Sous les pavés, la plage !
Sous les pavés, la plage ! (Under the cobblestones, the beach!) was one of the slogans used in France’s 1968. It expressed the desire that beneath the city which had been hardened by stone, there be the freedom of the beach (represented by the sand in which the paving stones were placed).
The work commits a certain reversal of the meaning. At the level zero, there is the concrete, that’s the point of perspective, under the pavement should be the sand of the beach, symbolising freedom and nature. The sand is thus taken from underneath and placed on the top, with such difference the sand is no longer the representative of nature, but an industrially produced material ( the place taken by concrete in the original metaphor) and thus we end up with crystal, common and without value like the sand in fact, yet for some strange reason considered valuable.
The installation is constructed through an intricate study of historical frameworks: the poetic title somehow provides us with, as in most cases, romanticised image of history, but so is the visual language: the blue walls, the beach chair and umbrella, they all bring an image of some sort of vintage holiday advertising, only crystals which replaced the sand bring us closer to the contemporary, for in the language of contemporary media nothing is allowed to be real, i.e. imperfect, and can there be a less imperfect replacement for sand, if not the crystal which, incidentally, is made of it. The work has a double basis: one is that of analysis of history, a turning point of several narratives which 1968 represents, but the second most importantly explores the two ever-present aspects of human civilisation: the violence and freedom.
Beneath the poetic phrase of the past thus lays actual brutality and anger of the French fighters for freedom and all the pre-1968 ideals which have never quite played out. In a simple gesture of installing a beach the work summons heritage of the 20th-century failure (with which we are yet to deal properly) and assembles it with characteristics of the contemporary consumer societies. Here, the existential aspect of the fighting for freedom of the French protesters is juxtaposed with the existential framework of contemporary society where existential meaning is verified not through a dramatic struggle for freedom, but consumption.
This new beach might appear very beautiful, it certainly attracts us. It perhaps reminds of the peaceful holiday time we spent at the seaside but here is where two discomforts might occur (which nevertheless would be ignored while the blink blinds and draws us): the crystal beach on the concrete through its beauty hides violence under its surface. For the contemporary violence against the man is docile, it lays in the act of creating a docile pacified man who will devote himself to perhaps attractive, yet fruitless and passive activity.
The installation is meant to function as a place of activity: a beach where people undress and gather, rest at the beach chairs, sunbath, play, take pictures, etc. As a very primaeval form, the beach imposes and forces us to look into the contemporary from the perspective of our human nature.
Supreme artist’s breath
The artist places his physical product in a container representing structures of the contemporary society (the Supreme ball). In the process, the act is placed and follows a historical narrative (Duchamp -> Manzoni -> Martychowiec).
This paraphrasing gesture is reversing the original one (Warhol); it brings the creative act back from the work of consumption to the work of (basic) physical creation, and most importantly, towards the narrative it is attempting to redirect.
The film’s value emerges, as with most of the artist’s works, in a relationship to the other products of his practice. In this sense, the film’s function is that of a documentation. What matters is what becomes of the branded artist’s breath. In one case it becomes a hidden symbolic and metaphorical object within a conceptual work of art by the same artist (Sous les pavés, la plage !). At the same time, another one becomes encapsulated within a glass cube. The product of the artistic activity (creation) and the product of the contemporary consumerist society (consumption) belong both to the same time, and as such are contained and preserved within a sort of airtight archaeological display together, as if they were both objects of times long gone, and both became part of history.
The video documentation creates the myth of the artist who inhales history and exhales his own creation. This, in its own right, is sufficient and thus he boldly pronounces his name towards the end of the activity, as if he was signing his work.
As Hölderlin writes “What remains the poets provide”. The remnant in question is the relic of the mythical act which as the historical necessity dictates, proliferates here and there.