24th January – 5th April
Isabelle Cornaro is a Paris-based artist, working with a broad range of media, with a focus on installation. The focal point of her two-part show at The South London Gallery, Paysage avec poussin, is the sixth incarnation of her installation Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires, which began life in 2008. This re-imagining of a painting by French Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin transcends the confines of painting as a medium. The identity of the painting Cornaro has appropriated has been left a mystery by the artist; it is possible that the inspiration for Cornaro’s installation is a composite of several works. When compared to Poussin’s Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake (1648), however, an uncanny resemblance becomes apparent. In addition to employing Poussin’s characteristically logical and ordered approach to composition, Cornaro offers certain clues to the origin of her piece by the inclusion of subtle structural and textural signifiers. The imposing black plinths correspond to key points of reference in terms of translating the perspective of the source painting into three dimensions, while the brass plating on selected plinths represents water. In terms of perspective, the plinths fit the exhibition space like a glove; the high ceilings evoke a feeling akin to the skies in Poussin’s work.
As we navigate our way through Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires, we encounter a series of found objects atop the plinths. The objects in question seem to have been selected for their unusual aesthetic textures, their function bears no significance here. The objects resemble that which you might find in a charity shop, but Cornaro’s process of ornamentation renders them beautiful. Her eye for curating these objects has likely been enhanced by her academic and professional background in art history. The second part of Paysage avec poussin explores the medium of film, providing us with an alternative viewpoint through which to see objects as landscape. The first of the two short films, Figures (2011), features a collection of currency, poker chips and jewellery, rigidly organised in an architectural fashion. Cornaro combines a selection of stills with moving image, shot on 16mm film and converted to digital. Her camera investigates the objects in a way the eye would not, zooming in dramatically to focus on tiny detailing. Cornaro ensures we are always aware of the camera, consolidating the fact that we are seeing reproductions rather than the objects themselves.
The title of the second short film, Premier rêve d’Oskar Fischinger (2008), is another reference to an influential figure in the field of visual culture. Noted for his work on Fritz Lang’s early science fiction film Woman in the Moon, Fischinger’s experiments in abstract cinema have informed Cornaro’s practise as a filmmaker. In comparison to Figures, the arrangement of objects here is less stiff, moving away from typographic order and toward something more fluid. The sole artistic vehicle in Figures is the carefully considered camera work; Premier rêve d’Oskar Fischinger expands on this with experimental use of light, colour and motion. When we consider the two video works alongside the installation, they are unified by the question they collectively pose: what does it mean to attribute value to an object?