A few days after my visit to Banks Violette’s exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, I stopped by Galerie Olivier Robert. In the back of the gallery I saw a yellow painting that immediately got my attention. It was just incredibly yellow and hard to overlook.
Elodie Lesourd, The Dead d (courtesy of A kills B), acrylic on MDF, 2010
I had never heard about Elodie Lesourd before so I wrote down her name in order to find out more about her work. When I finally looked up her website I was surprised to discover that she was yet another artist toying with stylistic and aesthetic elements of Black Metal. I think that settling on a subculture or musical sub-genre like Black Metal can absolutely result in interesting art work. But it depends entirely on how it is done. And that is exactly the issue with Lesourd’s work. When I described Banks Violette’s work as appropriation art I had no idea how Lesourd would actually wring every bit of validity from the concept of “appropriation.” By making a painting from a photograph that depicts Violette’s installation “Church,” Lesourd suffers from an acute case of “referentiality.” Nobody outside an already small circle of contemporary art lovers will get it. And even if you count yourself as part of this devoted inner circle, you still might not get it. Maybe there is nothing to get, right? I have heard that phrase in an awful lot of MFA critiques and artist lectures. Sometimes, when an artist feels the pressure of having to justify their work, they might decide to say nothing. Looking at Elodie Lesourd’s exhibition history, I wonder if the galleries and institutions who showed her work decided not to ask any questions and to go with the dark and mysterious look of her work instead. Do they even know what Black Metal is?
Elodie Lesourd, Vargsmal (courtesy of B. Violette), acrylic on MDF, 2007 (screenshot)
It turns out that the yellow painting that I initially liked is based on photographs taken at a performance by the two-member artist collective “A kills B.” As much as I was perplexed by Violette’s relatively lame use of source material in his Ropac show, Lesourd manages to produce something even more tedious. Her work is in dialogue with other contemporary artists and musicians (If you look at Lesourd’s website, you will discover paintings of music and band paraphernalia - and plenty of drum sets). That alone is not a point of criticism. But her lack of critical distance to her sources is.
Elodie Lesourd, Wilso/n (courtesy of R. Wilson), acrylic on MDF, 2009 (screenshot)
Several of Elodie Lesourd’s works (such as Ornament and Crime, War, Black Pointing, Vargsmal, and Riley Serie: Daudi Baldrs) reference the band Burzum and its founder Varg Vikernes who I wrote about in my previous post. Making references to Burzum via highly aestheticized paintings that do not consider his ideology in any way is a naive and convenient decision. Varg Vikernes has been involved with the Heathen Front (by writing articles for their magazine) and other similar-minded organisations although he tends to deny any such ties. His manifesto “Vargsmal” that he started writing in prison is filled with - to just name some very few - anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant rants. If you want to get a taste of Vikernes’ distorted view on the world, you should read his “essay” on Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik that he published in July of 2011.
I have been following Black Metal since the mid 1990s and the thoughtlessness going into Violette’s and Lesourd’s work on this subculture is a clear shortcoming. The fact that both artists focus on the more extreme spectrum of Black Metal and particularly Varg Vikernes, appears like a calculated provocation. But to provoke exactly what? I am not sure what that could be.
Would it hurt if both artists were to take further steps in their work and actually dare to formulate a position or at least an idea of why they are doing what they are doing? Artists who raise questions about inconvenient and underrepresented issues have been able to make strong work. One example would be Ken Gonzales-Day’s series “Erased Lynching” for which he manipulated historic images of lynchings by removing the victims.
Ken Gonzales-Day, East First Street (St. James Park), 2006
Instead, we get to endure another round of Black Metal art in shape of the exhibition “Black Thorns in the White Cube” on display in Kansas City and later in Chicago. Curated by Amelia Ishmael eight artists will demonstrate their take on this subculture:
“Engaging with the symbols, history, and myths of the Black Metal music subculture, their images explore haunted Germanic forests, descents into the void, visual translations of sonic experiences, ontologies of Black Metal band logos, and barren western landscapes.”
What about the other, darker issues of Black Metal? I guess the newer generation of artists no longer wants to get its hands dirty.