Exhibition at the art center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa November 26, 2017 – February 9, 2018
Between April 1986 and the present, 600,000 people have worked to make Chernobyl safe. They are known as the liquidators. Some have died, others are sick. All have been awarded a medal decorated with an irradiated drop of blood. A copy of the medal in lead, dis gured and time-worn, is one of the ways into Stéfane Perraud’s artistic project, which has been exploring the nuclear question for several years now. In one distant, transmuted sense, Stéfane Perraud is himself a liquidator, coming after the catastrophe, the sarcophagus, and the sickness to invent new forms and systems to lend the invisible radiation visible form.
The exhibition Le Sarcophage de L. en M. (près de D.) at the Galerie de Roussan, Paris, in September 2013 featured a small, remote-controlled robot for the visitor to steer through a distant dark room, part prehistoric cave, part nuclear power station, the two dark poles of mankind.
The representation of atomic energy in Stéfane Perraud’s oeuvre constantly shifts between the two poles of mythological and alchemical references and meta- and post-history, futurology, and science ction. Typical of this guiding line is the series Bleu-Gorgone (2014-2016), in which the allegory of the Medusa marks the ambivalent place of nuclear power in our society, both a great boon and a great evil. By a spectacular feat of alchemy, the gel- lled vessels in the two special reactors reproduce the blue ray associated with the eerily beautiful Cherenkov effect, theoretically only visible in nuclear reactor cooling pools. The dialectics of visible / invisible, deadly / life-giving, and past / future scale new heights in Bleu-Gorgone #2, where the reactor’s laser inscribes the depths of the vessels with the irises of viewers who become participants in an uncanny ctional ceremony that consecrates the loss of human primacy.
(In)visibility, the mutual porosity of body and energy, and the future of humanity were also themes ex- plored in Traveling iconoclaste, which plays with triggering, then curbing, the visitor’s scopic urge. The installation takes the form of a post-nuclear body devoid of organs, which vanishes whenever we seek to detail the monstrous model’s terrifying form. This is the result of Stéfane Perraud’s latest research: coming nger-close to the sign or form of the nuclear effect, imagining the irradiated, mutant, body, splintering under the bom- bardment of isotopes, playing with the materiality of materials. He uses lasers to tear through portraits of scien- tists who helped discover the atom and radiation and burns and perforates Versions d’un même, as if the pit- fall-strewn path of matter in search of itself could only reach its conclusion in the frightening succession of such scarifications. The organic jars of gels stage hospital storage facilities stockpiled with human monsters, with the single difference that nuclear sickness is always beautiful, radiant, and light- lled, like all the most deadly things. The contrast between the aesthetics of light and lethal radiation is at its most striking in the spectacular Isotope 49, in which the fragile, splintered scattering of an arc of ropes across the sky represents the worst of man’s destructive imaginings: the plutonium 239 isotope, the cornerstone of the Manhattan Project, one breath of which is enough to wipe a city from the face of the earth.
Doubtless to make the journey to the inhospitable lands of the nuclear realm a more tranquil experience, Stéfane Perraud has chosen since 2015 to turn his work as a liquidator into ction. Isotopia is a small parallel world, a hellish Utopia, based on this both workshop and exhibition zone. It has now drifted as far as Hawaii, extending an invitation to discover the Protean body of impossible matter.