The varied drawings, videos, objects, and site-specific installations that comprise Pascale Marthine Tayou’s expansive practice are threaded together by his mysteriously dreamy perspective. As he engages with what it means to be human on a personal, local, and global scale, Tayou’s perspective is always informed by his origins in Cameroon and his path as an African moving through the world. He often connects seemingly paradoxical ideas in a way that reveals universal simplicity. While the content and scope of his work shifts between Europe and Africa, past and current, man-made and natural, Tayou’s work is grounded by a deep engagement with his immediate environment.
To say that Tayou’s work is dreamy is not to say his vision is uncomplicated. His use of colour, for example, is as political as it is bright. “Colour is like a letter in an alphabet,” he writes. “Letters are forms used to write languages. Colours are tools to make things talk.” In Coloured stones (Pavés colorés) (2015), a seemingly unorganised pile of painted paving stones, the colour of each stone calls attention to its unique path through the world and is also a warning of its radical potential to build or hurt. In Plastic Tree (ongoing), Tayou also uses brightly coloured bags to remind us of the effects of our perpetual waste and imbalanced relationship with nature. Each of these works use the levity implied by their energetic colours to lure viewers into engaging with the weight of their actions.
“What does culture mean? What does it mean to be human? Of course I have my own answer. It is something universal.”
– Pascale Marthine Tayou
The artist’s choice of materials also speaks to how he draws from his surroundings to create new meanings. Tayou allows his thoughts to float between reality and imagination, attempting to rearrange his lived experience into new, poetic arrangements. This fluid association between object and experience is exemplified by Coton Tige (2015), which reinvents a typical cotton swab as a suspended, cloud-like sculpture. While the luminosity and weightlessness of the cotton evoke softness and whimsy, 120 piercing stakes confront the viewer with a harsh violence – speaking to how the two are inextricably tied.
Tayou’s appropriation of objects, materials, and ideas points to their role as “witnesses of history… of their time.” His Poupées Pascale series, for example, is comprised of ritualistic objects fashioned after the totemic sculptures of his ancestors, except wood, nails, and blood are replaced by contemporary materials such as glass, plastic, and beads. Through creating these objects, Tayou describes a kind of pleasure in exploring the borders of our identities, shared across cultures and time: “The pleasure of doing so opens the way towards the construction of contemporary fetishism.”
In wrestling with questions about who we are and how we connect as humans, Tayou brings order to the often dirty chaos of existence. Through his experimental approach to materials, colour, and composition, he visualises the ways in which certain experiences or ideas can twist in on themselves to reveal a simpler understanding.
An article by Rachell Marie Morillo
Featured image : Pascale Marthine Tayou, Poupée Pascale Series, 2016. Crystal, mixed media, 70 cm. Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA. Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper. [French version inside]
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