The Great Neighbour – Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost

The Great Neighbour

Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost

Curator: Maud Salembier

‘To wander along a boundary.’

This is the basic premise Mira Sanders chose for the third edition of the Wandering Arts Biennial.  

Or to balance on a boundary? 

In my opinion, Denicolai & Provoost are rather like acrobats involved in a balancing act than land surveyors. They put their finger on this limit, pointing it out, distorting it, lifting it up so that we can slip under it. They impose it on us so that it is all we can look at. They pull on it like a rubber band that, once released, slaps us in the face.

The Great Neighbour. In French, ‘le grand voisin’? Or perhaps ‘le génial voisin’? 

Perhaps the appropriate translation would be ‘le chouette voisin’. Because the duo of artists is also seeking to shift the meaning of words. She is Italian and he is Dutch-speaking, and they are in a French-speaking city and part of an artistic network that summarily juggles with English. They constantly play between translations to eviscerate language, showing its emptiness or its double meanings, its false friends, or all that it conceals of arbitrariness and all that it camouflages of artificiality. Playing is therefore an appropriate word to define their practice. They disrupt the right word, the one that comes at the right time, the witty word that they evade and strangle with a pirouette. The Great Neighbour does not escape this about-face. There are so many proverbs about neighbours, and the value of a house that owes as much to its neighbourhood as to its heritage or commercial interest.

The Great Neighbour presents both an exhibition and Maison Grégoire itself, the house which has been hosting artworks and exhibitions for almost 20 years now. The space of the venue unfolds around a central staircase that leads to the private quarters of the people who live there, Thomas and Bernard. Circulation can occur in a loop, from left to right, from right to left, endlessly if we do not tire of turning around this axis to rediscover the place, each time with a new perspective. An absurd and Beckettian labyrinth, ‘immobile moving’, both recognizable and other at each exhibition. We have been tirelessly probing the objects in the house for so many years to see if they are part of the exhibition or not, our eyes looking into every nook and cranny to try to analyse their scope and status.

At the entrance to the house, postcards show the actions repeated in the shadows by the cleaning staff of the offices and other public places. A cleaning lady knows every nook and cranny, every secret fold of the architecture. She knows it intimately, and yet is a character in her story whose name will never be mentioned in the credits. Simona Denicolai and Ivo Provoost have chosen to pay tribute to these low- or high-paid workers who work behind the scenes for our comfort. The series of postcards presented in the entrance hall as an introduction – or welcome – draw us into this parallel and unconsidered world. The one we do not know and value, although this work serves precisely to pamper what we want to highlight, what we show of our living or work space. The wooden display of the postcards echoes the table legs in the photographs, as if it rendered this reality, on the other side of the mirror, more tangible, more palpable. The hands of the employees extend into this literally materialized off-screen reality, to touch us, both literally and figuratively, and confront us with a reality that is usually invisible.

Let’s go into the living room. Everything seems to be in its place. Everything is. Only a television screen has pride of place in the hearth. The program is recurrent and there is no remote control. The video presents a film made in 2016 by Denicolai & Provoost: Dancing Mice

Has the cat left? 

No, with the stork – which opens the film in a striking way, in an act that introduces the narrative in a raw and yet incredibly consonant way – it is the only living being who will pass before the eye of a camera, let’s say intrusive but intraverted. It makes its way, step by step, into about 20 houses in the village of Taarlo that seem inhabited, but nevertheless suddenly deserted. 

The inhabitants of this village in the north of the Netherlands were not led away by a piper, they simply left on a journey for a day, and this for several generations, to meet each other and live an experience outside the places they know. The artists therefore proposed to film their interiors in their absence, and the spaces, through the editing, seem to become one, since the camera never films the outside of the buildings. A huge, infinite house is created as the images unfold. It condenses all styles, all tastes, all eras. Making its way through it without voyeurism, the eye often becomes blurred, almost modest, a polite visitor referring inexorably to images of neat domestic interiors which Dutch painting specialized in a few centuries ago. Its Piranesian volumes interpenetrate, they enter into dialogue, and seem to come alive and to form the entrails of an immense character, as we observe them. The circulation in the film echoes the circulation in the Maison Grégoire. Around an axis, it can be infinite, in a continuous loop. Another immobile journey, another lost destination, whose journey is the very end. 

A tinkered boat resting on the window ledge overlooking the street. Denicolai & Provoost had presented models of famous or unknown sailing boats that will never set sail during an exhibition in The Hague. They had collected these objects, which were usually shown to passers-by, taking care to replace them with a poster mentioning their loan to the institution hosting them. The same approach was taken during an exhibition in Bozar, Eyeliner, this time showing not only sailing boats, but also statuettes, objects, originally placed on window ledges by the inhabitants of the city of Brussels. The façades of their taste, of what they want to convey of their personality, this domestic tradition had also been the subject of an almost anthropological field survey among these exhibitors, compiled in a publication distributed to visitors to the exhibition. The boat is here made up of found, disparate elements, assemblages of scraps gleaned in the street, of which Ivo and Simona have become the ‘resuscitators’. Now a sculpture, it also raises the question of the status of waste in art history and the commercial value attached to artistic production. It offers passers-by in this exclusive district the ambiguous artefact of an object between two spheres, the receptacle of the inverted mirror of a being-in-the-world, of an appearing-in-the-world. An object usually seeking to be refined for the gazes that probe the inside of the house, an object by which to travel the world but which sits, solemn and motionless, window and reflection of a certain displayed elegance. 

More generally, the works presented by Denicolai & Provoost in The Great Neighbour find a relevant echo and mise en abyme in the Maison Grégoire, a hybrid place if ever there was one, both exhibition and living space, both public and private sphere. 

The Great Neighbour is a curatorial proposal by Maud Salembier and is part of a collaboration with Mira Sanders for the third edition of the Wandering Arts Biennial. 

The WAB wishes to thank Emmanuel Lambion for hosting the exhibition at Maison Grégoire as well as Thomas and Bernard. Thanks also to the LMNO gallery.

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