The works in Clara Couzino’s show S’évader (To Escape), which recently closed at General Hardware, walk the line between sculpture and installation. They’re made exclusively from human-made, found materials (orange cellophane, lamps, plastic knick-knacks, furniture), and are spread out between the front and back spaces of the gallery.
On a wall near the front door are a series of six photographic postcards that stand in plastic, office-style holders. Each features a bright yellow spot, representing the sun, that is projected onto a red cloth. The red cloth, pulled taught in the middle but hanging loosely on either side, plays both the role of the screen and of the proverbial crimson curtains, right before they close. A transparent glass souvenir with leaping dolphins etched inside sits beneath on a glossy surface which reflects the scene above like water. It takes a moment to realize that the pictures are not all the same: the sun in the images progress into a tangerine sunset, barely peaking above the false horizon on the final postcard. Taken together, the parts register as a cynical/sterile imitation of the familiar but compelling sentimental moment: nightfall on the beach of a tropical getaway.
Another work, in the darkened back room is comprised of a folding side table, its surface covered in a thin layer of sand. On top of that sits an outdated TV radio. The monitor plays static, emitting a white noise like sound of a crashing surf. Another decorative figurine placed in front features a dolphin sailing, buoyant, on the crest of a wave. Suspended atop the TV is a bright light over which a crumply, red piece of tissue paper has been positioned, creating another makeshift dusky scene.
Each piece, in fact, is a different manufactured tropical sunset, a reconfiguration, in some way or other, of these same components: waves, orange glow, merry dolphins, sand, horizon, and palm trees. The domestic and kitsch materials, when used to represent a faraway idyllic place and time, give off an overall sense of escapism, denial, and scraped-together attempts at happiness. The obvious reading here, and the one provided in the exhibition text, is a comment on our environmental collapse, the desire to escape its heavy reality, and the irony that such escapes from the troubles of climate change often involve creating artificial worlds or romanticizing the very environments that are under siege. The idea is strong, but it's iterations get repetitive (not much new is offered by each work), causing the show overall to feel a bit one-dimensional.
The tropical vista is surely a symbol of escape, but the sunset specifically, which is featured unanimously throughout the show, also tends, in cinema and pop culture, to symbolize a peaceful ending: a sense of cosmic closure marked by beauty and harmony, nature’s spectacular affective abilities signalling the finale of a happy story.
I’ve been thinking about endings lately, specifically as they pertain to the narrative of human civilization as we find ourselves in what, at times, feels a lot like an ending. It’s likely that people in every era have felt something like this simply because they are at the edge of recorded history and the future has been unknown, but this time this perception is justified and we have science, statistics, and journalism to back it up. Things are clearly falling apart and our planet has been irreparably damaged.
It’s also a common perspective that a story is defined by its ending. Considering this, what kind of story has been told by the experiment of human civilization and what might our own potential ending say about us? The show has made me think about endings and escapes. Is escapism in the face of a bad ending immoral or is it necessary? Would it be inhumane to deny people the comfort of their escapes? Also, might a romanticized ideal of some kind, a positive vision, be useful in generating action and change? To make the end a little less painful?
The danger of escape lies, I suppose, in an inability to extract oneself from it and see to it as such, to let it overpower instead of aid. The danger of escape, to me, is represented in the image of the childlike, drug-crazed smile of Sarah Goldfarb’s face at the end of Requiem for a Dream: Joyous, peaceful, oblivious, but ultimately tragic.
All images are from here (Couzino's website): https://claracouzino.com/S-evader
from General Hardware's own documentation which has since been removed from their site