Welcome to the digital tour of As Handsome as the Chance Encounter. The exhibition borrowed its narrative from the poem Les Chants de Maldoror, written by the Comte de Lautréamont in 1869. Each work on display refers to a stanza of the poem’s last canto.
Maldoror hunts Mervyn like prey // Mansour Martin
The sixth canto starts when Maldoror returns to Paris. As he continues his killing spree, he is on the lookout for his next victim. He spots Mervyn at the angle of Rue Colbert and Rue Vivienne and follows him up to the doorstep of his parents’ house. Mervyn is suddenly beset by obsessive fear.
Mansour Martin’s ‘Fetish Tailoring’ from the Galactica collection (Fall-Winter 2020) alludes to the sexual attraction of Maldoror for Mervyn. In keeping with fashion designers who have used fetish wear as an inspiration, like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, Mansour Martin conceived a fetish suit indebted to 1970s eroticism. The slits in the woollen jacket and trousers invite lusty glimpses at body parts. This suit was made in France with British dark navy wool.
Mervyn collapses at home // Jara Marken
Mervyn goes through the gate, walks the courtyard, climbs the eight steps to the entrance door, goes to a living room ornamented with carnelian panelling, and throws himself on a sofa. He is so upset he cannot speak, overwhelmed, as if corrupted by evil.
Jara Marken’s work has playful, child-like, and naive dimensions that are reminiscent of Mervyn. Besides, the misunderstanding surrounding Lautréamont’s famous quote, which compares Mervyn with object (an umbrella and a sewing machine), finds a chance echo in Jara Marken’s plaster sculptures as they straddle the line between inanimate objects and objects with human-like qualities. Her sculptures may be called ‘handsome.’
Maldoror sends an anonymous love letter to Mervyn // Proêmes de Paris
‘Three stars instead of a signature, exclaims Mervyn; and a blood stain at the bottom of the page!’ (Les Chants de Maldoror). Maldoror sends an anonymous love letter to Mervyn and lures him to a secret meeting in the early hours of the third day.
French poetry has been one of the most consistent sources of inspiration for Proêmes de Paris, including Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire. Both poets were inspired by Lautréamont. The dress on display in the exhibition is part of the ‘From Darkness to Light’ collection (Fall-Winter 2018), which drew inspiration on Voltaire’s ‘The Worldling’ (1736).
Voltaire’s poem is a piece of humour praising luxury and the pleasures of Parisian society. It echoes the description of the sumptuous home of Mervyn’s parents, and the luxury of Mervyn’s clothing.
Maldoror braces himself for the encounter with Mervyn // Clinique Vestimentaire
Maldoror compares himself to human anatomy: ‘…and I find myself handsome! Handsome as the defect of congenital conformation of the male sexual organs, consisting in the relative brevity of the urethral canal and the division or absence of its lower wall, so that the canal opens at a distance variable from the glans and below the penis…’, Les Chants de Maldoror.
In an involuntary nod to Maldoror’s comparison of Mervyn, Clinique Vestimentaire uses the visual repertoire of dissection, with dissection tables, scalpels, and other surgical tools – like her ‘Greffe vestimentaire BOUCLIER’ (sartorial graft SHIELD, 2019). Its designs are indebted to the ways in which muscles are attached to the human skeleton, using strings as sinews.
Maldoror recruits a madman as an accomplice // Steffen André Nilsen
After spending the day with a madman, treating him to luxury clothes and an exquisite dinner, Maldoror forces him to accept his money. He seizes the chamber pot from underneath the bed and puts it on the head of the madman: ‘I crown you king of intelligences, he exclaims with a premeditated grandiloquence,’ Les Chants de Maldoror.
Artist Steffen André Nilsen creates crowns in ceramic (2019), which are an outer body expression of an individual’s identity and past. This accounts for the crowns’ diverse colors and shapes. Like Aristoteles, Nilsen sees mind and body as two separate entities. In an unexpected twist though, he associates the body with power, wealth, eternity, and identity.
The creator sends an archangel disguised as a crab to stop Maldoror, but he kills the crab // Grégoire Motte
The ocean and its inhabitants are central to Les Chants de Maldoror. When Lautréamont wrote his poem in 1869, the ocean was the only natural force that humans had not tamed.
150 years later, not only have the seas been explored and measured, but they are also ridden with plastic debris. The association of plastic waste and shellfish may once have been bizarre. Today it has sadly become a common sight on terrestrial shores. Grégoire Motte instigates yet another encounter between plastic and a creature of the sea. His humorous sculptures challenge the multitude of the fountains that punctuate the Roman landscape.
Maldoror and Mervyn meet on the carousel bridge // Pia Antonsen Rognes
Maldoror and Mervyn meet on the Carrousel Bridge. Maldoror throws Mervyn into a canvas bag, and repeatedly hits the bag on the parapet. Eventually, Maldoror gives the bag and its injured content to a passing butcher, pretending that Mervyn is a scabies dog, and asks the butcher to put Mervyn down. Arriving at an isolated slaughterhouse in the north of Paris, the butcher and three of his colleagues are about to finish the dirty work, when one of them raises concerns about the content of the bag. They open the bag, only to find a bloodied, mangled Mervyn. The butchers run away. Mervyn goes back home.
Artist Pia Antonsen Rognes creates a mess of textile, latex, and synthetic hair, which reeks of death. There are no bones or muscles here, but rather undigested, spat-out body parts. While typically interpreted as examining the themes of inner conflict and self-destructive behavior, one cannot avoid reading Rognes’s piece here as Maldoror’s destruction of Mervyn. The contorted shape alludes to Mervyn’s broken body after Maldoror had his way with him. Black intestines are as dark as Lautréamont’s text.
Maldoror and the madman kill Mervyn // Coralie Marabelle
The madman pushes Mervyn, whose hands are tied behind his back, to the Place Vendôme. He ties a rope around Mervyn’s feet. The end of the rope is in Maldoror’s hands, who stands atop the Vendôme column. Maldoror pulls the rope. Mervyn hangs upside down. Maldoror starts to spin Mervyn around the column, gathering speed and gaining force with every rotation. Finally, Maldoror lets go of the rope. Mervyn flies across Paris and crashes on the dome of the Panthéon, where his skeleton still lays.
Twice yearly during the sales, Coralie Marabelle piles up used, donated clothes in the shop windows of her Parisian boutique. Giant Dress no.1 is made from discarded shirts in pastel colors. Sewn together from shirt fragments, it mirrors Mervyn’s broken body on the dome of the Panthéon. This ‘Frankenstein dress’ is as wide as it is disproportionate, with sleeves that touch the floor. It is almost as if the centrifugal force that catapulted Mervyn across Paris had pulled this shirt out of shape.