Kristian Vistrup Madsen about the exhibition
It’s happened! In March this year, science revealed to the public that microplastics have been found in human blood. In 77% of test participants, no less. There was a time when I would refrain from buying bodyscrub because those littles grains, it was said, went straight into the ocean to suffocate the fishes. A time, when people could be heard in restaurants, loudly proclaiming that they had NOT asked for that straw, for that straw, too, will go straight for the fishes that wash up on beaches all tangled, strangled by colourful plastic. Now the plastic is in our blood, visible only to scientists in laboratories. The boundary, it seems, has dissolved.
Or is it rather that everything has become a boundary? A thoroughly unromantic one-ness of all things; a murky zone of constant becoming and never arriving. A boundary can be understood as that, which separates one thing from another, and, as such, implicitly produces both those things by making it possible to distinguish them. For this notion of the boundary, the philosopher Jacques Derrida used the word parergon and named as examples: the plinth of a sculpture, the frame of a painting, the balustrade of a building. We might add to his list the rope barrier outside a club—not part of the club, per se, but also not not part of it—and that famous and deadly straw that both keeps your lips from touching the drink and delivers it straight to them. The parergon mediates the transition between figure and ground, outside and inside. It is a form, Derrida wrote, "which has traditionally been determined not by distinguishing itself, but by disappearing, obliterating itself, dissolving just as it expends its greatest energy.”
The works of Sandra Vaka and Aude Pariset could be said to have as their topic the possibility of the pure parergon. Objects made only of boundaries, which appear in the same gesture as they dissolve. Imagine the energy. Vaka’s photographs of straws are rephotographed on a screen, their surface made pixillated by liquid, reintroduced to the life of the straws. But the works are not wet; their surface has doubled, or tripled. You lose count as you start to realise that all there is, is a stack of lenses and screens and containers—nothing but mediation. Pariset’s Landfill series consists of plastic bags partially eaten by wax worms. The way in which this surface decomposes is what becomes visible as the artwork itself. Where the parergon usually enables us to point to the object, these works ask an important question about the boundary of the boundary: where is it? What is it, actually? The worms are perforating it, still it holds. In lieu of a definite answer to that question, we might say that the parergon is everything that cannot be lost in a simple way; what remains to testify to what once was, like plastic bags in landfills, or straws in the bellies of fishes.
Elsewhere in Derrida, such extraneous surfaces are designated “the erotic sheen” of things, a concept he relates to the Freudian death drive. This emphasises another aspect that joins these works together. Pariset’s Verlängerte Gefühle is a rope barrier, as you’d find it in a theatre or a night club, constructed out of condoms and seatbelts. These are materials related to protection, but also, as the title implies, to desire, consumption, fun; enjoyment pushed to its limit, or even past it. Like the wax worms, we meet this work at the perverted cross-section where a metabolic mode is also a mode of production. In Vaka’s Still Thirsty, tall glass straws that use tomb stones as plinths and double as vases for cut flowers, death’s own surface becomes another shallow reservoir for consumption. The parergon is an ornament; it is beauty and pleasure for its own sake; it is gluttony, sucking out of a hundred straws at once, or a shrill and dreadful vision of an eternal pool party. It is the absolute status quo.
All the more bizarre, then, to encounter the parergon in its present state of microplastics in our blood. Plastic—and with it, mediation, framing, artfulness as such—has become so ubiquitous as to be invisible. This summer, the first ever transparent smartphone will launch under the name Nothing. That’s it! The frame has disappeared; the parergon has triumphed. But in Vaka and Pariset’s work we see it again: a final sunset, a last drink.