In the storefront next to Pasadena’s oldest record store, on the corner of Colorado and Hudson, a massive rock structure peers through the display window, beckoning passersby to enter.
The lustrous outcrop has the uncanny appearance of being simultaneously crystalline and metallic and magically the geodal ridge hovers effortlessly, unhampered by its own weight. How does a rock formation defy gravity and levitate without collapsing? When it is constructed from tin foil.
Magic exploits the gap between perception and reality through the manufacturing of a lie that reveals the limitations of perception itself. This is the central tension at play in Christophe Piallat’s new exhibit What Lies Inside, Stays Inside. The magic of transforming trash into flash is one of the artist’s admitted aims.
An ironic gap between appearance and reality pervades the work exhibited in What Lies Inside, Stays Inside by deploying a playful dialectics of weight and lightness. Piallat mentions Richard Serra and James Turrell as his influences and their mark can be felt thematically. Part gallery, part studio Piallat’s experimental installations use everyday items, primarily paper and LED lights, to create what he calls sculptural moments. These sculptural moments range from wooden clothing hangars draped in LED infused paper like luminous viscera from the décolleté of an invisible woman, to a glowing jelly fish whose neon tentacles embrace a mannequins body and double as her entrails. These vibrant experiments in shape and texture are lively decorations that expand on the conceptual theme of the show.
Built specifically for each unique space, Piallat’s sculptural moments are not objects to be bought but experiences to be enjoyed. This is the first notion advanced by What Lies Inside, Stays Inside: untethered from the market, Piallat’s installation invites consumer interest by staging a gallery experience, however, this is the lie that reveals the limitations of the would-be consumer’s perceptions of art because his sculptures aren’t for sale. Once the exhibit ends the sculptures are disposed or recycled.
Working against a history of sculpture valuing resilient materials that aspire toward the duration of posterity, Piallat is committed to staging the ephemeral moment. A moment, that brief portion of time, carries in it a sense of movement. Piallat intends to move us with his moments, no matter how slight. In this way, his sculptures possess momentum despite being more interested in momentary presence than momentous importance. His sculptures feign indestructability but are instead transient.
Piallat’s most successful sculptural moments are those that resemble rock formations and there is indeed a brilliance in the veracity captured in these rupestrine replicas. A skillful illusionist, Piallat’s sculptural legerdemain appears to be a massive geological structure, weighing unknown tons, durable as the planet itself. Constructed from paper and lit internally by an LED infrastructure, the folds, creases, and abrasions appear at first glance to have earned their scars through the violent erosion of eons. But this achieved effect creates a momentary experience. After the moment expires, the paper sculpture reveals itself as a playful trick that has disclosed the limits of perception. What appeared heavy and durable is in fact light and delicate. What ought to be imposing and dense is instead approachable and radiant.
There are, however, limitations to the magician’s trick for once the lie has been revealed as such, it fails to captivate a second time. Similarly, in Piallat’s sculptural moments, the artist’s glowing crags lose their luster once the artifice is recognized. This is a major difference between Piallat’s work and that of his artistic heroes. The built environments of Serra and Turrell transform space and amplify time with duration. Beyond the appearance of heaviness, Serra’s sculptures create and impose space through scale, size, and legitimate weight. Irreducible to a single light source, Turrell’s installations dissolve and negate space by limiting or augmenting light exposure. The spaces they create can be felt. Unlike Piallat’s momentary sleight of hand, Serra and Turrell’s work is undeniably momentous.
In What Lies Inside, Stays Inside Piallat wants us to find magic in the everyday and for a moment we do. But ultimately the practice of magic in Piallat’s art is a lie, albeit a playful deception. Unfortunately, like all lies, upon closer inspection, even the best magic tricks reveal themselves as paper thin. Piallat’s show is currently on view until December 1st, 2016 at 855 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena CA.
By: Mario Tofano