Contemporary art treat of the day

Nicole Esterolle unearths nuggets of contemporary art. Enough to make the old masters tremble… Today, the “Cowboy” by Thomas Teurlai.


What is this terrifying thing?

It is a very beautifully crafted work whose existence I discovered in the press kit of an exhibition by the artist Thomas Teurlai at SHED, Center d’Art Contemporain de Normandie (mecca of posturo-bidulo -hexagonal artistic-conceptualism).

At first glance we think that it is a household utensil like a vacuum cleaner – or a broom, since we can see floor sweepings at the end of the metal arm. But this work remains open to all possible speculations.

Is it a Jerusalem artichoke peeler or Boris Vian’s famous potato cannon? A pump for Shadocks? A machine to jerk off the pineal gland? A ketchup machine gun like Vladimir Putin and Jean-Luc Mélenchon would like to have? Is this Mathilde Panot’s bedbug-killing robot? Or is it just some random thing, totally moronic and mindless, without any bad thoughts and devoid of any nauseating ideology?

Also read (from April): Contemporary art treat of the day

I was leaning towards the last hypothesis of the resolutely insignificant thing, despite its threatening aspect, until I learned, in an article by Élisabeth Franck-Dumas in Release (09/20/2015), that the work is entitled “Cowboy”, that it was exhibited at the financial- international gallery Loevenbruck and that it is “a sort of gas, or rather smoke, factory, also very low-tech, where a mound of tobacco, a metal slide and a plastic bottle are activated to reproduce the smoker’s inhalation/exhalation. We don’t know if the machine also takes care of pleasure.”

My God, my God! So this device would have no other purpose than to produce puffs of nicotine smoke! My bronchioles are completely blocked.

“To escape from a bondage born from the cult of growth”

And, to prolong my suffocation, I discovered this text published in the journal the French Association of Exhibition Curators, signed by the critic and vice-president of the said association, Marianne Derrien (05/15/2022). His prose reveals to us the powerfully metaphorical dimension of this piston object and the relevance of its anti-capitalist message: “In a world divided between capital and labor, we must press where it hurts to escape from a servitude born of productivism and the cult of growth. Since the steam engine, humans, who have become tools, have been a link among the others. Marxist feminist theorist and activist Silvia Federici [vous connaissez ?] believes, for her part, that the first machine “developed by capitalism” was “the human body, and not the steam engine or even the clock”. This, converted into labor force, would imply the death of the magical body. If Taylorism saw the birth of the automation of bodies – and therefore of desires, Thomas Teurlai pushes the cursor much further: not into the absurd but into a clairvoyance which turns the concept of the man-machine on its head in order to extract this “peasant, pre-industrial, magical body” … But yes ! But of course it is ! How had I not thought of that?

Also read: Printing, landscapes

And Marianne sends us this other nicotine puff of delusional anti-capitalism: On the borders of anthropomorphic visions, these temporal machines, through their interventions, weave a multitude of stories which become stratified. In them, circuits are established which make it possible to test psycho-kinetic situations, often intoxicating, which indulge in mechanical and luminous epilepsies whose machinic magnetism, both joyful and dark, combines with the waves and frequencies, conductive energies and organic rhythms. Agreuh! Agreuh! Pass me my Ventolin!​

And this is how, through the medium of a machine for pumping out nothing, “anti-capitalist art” becomes the useful idiot of big capital.

Thomas Teurlai’s exhibition, “Another end of the world is possible”, can be seen, or not, at SHED, until July 14.

SHED – Gresland site, 12 rue de l’abbaye, Notre-Dame de Bondeville

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