The highway is a loop. From a starting point, you always go back. The latest exhibition at Le Bal in Paris is the result of an open invitation to five artists—Sophie Calle, Julien Magre, Stéphane Couturier, Alain Bublex, Antoine d’Agata—to create stories about the road. The final result — S’il y a lieu je pars avec vous — is a testament to the amazingly diverse views that five creative artists can take on the same subject. The exhibition's curation and presentation do an excellent job showcasing how five people went off for a journey and came back with five very different tales to tell.
The opening room is dedicated to Alain Bublex, an automobile industrial designer turned photographer. His images are deceptively simple. What appear to be banal shots of empty highway are in fact an uncanny mixture of documentary photography and digital manipulation. While the natural objects in his pictures—trees, hills, sky—are left untouched, he renders the highways, bridges and gas stations as if they were computer generated. The result, shown in very large format, immediately introduce the viewer to the strangeness that Le Bal's route will follow.
Downstairs, the four remaining artists push at different aspects of car travel, of road trips. The work of Stéphane Couturier transforms the continuous experience of highway driving into 31 distinct slivers or moments of consciousness. From a distance, the composite image seems to present a single landscape, but on closer inspection, the unity disperses into 31 completely disparate locations — all along one of France's most traveled highways. Through their fragmentation, Couturier's still images convey our paradoxical experience of travel: one trip, composed of many different moments.
Sophie Calle examines the loneliness and boredom of long car rides through a lighthearted, conceptual approach: she took control (literally) of a highway tollbooth and was given control of electronic highway signs to deliver her clever, cryptic messages to the travelers speeding past the signs. The results are alternately amusing, voyeuristic and surreal.
Antoine D'Agata, famous for his intense, intimate (even graphic) portraits of people was challenged to shoot landscapes. D'Agata accepted the challenge but nevertheless gave it his own twist—underneath each landscape, he includes pictures of people and short texts. Thus, in D'Agata's work, the sprawling emptiness of the road and the highway countryside becomes imbued with the endless storytelling potential of journeys.
Finally, (and our personal highlight) was Julien Magre's cinematic photo narrative. His series is presented as a sequence of images in a waist-high lightbox. There is no text but from the beginning, it is clear that a mother and daughter are setting off on a trip together. Over the course of their trip, strange things begin to happen, eventually culminating in a shocking ending. Dark, beautiful and unsettling, Magre's elliptical storytelling and haunting images will stick with you long after you've left them behind.
Le Bal, as usual, puts on an excellent and thought-provoking show. Highly recommended and an encouraging example of the ever-diverse, endlessly rich possibilities of the medium of photography.
—Jim Casper, Alexander Strecker
Editor's Note: The exhibition S'il y a Lieu, Je Pars Avec Vous was made possible by generous support from VINCI. The exhibition will be showing until October 26, 2014.