Juliette Pollet

‘It doesn’t illuminate, it narrates’
Text for the exhibition ‘Hands, Spells and Papers’
La Galerie, centre d’art contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, May 18 - July 21, 2018

Juliette Pollet is a heritage curator in charge of the visual arts collection at the Centre National des Arts Plastiques (Cnap–National Centre for Visual Arts) in France, where she directed the design and decorative arts collection in 2013–2017. She would like to thank Cassandre Langlois for her research and Benedicte Godin for her meticulous rereading of this text.

“I’m simply trying to say that the use of light doesn’t stop when the ‘quantities’ are balanced and that the question isn’t settled just by taking account of a certain vague, simplistic, and user-friendly idea. Because it’s only when you’ve respectfully got to the bottom of this idea that the sophisticated techniques of light use really kick in.” (1)

Title: Scenius
Artist(s): Lae¨titia Badaut Haussmann (1980), multiples
Date: 1969–in progress
Field, category: indeterminate, other
Dimensions: variable
Mixed media

If I’d had to inventory Scenius the current rules of cataloguing would have led me to an entry as elliptical, not to say lazy, as this one. Its sole merit is that it points indirectly to the shifting substance it is trying to home in on. Let’s pick up the thread again.

In January 2016, Laetitia Badaut Haussmann turned off the fluorescent ceiling lights at La Galerie in Noisy-le-Sec. And Scenius replaced wall wash uniformity with warm islets of light. Periscopio, Patroclo, Toio, Splight, Zagar (2)—lamps by artists and designers borrowed from the Cnap collection—formed the landscape for exhibiting to the best advantage the works of the guest artists contributing to the “Your Hands in My Shoes” season.

Haussmann’s Scenius borrows its title from a neologism: Brian Eno’s combination of genius and scene. Scenius is intelligence as crucible, as collective energy, as “the communal form of the concept of the genius.” (3) The materiality of Scenius is transitory; what characterises it is what it produces—a system of relationships and reciprocities.

At her exhibition “L’influence de Neptune” [The Influence of Neptune] at the Passerelle art centre in Brest in 2015, the artist first tried out this integration/circulation system with ten lamps borrowed from the Cnap. In defiance of museological timidity they were unceremoniously installed and put to use, design items paradoxically refunctionalised by this shift into the domain of art. An interplay of reflections was set up with another Haussmann’s work, Maisons franc¸aises, une collection [French Houses: A Collection], a series based on images borrowed from vintage-style home decor magazines. Retouched, cropped and stripped of their slogans and captions, these photographed interiors became settings for possible fictions, as the exhibition generated correlations and mutual intensification between the images, sculptures, and the switched (on) lamps of Scenius.

Here at La Galerie the shifting Scenius ecosystem has been reconfigured: this time the initial work acts as an environment for the others, a benevolent backup that envelops and reveals them. The change is subtle, but its sensory consequences for the artists, the visitors and the La Galerie team are immediate. In the winter half-light the former notary’s residence that houses the art centre re-emerges from the white cube. Each encounter forms a playlet, a narrative sequence. To return to the marvellous recollections of Ettore Sottsass, light becomes “a linguistic medium for the motifs of life, be it public or private.” (4)

Once the cycle concluded, Scenius reverts to its intangible existence; and after the moment of revelation, the invitees who have briefly embodied it are restored to their individuality. The white light falling from the ceiling now seems extremely harsh to La Galerie’s occupants; so, dreaming up a period of grace with Laetitia Badaut Haussmann, they commission from her Scenius II—co-produced with the Cnap. The result is a series of lamps of two kinds: standard and portable.

As I write, the work’s various components are still just technical bits and pieces bent, welded, and shaped by the metalworker and the glassblower the artist works with (5). Scenius II looks to me like a halo of images, an amateur mood board where rings of Saturn and piercings, opalescent vases and eyelids laden with iridescent makeup, art deco jewellery and car headlights, all intermingle. The ten lamps each have their own colour variations. “A small, diverse series” would be an apt description if they were to be purely and simply catalogued as design items. This usable work, designed by an artist, overtly resists the univocal straitjacket of indexation. It brings to light a grey area of circulation of stances, forms and energies between different stake-holders: artisans, technicians, cura- tors, registrars, artists and designers. “Usage scenario” would not be a misnomer here. The strictly functional requirements of the commission, which has to be easy to handle, durable and modular, are coupled with other, more ambiguous promises.

Haussmann’s lamps take on the unpredictability of a dated typology: the folding screen. They reveal by concealing, offer temporary partitions and can be endlessly reconfigured. They call to mind the triumphs in lacquer of designer Eileen Gray and serve as screens for a host of filmic projections. The portable lamps are dotted jewel-like through the exhibition space, adorning it with their coloured glowings as they mischievously assert a role as embellishing props and propose en exquisitely superfluous luxury soon to be available on loan.

The Scenius method pursues its ripple-effect existence. Not long ago Laetitia Badaut Haussmann started her own collection of lamps, anonymous downmarket copies of top design icons that contribute to the overall project with their precise indication of where genius merges with the collective. Resorting to a related displacement strategy for her recent exhibition “Anna’s Weekend, A Setting” at Terzopiano in Lucca, Italy, she delved into the sales catalogue of lamp maker Martinelli Luce.

Scenius II, like all the works in the Cnap collection, is intended to blend into different contexts, provoking and serving other projects, other spaces, other fictions. “In reality light doesn’t illuminate: it narrates, injects meaning here and there, outlines metaphors, puts together the stage where the human comedy is acted out. And it narrates the building it’s in as well.” (6)

1. Ettore Sottsass, “Notes de voyages: sur la lumie`re”, in Terrazzo, 2 (1989), reprinted in Ettore Sottsass (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1994), 93.
2. Lamps from the Cnap collection: Corrado & Danilo Aroldi, Periscopio (1969); Gae Aulenti, Patroclo (1975/1999); Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Toio (1962); matali crasset, Splight (2005); and Sergio Carpani, Zagar (1977).
3. Brian Eno: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”
4. Ettore Sottsass, op. cit., 95.
5. Atelier Gamil, Gresillon Paris, Ribeiro et Fils, E.P.S. Industrie, Magnalucis.
6. Ettore Sottsass, ibid.