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Art ambiguity: the Sylvie Fleury "anthology", at the Musee d'art modern et contemporain (Mamco) in the artist's hometown of Geneva through January 25, is a phantasmagorical journey through the looking glass into her astonishingly diverse body of work. Swiss News delves a little deeper.

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Sylvie Fleury is a contemporary Swiss artist with an international reputation who freely mixes sculpture with other media.

Her works are often interpreted as illustrations of humanity's, and mostly women's, obsession with the material world. Her own interpretations are much harder to pin down, however; especially when it comes to gaining some insight into the myriad components that make up this huge Mamco show, sprawling over four floors of Geneva's premier showcase for contemporary art.

Questions about the meaning or motivation behind specific works are likely to be answered in turn by questions from the artist herself, leading to the conclusion that these visually stimulating--and occasionally bewildering--objects are whatever you choose to make of them. You're on your own. In other words: have fun!

From the familiar to the fantastic

The title of the anthology, Paillettes et Dependances ou la fascination du neant, clumsily translated as 'Sequins and Dependencies or the Fascination of Oblivion', does little to unite or decode the disparate themes running through the spectacle. Featured objects range from shoes, shopping bags and other fashion-oriented paraphernalia--all vintage Fleury--to bashed-up automobiles, fluff-covered rockets and highly lacquered flying saucers.

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Fleury sees the title as "a sort of Zen-like meditation on everything and nothing, a fascination with the void, which evolved out of an introspective review of my work. Multiple meanings interest me; I like to deal with contradictions, with yin and yang."

Addressing the monumental task of mounting a show of such dimensions, she explains: "Rather than presenting my work in an orderly progression, I decided to shake it all up. I tried to treat Mamco like an organic form with many layers of connections. You can get stuck in the 'car thing' or the fluffy paintings or the shoes ... but it's only when you can extract yourself from one situation and arrive in the central staircase and stand under the suspended pendulum, that you can see the balance as a metaphor for life ..."

The central staircase, bathed in glacial neon light, serves both as the exhibition's nerve centre and a quiet space to clear your head from the bombardment of images found on each of the four floors. On each landing an injunction is spelled out in neon: 'HYDRATE, LIGHTEN, PURIFY, SOOTHE'. It sounds like so many claims in a cosmetic ad but it does have a calming effect.

Launched by luxury

Born in Geneva in 1961, Sylvie Fleury descended on the art world in 1990 when John M. Armleder and Olivier Mosset, two fellow Geneva artists, invited her to take part in a group show at the Rivolta Gallery in Lausanne. Wanting to exhibit a work that 'resembled' her, she set out a group of shopping bags from luxury stores, all containing purchases she had made herself, on the gallery floor. And that was that.

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This simple yet powerful gesture caught the attention of the art world, which began reading profound messages concerning feminism, consumerism and brand obsession into her work. When I ask her about this, she replies, "I just hate to be put in the slot of 'feminist' or 'consumerist'. I am making a statement about life. Doesn't this mean that you deal with the superficiality of life? Who doesn't?"

Shoes soon followed the shopping bags, as did perfume bottles, huge blowups of magazine covers, cosmetic packaging and other accoutrements of the image-preoccupied female. These occupy a large gallery on the third floor of the current show, where bold neon script declares: 'No more of that kind of stuff.

This refers, I suspect, to the 'stuff' displayed in numerous Plexiglas showcases: sleekly silvered boots, Ford car engines and Hermes and Gucci handbags; a bright blue feather boa; gilded trash cans and shopping cart; piles of Chanel cosmetic packages; neatly stacked hair rollers ... and shopping bags, of course.

But what is that airplane-size dragonfly piloted by a chrome-plated aviatrix all about? A quick escape from all that 'stuff'? You guess!

Shoes ... and the Dalai Lama

The closest thing to a retrospective in the show, Fleury says, is the showcase of shoes--her own private collection of those she has worn over the years--all neatly lined up on shelves in a framed showcase. "This is a reproduction of a shoe cupboard I have at home," she explains. "The frame comes from around my own bookshelves. I added the lights and the mirror, which represents the retrospective aspect." One could also read a bit of superficial introspection into this.

With that she launches into a shoe-related story: "I was approached by a group of people in San Francisco who were asking artists to create portraits of the Dalai Lama for a benefit called 'The Missing Peace'. I asked them to send me an object belonging to the Dalai Lama and a few weeks later I received a Fed Ex box containing a shoebox imprinted with the Easy Spirit brand. Inside was an old pair of shoes, with a little note that said, 'Dear Miss Fleury. Here are the shoes of the Dalai Lama, whom you asked to send you a personal object.' I thought someone was making a joke, yet whoever it was didn't know about my work involving shoes.

"I always try to find subliminal messages and so I found a way to photograph these shoes that captured the Dalai Lama's energy. He even commented on this when he saw the photograph at the show. When I read that in the press, I took it as inspiration to show my own shoes that I have worn over the past 20 years."

Down the rabbit hole

It might seem like a bit of a stretch to go from shoes and shopping bags to crumpled car bodies, rockets poised for lift-off and flying saucers, but they share the same slick quality as the objects featured in the rest of the show.

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Fleury refers to the three gleaming flying saucers, parked in a darkened space adjacent to the museum, as "my vehicles". She adds, "It's not a glamorous space; a bit like my garage."

On another floor, seven rockets, wrapped in fuzzy white fake fur or brilliantly lacquered rose, silver and shocking pink--from a 1998 show called 'First Spaceship on Venus'--are displayed in a boldly striped gallery, where 'be amazing' is spelled out in neon. "Rockets have been ongoing in my work over the years," she says. "A sort of dream trip."

About the recurring gigantic mushrooms, painted in high-gloss automobile paint (a video installation shows the process), Fleury has this to say: "They don't have a specific meaning. Some people say they have an 'Alice in Wonderland' quality; others see hallucinations or even poison. They become the platform for many thoughts."

Freedom of appropriation

Freely appropriating the work of other, more illustrious, modern and contemporary artists, Fleury has painted some rooms with the iconic stripes of Daniel Buren ('Busty Buren'), although she insists this was unintentional, or the geometrical abstracts of Victor Vasarely ('Busty Vasarely'); mounted a vertical line of mirrored metal boxes a la Donald Judd ('Eternal Wow'); and planted a neat circle of Carl Andre-1ike tiles on the floor, in a work called 'Walking on Carl Andre'.

"Just like a DJ uses songs and tempos of others to create his own music, I used references to art history to create mine," Fleury explains. One of the most successful of these is a splatter-painted ceiling reminiscent of Jackson Pollock (who did his splatter painting on the floor), under which three gilded ladders are arranged.

Next down the runway

What's Sylvie Fleury up to next? When we talked, she was finalising work for a major exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, with whom she exhibits regularly. It includes a fashion show catwalk--a smaller version of the one in the Mamco extravaganza, where models carrying 'drip paintings' a la Pollock paraded during the opening. A video of the proceedings is part of the Paris show, lasting until January 10.

"With 300 works on view here in Geneva, anything that followed had to be based on this," she says.

See for yourself

Mamco, located at 10 rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, 1205 Geneva, is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00-18:00. the first Wednesday of every month until 21:00. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00-18:00. www.mamco.ch
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Title Annotation:EXHIBITION
Author:Krienke, Mary
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:1386
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