(Paris.) The exhibition welcomes us with a poem by Richard Brautigan and we immediately understand, this will be another experience in literary art.
The first room then is reserved to a solo show of Hamish Fulton, which never is a bad thing. The British artist occupies the field between concrete poetry and art, all focused on his travels. On simple sheets of paper, on broken pens assembled to the silhouettes of mountains, in entire books he notes verses or just words on his impressions during a voyage, a trip, a walk in the Himalaya, American prairies or a city like Paris. An enquiry into the different ways to describe sensory impressions; to de-scribe, from Latin scribere: to write, de meaning a destruction; in the act of describing the experience itself is destroyed and whilst the memory vanishes something new materialises on paper - to provoke a new impression in the recipient. And these works document the act of moving, the possibility of changing position in the outer world, they trace and prove an existence. After the actual experience, Fulton inverts the process: in recreating the situation on paper he causes the world to move around him and the power of writing gives birth to something else in the reader's mind. Of course this characteristic gets lost where Fulton makes use of photography, as in "Touching by Hand One Hundred Rocks" (1989), presenting their numbered photos; this reminded me of another photo book, called something like "365 Days of Blue" where the photographer (no famous artist at all) assembled one ocean image per day, documenting his voyage around the world. Still I like Fulton, and all his works are free to read in the exhibition, just put on white gloves and leaf through them.
Sometimes he may appear like pilgrim circling round the Kailash and mumbling his mantras, so the curators decided to present also a real monk in the show: Chitti Kasemkitvatana does kind of the same thing, documenting his actions and whereabouts in Paris.
The other remarkable works here come from Japanese artists Shimbuku and The Play. Shimbuku follows the trend "art for all" and organised an exhibition for monkeys, deposing glass objects on the "Monkey Mountain" in Kyoto ("Gift - Exhibition for the Monkeys", 1992). We cannot be sure whether this is pure irony - offending the audience in the spirit of the 60s, with a mocking finger pointed at mediators and bestselling art shows, the genius forever misunderstood by the public - or whether he is dead serious. I like both ideas.
Bringing art to monkeys and demonstrating how fascinated they are by objects that have no use for them is a great reflection on the mysteries of art. More political is the performance "Sunrise at Mount Artsonje" (2007) about natural language connecting peoples. Shimbuku sent the sun's reflection on a fish (cooked in different styles in Japan and Korea) from a rooftop in Seoul to Korean people, in order to create an intercultural sign language... Well. In "My companion" he tells us about a stone he has carried around in his shoe unnoticed for three weeks. How he knows the exact time we do not learn. But the monkeys really are great!
Shimbuku's compatriots The Play founded their collective in 1967 and still hang on to it. "IE: Play have a House" (1972) featured them steering a wooden house (like those things built for ducks on city park lakes) down the river from Kyoto to Osaka Bay, whilst in "Wandering in the Wind" (1976) they withstood the wind, continuously marching against. Note: Resisting nature takes you nowhere, just let go and float. Bundled sunlight, the (more or less) eternal natural power stood in the focus, when the artists placed a large mirror in front of a mountain: "Clock: A shaft of Light of 70 Million Years" (1990). These works obviously are in relation to the four elements water, fire/light, air/wind and the bridge, they constructed in 1972 for Kyoto Biennale and reinstalled in the countryside afterwards, was at least a extension of earth. In 1968 The Play built an egg of 3.3x2.2 m and released it into the Pacific Ocean, supposed to reach US territory. Last thing they heard of it was a sighting by a sailboat one month later.
-> "Japan" -> "Egg (exposed to humidity)" -> Now I know your chain of associations, you dirty little bastards; but no, that film from Nagisa Oshima dates from 1976. Maybe we rather have to think Abraxas here (-> Hermann Hesse, "Demian", 1919). Or maybe it is just that kind of ideas you get after a good bottle of sake:
"Aye, let's put an egg on the sea."
"An egg. A giant one."
"Awesome. Let's do it."
Furthermore The Play seems to be interested in various religious symbols, e.g. when leading a herd of twelve sheep on a trail through the country, or when using pyramidal forms in the "Kaleidoscope" works, some of these also reminding of mandalas. Their pyramid of twelve metres height attached to Kobe Modern Art Museum in 1981 may have inspired Yeoh Ming Pei's Louvre entrance (1988).
Now it is a good thing that in the same exhibition Benoît Maire tells us his view on art critique and art history: In his video we see him approaching trees and stones with self built and completely senseless instruments that measure - well: nothing that really exists. Describing art can be absurd, just like art itself.
After all, a great exhibitions, with exhibits that are not really there. We have been warned right at the start, all of these works exist only in our imagination - you cannot really see Mount Fuji from everywhere in Japan, and not every road leads to Rome. We either find words to recreate and evoke images (Fulton), documentary material on past creations (The Play) or nothing at all: one room is reserved for James Lee Byars who willed that his art shall never be shown again after his death. Le Plateau thus put numbers on the walls according to the position of his works in a 1967 exhibition.
"Le Mont Fuji n'Existe Pas". Le Plateau, Place Hannah Arendt, 75019 Paris;
From June 7th - July 29th, 2012