Edouard Baribeaud. The Hour of the Gods

17 Sep 2015 – 7 Nov 2015

Berlin, Germany


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Edouard Baribeaud collapses real­ity and imag­ina­tion onto each other in his work, cre­at­ing scenes that, though static, appear as if, with the gen­tlest prod, they might ani­mate and carry forth a vibrant, fantas­tical narra­tive.


Mon­keys, trop­ical birds, and trees tumble through the air. A grand stage curtain is with­drawn to reveal the erup­tion of a catas­troph­ically large volcano. A masked man, part hero, part shaman, dances across an imag­ined stage. Papers fly from a sin­gle ocean-bound turret caught in the midst of a tempest.

In The Hour of the Gods, Baribeaud’s sec­ond solo exhi­bi­tion with Galerie Judin, the French-Ger­man artist pre­sents a new se­ries of work, all cre­ated in 2015. The title of the show refers to the twi­light hour of day known in India as “godhuli bela” (lit­er­ally trans­lated: “the time of cow dust”)—when dust rises from the hooves of cat­tle return­ing to their village at sun­set. As the evening shad­ows begin to lengthen, people and ani­mals all head back to their homes to rest. It is the sacred time when Lord Krishna brought his own cat­tle safely home. The exhib­ited water­col­ors and paint­ings were inspired by a trip to India that Baribeaud under­took in Novem­ber and Decem­ber of 2014, as part of an ongo­ing film project.

Taken par­tic­u­larly by the tra­di­tion of Indian minia­ture paint­ing, Baribeaud began to appro­pri­ate ele­ments and the style within the draw­ings and paint­ings now on view at the gallery. Com­po­si­tional ele­ments such as the red frame that bor­ders Le déclin and The Fall but also The Mouth of the Cow hint at this gen­e­sis point for the works as does the graphic nature of the veg­eta­tion pre­sent through­out the works on view. Par­tic­u­larly in Popol Vuh’s Gar­den and La fuite du sauvage plant life is ren­dered in a manner redo­lent of tex­tile pat­tern­ing or woodblock print­ing, both tying the work to its art histor­ical basis in the Indian tra­di­tion and sug­gest­ing that, though rep­re­senta­tional, real­ism remains an arm’s-length con­cern in the works—much closer are myth and para­ble.

Cen­trally at stake within The Hour of the Gods is a con­tem­po­rary reassess­ment of Ori­ental­ism, the 19th century art histor­ical moment, which saw academies across Europe cast their gaze on the Mid­dle East, and was later solid­i­fied into the­o­ret­ical dis­course by Edward Said’s 1978 book of the same name, which took up the reduc­tive (and to a great degree imag­ined) nature of those paint­ings and other rep­re­senta­tions of the East by the West as a means of assert­ing a per­cep­tion of West­ern soci­ety’s supe­r­i­or­ity over the Eastern Other. Baribeaud, who in a pre­vi­ous se­ries Hic sunt leones (2011/2012) explored notions of home par­tic­u­larly with regard to his dual her­itage, took to the Ori­ental­ist tra­di­tion to exam­ine to what extent his pre­con­ceived notions of the East and India in par­tic­u­lar might influ­ence the way in which he would rep­re­sent ele­ments encountered on his jour­ney.

The exhi­bi­tion marks two major devel­op­ments in Baribeaud’s practice, debut­ing both his first se­ries of paint­ings on canvas and his first major installa­tion. The paint­ings hold stead­fast to the artist’s roots as an illus­trator and print maker, hav­ing stud­ied at Paris’s pres­ti­gious École nationale supérieure des Arts Décorat­ifs. Accustomed to cre­at­ing large-scale works in gouache on paper, Baribeaud turned to the ancient and technically chal­leng­ing medium of egg tempera for his canvas-based works. Largely out­moded since the inven­tion of oil paint in the 16th century, the technique gives a flat­ness to the image surface and leaves the works devoid of oil paint­ing’s weighty mate­r­i­al­ity. It also allows Baribeaud to approach paint­ing with the same image-making logic he honed in etch­ing, silk screen, and lithog­ra­phy—notably, oppo­site from that typ­ically used by oil painters—which sees him start from the light­est ele­ment in the works (always the inher­ent color of the paper or canvas) and work progres­sively darker.

