Art Criticism

Stéfane Perraud: Sic Vita

Stéfane Perraud: Modifié#2 Soja (2009), in Sic Vita (Numeriscausa, 2009).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 35, October 2009, p. 140.

According to world statistics, four people are born every second, and 2.5 die. Theoretically, if this ratio between birth and death is maintained, how do you visualise the problem of overpopulation it logically leads to, when there is no room left for every new life? For his first solo show, Sic Vita (‘such is life’) at Numeriscausa, French artist Stéfane Perraud translates this question into a computer program and the fascination of glimmering lights. In the installation Lueurs (2008, all other works 2009), 6,000 blue-light-emitting diodes are set on a rectangular table. An LED that lights up corresponds to a newborn life and an LED that turns off to a death (respectively 4 and 2.5 per second). Since the number of LEDs on the table is finite, an impasse is reached after a 40-minute cycle, when lives have conquered so much space that it is impossible for the computer to maintain the given ratio. In response to this saturation of light, the computer crashes and resets. All the LEDs flash on and off for a couple seconds until the program restarts, with just a few lit up survivors from a corner of the table. In real life, what would likely cause such a crisis are the unknowns of ecological disaster, world epidemic or genocide. The first version of Lueurs, with 18,000 LEDs, was originally installed in the nave of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, beside the Louvre, during Paris’s Nuit Blanche 2008 (the all-night open house of cultural venues). According to Perraud, the denouement in the hypnotising gleam of the blue LEDs caused “an almost pornographic relief” among the viewers.

In the two other pieces on display, Perraud’s data aesthetic focuses on food resources. Modifié#2 Soja is a delicate, handmade sculpture of 16 resin soybeans filled with blue LEDs and set inside crystalline tubes on a pedestal. A discreet interactive system is set up so that the artificial soybeans react to nearby movements: the more people gather around the sculpture, the more its fragile light chaotically vibrates, as if they were trying to protect themselves from human approach. Finally, Modifié#3 is a digital print made after Millet’s 1857 painting The Gleaners, which depicts women collecting wheat seeds from a field after the harvest. This scene, which Perraud scales down to a resolution of one pixel per inch while retaining its original physical size, is reduced to the units that would otherwise represent it — the pixels are so large that Millet’s painting is only recognisable from a distance. Just as plants have been modified throughout the millennia-long history of agriculture — and most recently with genetic engineering — art ‘naturally’ evolves with new technologies. While anxiety over GM organisms and crops may be justified, we should observe that the recurrent distrust of new media artforms, as if they were less authentic or sensitive than tradtional art, isn’t nearly as compeling.