If Jean-Luc Moulène’s “Opus”—an ongoing conglomeration of images and objects the Paris-based artist has produced since 1995—constitutes a body of work, it is also what his fellow Frenchman Antonin Artaud once termed a “body without organs.” In his notorious 1947 radio play To Have Done with the Judgment of God, Artaud evoked the body without organs as a figure released from “automatic reactions.” As the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari later proposed, Artaud did not have anything against lungs and kidneys per se; rather, he challenged their apparently god-like organization into fixed hierarchical systems. While many of his works resemble body parts (pelvises, skulls, and aortas come to mind), Moulène, who was exposed to thinkers like Artaud, Deleuze and Guattari at the Sorbonne in the mid-1970s and later took up a position as an artistic consultant at a manufacturer of military equipment, is attuned to processes of organization that undergird these corporeal resonances.
In “Torture Concrete,” Moulène’s first solo exhibition in New York City, selections of objects, photographs and drawings from “Opus” were on view at both of the gallery’s locations. Rather than adhering to a received order based on medium, the various elements of “Opus” were engaged in subtle yet constant conversation. Two knots of blown magenta and turquoise glass rested on a table as a strikingly sparse and apparently lonely installation. Evoking models of vascular clusters, where blue and red tones indicate the coming and going of blood, these elegant objects, made in 2012, echoed other pieces on view. A duo of blue and red felt pen drawings from 2013 based on the Möbius strip, for instance, picked up the thread through a different process. Like the interlocking forms of his glass knots, which seem to endlessly evade the distinction between inside and outside, Moulène’s attempted transcriptions of infinity similarly point to his broader concern with the limits of representation.
The knot is a primary motif for Moulène, and knot-making is an integral part of his process, serving to reorganize the power dynamic between author and artwork. For his bronze “Noeud” series (2010-12), Moulène generated a number of objects reminiscent of hipbones by pulling on sharp wire knots embedded in blocks of clay and casting the petal-shaped voids left behind. While he chose the complexity of a given knot from a chart of “knot-theory” diagrams, Moulène could not predict the end results, which were determined by the internal structure of the wire knot and the force it exerted on the clay. Moulène further diminished his own authorship by allowing varying processes of oxidation to determine the final appearance of each piece. The patinas on these objects range from bright blue to near black.
In the Western tradition, the head is privileged: it is both of and above the body. Moulène’s “Tronches” series amusingly restructures this hierarchy into a sequence of bloated concrete heads cast from Halloween masks. Floor-bound, the procession of heads deflates the vertical identity of the Homo sapiens. This inversion mirrors Mouène’s decision to turn the store-bought masks inside out to form the heads and to bring packing blankets out of gallery storage to display them—linking possible reorganizations of the body within the larger economic “circulatory system” in which the gallery is embedded.