Philippe Ramette, Sept. 7-Oct. 20, 2001, at Galerie Xippas, 108 rue Vieille du Temple, Paris 75003 France.
This autumn, the Xippas Gallery held an exhibition of recent works and preparatory drawings by Philippe Ramette, a 40-year-old artist who lives and works in Paris. Since the early '90s, he has actively showed around Europe, and earlier this fall he participated in a hip group show at the Parisian department store BHV organized by artist-designer Andrée Putman.
Ramette's work has an ambiguity that to me is encapsulated by his personal dress code -- a classical grey or black suit with a tie, very austere and neutral in appearance. But the very neutrality of this costume may be experienced as a protective space of freedom, concealing the body and its language from the look and therefore from the judgment of others.
So, the world of Ramette is a humorous and poetical one, in which perfectly ordinary objects are emancipated from their usual function and given a metaphorical, conceptualist spin. For instance, one work in the exhibition, titled Coup de Foudre (which in French means both "lightning" and "love at first sight"), is an old fashioned wooden love seat (two joined seats facing opposite directions) with a lightning rod standing between them. Another work, called Fall Starting Blocks, is a steeply tilted ramp with actual foot-race starting-blocks, facing downwards as if to launch the runner right into the ground.
Ramette's designs seem to be saying something about solutions, technological and otherwise, that end up being both liberating and restricting. Praise of Laziness I features a huge helium-filled balloon harnessed to the artist's temples, presumably lightening the body weight and metaphorically relieving his thoughts but also limiting movement with its excessively large size, which would require slow and deliberate motion.
The world of Ramette is often absurd and full of melancholy. Recognizable objects with well-defined functions are made useless through inappropriate location, size or shape. Miroir Rational is a large mirror pierced with parallel rows of holes and with a wooden frame and two side handles, as if it were a giant cheese grater. The holes in fact allow viewers to glimpse behind the mirror, though it is a limited view, and the holes also make it impossible to get a faithful reflection of their image.
One of the works is a photograph taken in the bay of Hong Kong, showing the artist standing on a wooden balcony that seems to emerge horizontally from an up-ended sea. This work is one of a long-running series that Ramette has conceived as a kind of dream portrait inscribed in time.
In this work, Ramette jumbles all spatial landmarks and gravitational logic. As if at the cost of an intense and impossible effort, he extends the boundaries of physical and mental freedom and plies them to his own subjective vision. From the height of his balcony, in his formal outfit, Ramette seems to illustrate that freedom begins with the often painful, uncomfortable and disturbing questions.
We realize, however, that his position cannot be held long, that this freedom can only be fragile and fleeting if not delusory.
CORINNE BOURGEOIS KEVORKIAN is a writer living in Paris.