For The Devine Wrath, the space-fill­ing installa­tion at the centre of this exhi­bi­tion, Baribeaud invites the viewer to enter one of his imag­ined scenes. The volcano motif from Empedocles at Mount Semuru is recre­ated within the space using a se­ries of cut-out struc­tures, which pro­vide the rudi­mentary approx­ima­tion of per­spec­tive most often seen in a bud­get the­ater set. Whereas the artist’s two-dimen­sional work remains static, this space is acti­vated by each indi­vid­ual who passes through, becom­ing a tem­po­rary char­ac­ter in the life-scale set.

The installa­tion’s ref­er­ence to the the­ater exposes fur­ther ele­ments of Baribeaud’s works on paper and paint­ings. Take Kathputli’s Dream, for the most explicit instance of this theme, cour­tesy of a pup­pet the­ater placed within a thick, dream-like for­est. The piece ref­er­ences Baribeaud’s con­tin­ued inter­est in the tra­di­tion of Kathputli mar­i­onette pup­petry in the Indian sub-con­ti­nent, what is also the sub­ject of his forth­coming film.

Exam­in­ing Baribeaud’s pup­pet the­ater more closely, the viewer begins to identify ele­ments of rep­re­senta­tion within it—and for that mat­ter, The Devine Wrath—from the artist’s other works on view. Gnossi­ennes reveals itself as an elab­o­rate set, a masked man enter­ing stage left while a vagabond exits stage right. The res­i­den­tial struc­ture in the dis­tance of The Mouth of the Cow and Day after Day appears, on closer inspec­tion, to be a shoddily con­structed set piece or hand-ren­dered the­ater backdrop. Through­out the works on view, ver­tical ele­ments reveal them­selves to be as if cardboard approx­ima­tions of the real thing.

For Baribeaud, the Indian pup­pet the­ater is much more than a mere aes­thetic device. The thou­sand-year-old tra­di­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by its place within Rajasthani cul­ture as both a means of entertain­ment, but more importantly as a conduit for edu­ca­tion and social com­mentary. Baribeaud pulls from a wealth of cultural bases for the “the­aters” in the works on view. The story of Hindu god Hanuman lift­ing a Himalayan mountain to bring a life-giv­ing herb to a wounded Lakshmana is rep­re­sented by the toppling trees and tumbling mon­keys of Hanuman and The Lift­ing of the Sacred Mountain. Icarus’s fall into the sea from his waxen char­iot is rep­re­sented in Le Déclin and The Fall—his plunge sus­pended as if by a stage rope with feath­ers float­ing past the fourth wall and out of view. A band of Djinn, supernat­u­ral crea­tures of Muslim mythol­ogy, skulk forward into view in the Victor Hugo inspired ’Tis the Djinns’ wild stream­ing swarm.

Other recurring fig­ures in the works on view, such as the tri­an­gu­lar-masked man that crops up numer­ous times in The Hour of the Gods are less explicit in their identity. To the unini­tiated viewer, he might be a spirit, a knight, a ban­dit, or indeed a man in cos­tume. Many of the fig­ures, and indeed much of the se­ries as a whole, were ini­tially inspired by Jean Philippe Rameau’s 1735 bal­let héroïque “Les Indes galantes”, in par­tic­u­lar the bal­let’s final act “Les sauvages” (The Sav­ages), a touch­stone moment in the Ori­ental­ist tra­di­tion.

Equal parts tumult, fantasy, and wit, Baribeaud’s works enliven their viewer, offer­ing an escape from day to day con­cerns and a tableau on which to unfold more sub­li­mated sec­tions of the mind.

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Exhibiting artists

Edouard Baribeaud


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