24th Fondation Pernod Ricard Prize / Do You Believe in Ghosts?
Under the title Do You Believe in Ghosts? the 24th Fondation Pernod Ricard Prize brings together 6 artists invited by the curator Fernanda Brenner. True to the new formula of the prize established in 2020, she has conceived her project in two parts: the companionship between January and September 2023, and the exhibition in September-October 2023.
Do You Believe in Ghosts?
“Não mexe comigo, que eu não ando só” – Maria Bethania
(Don’t mess with me so I don’t walk alone)
“A specter does not only cause séance tables to turn but sets heads spinning” – Jacques Derrida.
The straightforward question that stands as the title of the 24th Fondation Pernod Ricard Prize was borrowed from the film Ghost Dance directed by Ken McMullen in 1983, featuring Pascal Ogier and with an occasional apparition by Jacques Derrida playing himself.
The scene is staged: a student asks a professor if he believes in ghosts. Derrida’s long answer twists the assumption that ghosts – or the experience of ghosts – are linked to a bygone historical period or some pre-modern obscurantist milieu. Shortly after his acting adventure, Derrida resumed his investment in the critical rehabilitation of the ghost with his renowned book The Specters of Marx (1994) and other texts and interviews. His work is constantly mentioned as the catalyst of what in the late 1990s was defined by some Western scholars as the “spectral turn”, that is, when ghosts or specters cease to be seen as obscurantist and become instead figures who raise awareness and bear specific ethical and political potential. As an analytical tool, the ghost inevitably interrupts the presentness of the present; their liminal position between visibility and invisibility, life and death, materiality and immateriality, makes it impossible to approach anything as an isolated fact or, in short, to walk alone.
To evoke ghosts as conceptual metaphors in Paris in 2023 is also to acknowledge that these phenomena are culturally specific. Non-western contexts yield considerably different epistemologies and critical possibilities regarding spectrality. To live with ghosts is different from being ‘ghosted’ or prone to social erasure, as haunting is a way in which abusive systems of power make themselves known and their impacts felt in everyday life, especially when they are supposedly over and done with (as in colonial invasions and transatlantic slavery, for instance).
What binds the group of artists selected to participate in this edition of the prize is that they are all at odds with any univocal interpretations or easy representations of the living present. In many different ways, their work points towards what is formally absent yet somehow states its presence. The very essence of a ghost – or of any good artwork, for that matter – is that it demands its due and coopts your attention. Our goal here is not to exorcize or resolve anything but to talk about and learn how to live with ghosts, to (re)imagine the present and future through them. Living with ghosts is also realizing that beneath the surface of history with a “capital H” lurks another narrative, comprised of many untold and erased stories. As philosopher Avery Gordon puts it: to choose a perspective other than the authorized, official one and to write stories concerning exclusions and invisibilities is to write ghost stories. In this sense, the long process unfolding in the exhibition presented in September could be seen as a collectively written ghost story.
So far, we know that it starts from the assumption that the same world (one out of many, as the Mexican Zapatistas1 remind us) in which secularized historical time was forged and must inevitably coexist with and acknowledge its specters. Even when turned into a conceptual metaphor, the ghost remains an unruly figure. It is never stable; nothing is. The works featured in the exhibition are all new. At this stage of the project, like ghosts, they are in a latent, liminal state. Some ideas have lingered since the first collective and individual meetings; others have already transmuted into different ones. Some themes, forms, and subjects are hinted at, but nothing is yet final and might never be: vulnerability, invasiveness, hospitality, erasures, self-defense, and urban and ethereal spaces are some of the conceptual guidelines I wrote down in my encounters with the artists. Film, painting, mixed-media, and sound pieces are making their way into the production checklists.
In an interview, Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman said, “I absolutely cannot define things. So I circle it. I write around the film, around the hole, let’s say, or around the void. Because I want to make a documentary without knowing what I’m doing. They always demand, ‘Tell us what you’re going to do.’ And all I can tell you is that I just don’t know. It’s precisely because of this lack of knowledge that there can be a film.” I relate to that when thinking about group exhibitions. Throughout my practice, I have been attempting to connect the elements – human and non-human – that constitute an exhibition in a socially significant yet artistically experimental way. In other words, I have been trying to facilitate situations where individual elements and the whole are defined in relational terms, rather than as a curatorial imposition. I remain wary of the idea of an exhibition as a place of explanation, when it could be something much more uncanny. A way to discover, along with the audience, how this confluence of forms and ideas will behave and where it will take us. In this sense, the opening of an exhibition could mark the beginning of a curatorial idea, not its end.
Borrowing once again from Avery Gordon, haunting situations happen when home becomes unfamiliar; when the experience of being in linear time is suspended; when your bearings in the world lose direction; when what has been in your blind field becomes visible. In this sense, I could say we are attempting to convey a haunting situation within the exhibition space. Far beyond handing out an award, the most important part of this project is that all its participants – both the public and those involved in its making – are mutually inflected, affected, and even altered by the ghosts unleashed by the encounter of these six great artists.
Fernanda Brenner, curator of the 24th Fondation Pernod Ricard Prize
Ethan Assouline (1994, Paris)
Assouline sketches through his sculpture, his publication, his writing and his drawing, a critical relationship to the city, in its landscape, economic and political dimensions.
Sophie Bonnet Pourpet (1988, Lyon)
Sophie Bonnet-Pourpet's gift-giving discipline allows her to study its practices, ambiguities, and implications. She is interested in the resurgence of performativity contained in objects and in the consideration of the artist as an offerer
Anne Bourse (1982, Lyon)
Her work is crossed by swirling lines and letters evoking burlesque cartoons or psychedelic frescos. They cover the surface of books, clothes and papers of all kinds. His practice is essentially punctuated by the continuous movement that engages a writing of the self.
Pol Taburet (1997, Paris)
His work is a heady and iconoclastic mix of references that range from the artist's Caribbean origin, the region's syncretic voodoo traditions and belief systems, contemporary culture at large, and classical painting.
Eden Tinto Collins (1991, Essone)
Poet, hypermedia, trobairitz, Meta, she explores the notions of networks and interdependence, the frictions between melancholy, mythology, post-trans, and cyber-humanity.
Ana Vaz (1986, Brasilia)
Ana is an artist and filmmaker, whose filmography activates and questions cinema as an art of the (in)visible and as an instrument capable of dehumanizing the human, expanding its connections with life forms - other than human or spectral.
Photo : (c) Mariana Maltoni