|PROFILE: MATHIEU MERCIER|
What connects Alexander Rodchenko to Combat® Source Kill cockroach poison? It’s not the fact that the Constructivist once dabbled in theatre designs for a 1929 Mayakovsky play called The Bedbug. Nor is it anything to do with keeping uninvited guests out of his 1925 Worker’s Club installation. What links the two is an apparently simple stack of cardboard boxes.
Combat (After Rodchenko) (2003) is sculpture
by the young French artist Mathieu Mercier. Boxes of the branded insecticide
have been stacked according to the pattern of Rodchenko’s Spatial
Construction No. 30 (1920–1). At first it all seems like a bit of a joke,
the work of some demented hardware-store employee who’s read one too many
art history books and evidently has a little too much time on his hands. Or
perhaps it’s something designed to raise a chuckle from a very limited gang
of artworld cognoscenti. The combination of Rodchenko’s utopian experiments
in the rational ordering of standard component parts with the garish
packaging of contemporary consumer goods leaves the ensemble stranded
somewhere between the supermarket checkout counter and the whitewashed
gallery wall. In that respect it’s like an Absolut vodka advertisement and,
not surprisingly, Mercier has already done one of those (it’s an Absolut
bottle turned into a lamp stand).
Indeed, Mercier takes these kinds of
stacking experiments to a whole other level. Cubes (1998) is a series of
five-sided cubes that fit one inside the other like a series of stripped
down Russian dolls. Collected together they make an attractive-looking
geometric sculpture (albeit with a cheap-looking melamine top); when
unpacked and combined with a simple telephone they create what you might
describe as the ultimate cubist office (the largest cube becomes the desk,
the smallest a pen-holder), a statement of rational order, innovative DIY
handicraft. It is a transformation that is at once magical (in its
exploration of the potentials of simple materials) and boring (in its sheer
repetition), a reflection and, to some degree, a celebration of a world in
which an environment or a lifestyle comes packaged in a box. Get enough
cubes and you can make of them what you want.
While the title of the series points viewers towards a DJ culture of samples and remixes (and, for fans of artworld references, updates Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942 - 43)), the work also connects with the kind of thing we see almost every day on the television – DIY and home improvement shows in which we are told that we can create any effect cheaply and make everything ourselves. Drum and Bass celebrates Mondrian as a bridge between art and design by chromatically cataloguing consumer objects. In doing so, Mercier reveals Mondrian’s artworks to be filing systems, and Mondrian himself to be the art world’s equivalent of a supermarket shelf-stacker. As much as it belongs in the gallery, Drum and Bass is very much a part of a world of wood laminates, plastic chandeliers, sprayed marble effects, jigsaws and MDF drawers. It’s a world in which everything, artworks, designer goods and houses included, has an equivalent in something else. And that’s why Mercier never prescribes the way his work should be seen: one man’s set of DIY shelves is another’s artistic bricolage.