“In the heart of cities, the façade of one of those office blocks in a shopping mall often appears, especially at night, as the page of a still indecipherable grimoire for which we’ve lost any closeness. The modern city keeps people more and more distanced from its functions and its authorities. Visual artist Jean-Pierre Attal empowered himself with the photographic means of reducing or trying to destroy these distances by creating an intimacy through trompe l’œil.
His work in urban spaces, in their diurnal appearance, has given a new presence to places trafficked by city crowds. Pedestrian crossings, streets, boulevards, subways and towers have undergone digital processing to become set in art. In this way these scenes now have a physicality which was lost in their banality of “non-places” as referred to by the sociologist Marc Augé. Jean-Pierre Attal claims it: “Puttin reality into perspective sets the scene for a freeze-framed of the supercharged megapolis.”
If the dimensions of these offices, these places of the service sector, remain incomprehensible, it is because the image of work itself is not iconic. By rebuilding the space of these exchanges, flattening and simulating them, the artist offers us a rhythmic transcription of this social score. As a European colorist, he digitally prolongs a tradition begun by the American photographer Ray K. Metzker whose work already resonated with the jazz improvisations of his time just as geometric abstractionism was developing in painting. In the case of our artist, we cannot refer to collage or montage which today are hackneyed terms. Instead, we prefer to evoke the idea of cloning – with the cells of salaried renegades: where power gloats over the individualization of tasks, leaving its truth only in standardized attitudes.
Jean-Pierre Attal’s mark on our time is linked to transcodings which he likes to steer starting from scenes of urban life and that we see appearing in his “elementary particles”, i.e. his images of crowds rendered in barcodes, a symbol of humanity on the road to commercialization. When a genetic DNA-model grid is added, like an extra sense, the artist further enriches our approach to his work.
As this requires a progressive unfurling, Jean-Pierre Attal uses large formats so that the observer must choreograph his own discovery of the work’s scenic space, entering into his own dialogue with this dance of static workers. The most innovative character of the work lives in this movement, in this multiplicity of interpretations. As this is already felt a frieze, the design and understanding are further enhanced on the Internet site which provides a series of horizontally or vertically moving images just like the exhibits.
In this social archaeology, Jean-Pierre Attal first of all demystifies places of power. Then, in search of “monograph of the social masses” he translates the co-existance of economic exchanges and the bodies at their service, bodies which are given an imaginary and friendly space and which find, in these “cells”, places in which to exert their singularity, if not their identity.”
Photograph and art critic
The graphical and colorimetric aesthetics of this series jumps out. One can find it pleasing or not but it’s obvious that this is a work that leaves behind the notion of concept, it’s emancipated from the domineering need of a search for meaning.
Here the photographs use perception more than concepts. The buildings are dispossessed, giving a sculptural effect. We are immersed in a new alphabet built with signs. On the frameworks or structures we can decipher an artistic language borrowed from reality.
These images represent an instant in architectural space, they offer up an inventory of the buildings, a sort of ‘buffer’ stage in the middle of construction.
The photographic object thus drifts towards an artistic alias. From empty architecture emerges “ex-nihilo” a photographic sculpture.
It was in 2000 that I started to work on a representation of urban society. I imagine the final work made up of a multitude of photos. The shots lead me to isolate several moments of the same urban scene, which by digital editing form a single large-format photographic painting.
These urban landscapes invite a double reading: from afar, a human mosaic, up close, the thousand and one details of the cells that cross it, thus approaching their unique stories. Fake or real, these compositions feature random crowds.
Observed in their daily movements, human tides flow in redundant waves and end up forming a mirage, a “mirror of alienation”. Putting reality into perspective, thus, sets the scene for a freeze-frame of the supercharged megalopolis.
This series suggests a certification, a kind of social coring of urban layers. I try to decipher reality by revealing its multiple facets and, finally, I ask myself what is the relationship between individuals and their social landscape.
These photographs show the furniture, dress codes, schedules, which rule life and identify each of the actors of this world. The towers saturated with employees evoke the frenetic activity of an anthill. Does man find himself in these labyrinths, infinite, everyday and imaginary?
Passing back and forth in front of improbable dwellings, most of them on the immediate edge of the Paris ring road, at the very heart of noise and pollution, eventually reached my consciousness. It suddenly becomes obvious to me that we must see the extent of the damage, get out of the trivialization that alienates our appreciation of reality.
It is through a paradoxical visual plastic that brings together opposing entities that I want to recall the depth of social trauma. This radical comparison parodies an advertising campaign. “Social consulting” can therefore be read like a brand, the title like an advertising catchphrase. Familiar with these codes and these plastic signs, the viewer does not perceive the shifted subject until after a time of hesitation.
Here, prosperity rubs shoulders with survival, as if some sort of economic fatality imposed it. The “structural deficit” goes from economic to social. This short-circuit of reality highlights the abyss that separates these egocentric beings from these sets testifying to a desperate human presence.