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Raphaël Zarka | Three uses of the knife

Raphaël Zarka collects sculptural forms. His ongoing series, Les Formes du Repos (Resting forms), begun in 2001, consists of photographs of remnants of human enterprise littering the landscape: a stretch of unfinished monorail, a concrete breakwater, a lone pylon. Zarka captures the sculptural possibilities of these forms as images, such that the abandoned, the disused, and the forgotten become sites of potential, with a lexicon of formal associations that runs from Plato to modernism to postminimalist sculpture. Moving beyond the strategies associated with archives and appropriation, which have come to characterize contemporary art production in recent years, Zarka’s project reinvests cultural remnants of the past with both functional and aesthetic promise.

Zarka sees himself as an essayist as well as an artist and collector. Robert Smithson is one of his heroes, less for the formal manifestations of his work than for his writing and his mining of an eclectic range of kinds of cultural production. The critic Hal Foster observed, in his text on “the archival impulse,” that the retrieval of preexisting visual sources, be they photographic, filmic, or text-based, is carried out by artists “in a gesture of alternative knowledge.” This observation is echoed to a certain extent in a statement by Zarka: “I never try to present reality as it is. On the contrary, I’m stressing the fact that we can only ever see the world from our own particular cultural viewpoint.”

In his visual ecology of reinvestment and reuse, Zarka not only creates a space of physical and temporal layering with assured elegance, but he propels us into dimensions of discovery and, for those of us used to considering our art from a position of polite critical scrutiny, some vicarious thrill-seeking. Old terrain, seemingly left for dead, suddenly becomes new again.

Text by Suzanne Cotter

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