les presses du réel

Le dîner de Gulliver

Pascal Beausse
(excerpts, p. 36-40)


Let's say it like it is: there is nothing original about enlarging an object nowadays. It has even become one of the most common and widespread features of present-day art. The most identifiable sign, the lowest common denominator of the ‘contemporary art' category, seen by way of its popularization. What is more, advertising, marketing and propaganda —three forces connected these days within the overall spectacle, aimed at a citizen seen solely as a consumer, and generating symbolic poverty— have appropriated the enlargement of the consumer item on the basis of the ‘popular' success of Pop Art.
But what, then, are we to understand in the reasons prompting Lilian Bourgeat to enlarge objects in his turn, too?

At night, the artist dreams of immense objects, and in the morning he gives them the power of reality through a Photoshop montage on the computer screen, then he joyously looks at their material execution. “ I always have the impression of being self-taught, ” he says, to such an extent does each new project give rise to new technical difficulties: each and every time, the object production process has to be re-invented. Despite these difficulties, in his desire to do away with the boundaries of what cannot be made, Lilian Bourgeat could well reproduce the entire contents of a supermarket! We would then be in the presence of a tangible manifestation of the futility and the marvel of the abundance of things that we produce, consume, and throw away every day, once used.

“ I understand everything ” is written on the sheet of paper clutched by a woman visiting a Lilian Bourgeat show, in a drawing by Philippe Vuillemin. Collisions between the artist's intention, the interpretation by those professionally involved with his work, and the reception by his viewers themselves, all provide the draughtsman with inexhaustible matter for gibing at the habits and customs of the petty world of art. With him, the artist has come upon more than an irreverent critic. Each work produced by Bourgeat tallies with a Vuillemin drawing. As if coming straight from the pages of L'Écho des savanes, the drawing assumes its independence while playing the part of a zany notice, poking fun at the work in the very place of its presentation. Discussions on art, be they scholarly, pedagogic, fashionable or communicational, are endangered in their claim to having authority and a last word when it comes to meaning. The fact is that Lilian Bourgeat's art has a double trigger (and even more than two, if there are affinities). The enlargement he inflicts upon the object is a decoy.


Lilian Bourgeat's art is phonily likeable. It gives you the impression of being attractive, accommodating, or, equally, insignificant, depending on what you believe about art, and depending, too, on the criteria on which you think you can rely to appraise artworks; and his art puts you off your stride. The immediate seductiveness brought about by the exhibition of giant objects, perfectly reproduced in their forms and materials, and the aspect of ‘funny art for 3-to-103-year-olds', are merely traps. Bourgeat does not just create three-dimensional reproductions of objects on a magnified scale: he creates an arrangement. An arrangement that encompasses the spectator and does without him. An ambivalent arrangement, because the piece desperately needs spectators if it is to work. Photographed on their own, most of his sculptures are of little or no interest; you think you might identify some commonplace object in them, and if you do not have any indication about their dimensions, their perfect reproduction renders them meaningless and insignificant. But if someone is photographed beside a sculpture, then everything changes: not only is the sculpture's size revealed, but above all the human figures next to or near it appear ridiculous.

The Swiftian paradigm, needless to say, has the effect of relieving viewers of their haughtiness, by depriving them of their usual mastery of the order of things. Even more, however, these arrangements push people aside, assail them, eject them outside the display area, and make them realize that there is no place for them there. Then begins the nightmare of the human being's lack of adaptation to the environment he has given rise to. Lilian Bourgeat makes no claim to re-cast a spell on the world. With Vuillemin he shares a sense of black humour, with fierce, bold strokes, and playing with an alleged ‘bad taste.' It is the absence of any art morality pinpointing conceits and at the same time having fun with the ridiculousness of amplified everyday situations. By inviting caricature into the very nub of his activity, he destabilizes the approaches to the work, causes the authority of his praxis to waver, and ushers in a philosophy of doubt. The crisis besetting dogmas, commonly admitted and shared in comfortable consensuses, here takes on a provocative, libertarian force. Through fantasy and wit, the artist affirms a refusal of alienation. And we emerge from this ordeal of our certainties… taller!
Lilian Bourgeat: other title

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