrot manages to go deeper in her analysis than many others: the artist has accomplished to combine an essentially methodological approach when confronting the subject, when her work documents almost schizophrenically contemporary reality and our encounter with the visual excess.

The title of Henrot’s exhibition is borrowed from an anthropological study on the West African Dogon people, conducted by Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen in the Mid-Sixties. The main inspiration behind this study is also to be found in the exhibition: the Dogon mythology is based on several different belief systems, incorporating thus a variety of cultures and influences, such as astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. Against this background, Henrot has added a comprehensive study on the history of the universe, passing from the before mentioned elements to science and contemporary belief systems. This complex meta-narrative takes an interesting approach towards the subject matter both on universal and individual level: the scale ranges from the history of the universe to the artist’s studio as one potential and auto-sufficient universe. Strong juxtapositions are featured in the exhibition, when primitive elements are facing technology, and kitsch is facing avant-garde: these elements oblige us to interrogate on the foundations, on which our worldview is constructed. Who has the power to define our values and conceptions regarding the surrounding world, in what terms we understand it, and most of all, how are we allowed to encounter it?

Finally, in the very same room, chaos and peace, destruction and creation confront each other, being confined by the same limits – one wouldn’t exist without the other. Henrot’s universe reveals to be a microcosmos imprisoned in one room, a sort of cabinet of curiosities, reaching from time to time almost an erotic psychosis. In this room, the elements are under control, but the potential for disorder is always present.

The world of unanswered questions – this phrase caught my eye in the exhibition when leaving. Henrot’s exhibition is a study of this universe without answers: however, without trying to offer justifications, she gives only the tools for the infinite possibilities. The Pale Fox is a study of power and domination, a model world of fantasy, where the possibility to find all the missing pieces of the puzzle is exists.

Camille Henrot: The Pale Fox at Bétonsalon, Paris, 20 September – 20 December 2014.

The Pale Fox is commissioned and produced in partnership with Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Bétonsalon – Centre for art and research, Paris and Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, where the exhibition will be presented in 2014–15.??Camille Henrot’s exhibition is supported by Cass Sculpture Foundation; Shane Akeroyd; Fluxus, Franco-British programme for contemporary art; The Henry Moore Foundation and the Camille Henrot Supporters Circle.