Civilization on the Rocks: a review of Théo Mercier’s “Panorama Zéro” at Bugada & Cargnel, Paris

Théo Mercier, “Panorama Zéro” installation view , courtesy of the artist and Bugada & Cargnel

While the up-and-coming Parisian art district of Belleville is mostly populated by diminutive galleries occupying storefront spaces, Bugada & Cargnel stands out as the exception to the rule. Boasting a voluminous warehouse type space with a lofty ceiling, the gallery is well suited to show large and ambitious work, and that is precisely what they have done in their current exhibition of Théo Mercier (the artist’s first solo at the gallery).

Titled “Panorama Zéro” and consisting of photographs and a collection of faux artifacts from both the past and the present, the show struck an implicitly apocalyptic note, as if representing the salvaged treasures of some bygone civilization frozen in the future perfect tense, as if our own recuperations of the past were themselves being recuperated by some alien civilization after the fall.

“Panorama Zéro” installation view , courtesy of the artist and Bugada & Cargnel

The precarity of things is paramount; faux Grecian urns teeter over the edge of pedestals, instilling trepidation in the viewer, as if one wrong move could make the entire tableaux come crashing down (which indeed, it could).

The pedestals are mostly unconventional in shape and height, making the precariousness of their proffered objects all the more acute, suggesting not only that everything could come crashing down at the slightest nudge, but also that such a fall would surely be fatal were the unthinkable to occur.

There are also artifacts from the present sprinkled throughout the show, such as the odd tire, or the stacks of bricks which hang heavily from the rafters.

Embedded in the brick sculptures are glass shards (a tactic used in poor communities to render the tops of walls unscalable). This alludes to the act of climbing, a theme also addressed by the brightly colored climbing holds distributed about the gallery walls as if to create bouldering routes for the bold.

If one were to actually attempt to climb the artificial holds they would probably rip free from the drywall in an instant, but surely this is yet another intentional allusion to the self-endangered state of humanity in the Anthropocene era.

Images by author

If we extend the metaphor of climbing within the historical framework of deep time which Mercier has so carefully constructed, it might translate into the question of progress, and whether or not such a thing actually exists.

The rhetoric of progress runs rampant in contemporary society (most notably in the tech space, exemplified by the breathless speeches of tech CEOs extolling the wonders of their latest innovations).

Image by author

However, with global warming accelerating at an exponential rate and countless species going extinct every year, it remains to be seen whether humanity will survive to enjoy the “progress” which it has wrought, or whether “progress” itself will turn out to be our undoing.

So where then do these artworks fit into the picture of mankind’s progress?

The artist, quoted in the press release, describes his works as “time-dismantling machines,” but I would use a different verb, and call them time-compressing machines, as they encompass in their symbolic scope both the distant past and some provisional future.

Nevertheless, these are not time machines, and we are left to speculate just how the future might play out. Mercier’s Panorama Zéro functions like a double edged event horizon, beyond which what lies is anyone’s guess.

Panorama Zéro runs from February 24th, 2017 through May 20th, 2017 at Bugada & Cargnel, 7–9 rue de la Équerre, 75019 Paris