Vanitas of Metamodern

NK Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming show Vanitas of metamodern. The exhibition will take place in the gallery's main space in Antwerp. The opening of the group show of François Réau, Corine Borgnet and Ekaterina Panikanova and the special program will be held during Antwerp Art Weekend 2021 May, 13th – May, 16th. 

The frangible, unstable and vulnerable state of the living matter is a theme that François Réau, Corine Borgnet and Ekaterina Panikanova reconstruct in the project. They introduce a dialectical space to the viewer, opening up the discourse surrounding the most essential topics of earthly existence through the metamodern lens of contemporary artistic visual language and technologies. 

Thus, Plato said that immortal souls are enclosed in mortal bodies. A follower of Epicurean philosophy in Rome Titus Lucretius Carus in his philosophical poem ‘On the nature of things’ (‘De rerum natura’) elaborates on the topic of life and death. In his opinion, many of the ‘ulcers of deep life’ (greed, vanity, crime, sacrifice) ‘find nourishment in the horror of death’. The philosopher considered the body as the vessel of the soul, and if it is damaged, then the soul ‘all flies away and, consequently, perishes’. Lucretius, like later the French philosopher of existentialism A. Camus, investigated in his poem the image of the mythical Sisyphus, speaking of the futility of an irrepressible thirst for life. People are not able to achieve the full satisfaction of their desires, just as Sisyphus cannot establish a stone on the top of a mountain. The futile pursuit of fame, wealth, and power is as useless as the unbearable Sisyphean work. When the stone reaches the top, it will quickly rush down again. We’ll all be back at the starting point again. 

The works of François Réau are metaphorical, delicate and fragile despite their harsh graphic nature. Mellowed outlines of the mine plomb or graphite deliberately soften the firmness and solidity of malnourished branches and mirrors that reflect and bring the whole composition together. If in Dutch Vanitas ‘stilleven’ compositions of 17th century the mirror was a symbol of impermanence, brevity, vanity and a false structure that conceals the real essence of things, François reproduces the effect of camera obscura, attempting to extend the life process and its contemplation a little bit longer. Our eye examines the graceful lines of the drawing, which descend, seem ephemeral, like Dionysian streams. They remind us of transience of life: memento mori. 

Corine Borgnet prefers an unusual choice of materials: bird bones. Lifeless animals or rather their remains: they were about to enjoy the ease of being and earthly pleasures, but the viewer beholds something lifeless from their flesh. The chaotically arranged bones also go back to the emblematic Christological symbols. Everything seems to whisper ‘humana vana’: all human predilections are temporal just like the human himself. The still lifes of Corine Borgnet are filled with feeling of anticipation facing death or a prolonged pause and silence, everything is immersed in oblivion. ‘In icti oculi’ (In the blink of an eye) everything passes: beauty, wealth, fame and life itself. 1 Corinthians 15:52: ‘It will happen in a moment, In the blink of an eye, at the last trump’. 

With peculiar attention artists articulate subjects that are sacramental in their essence as did the masters of the Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish painting: they depicted a decaying flower in its final stage like life that was slipping away. One moment suddenly changes to another moment, and, so, time becomes ephemeral in the blink of an eye, and only a memory remains of the former smell and beauty.  :1,2: 

The masters work very subtly with the theme of memory: their fragile structures (sculpture, painting and installation) seizing those finals moments of life or already non-existence and its sheer beauty. The artists' works are as dual as life itself: earthly and heavenly, Cartesian and dreamy, fragile and durable. The theme of censure of human vanity and human addictions was typical for such masters of 17th century as Jan Davidsz de Heem (‘Still life with a skull, a book and roses’), Matthias Withoos (‘Vanity of vanities’), Jacob de Gheyn (‘Vanitas still life’), Pieter Claesz (‘Vanitas still life’). They literally warned the viewer of transience of human nature and unimportance of material world in allegorical baroque ‘stilleven’ compositions. 

François Réau, Corine Borgnet and Ekaterina Panikanova do not seek to give an assessment of human passions like the masters of the Golden age of Dutch painting did, they are creating an artistic cryptogram, polemicizing with the viewer in esoteric language about the transitional state of non-existence. Metamodern artists in a dialogue with the masters of the Baroque pose the question: what is eternal? Everything terrestrial will vanish. 

‘Ars longa, vita brevis’ means life is short but art is eternal. 

Yana Yankovskaya