sébastien gouju    

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textes critiques

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A percetive game

Sebastien Gouju is adept at creating objects and installations, which invariably play with our perception of things.

For example, let’s take one of his more recent works, Papillons (2008). As the name (Butterflies) suggests, we are faced with
butterflies, pinned in orderly rows, inside entomologist’s showcases. Or at least that is what we believe when we first see the work,
while approaching from a distance. As we come closer however, we notice that in reality they are those little shavings of wood that
you get when sharpening a pencil. They have been gathered together, carefully varnished and pinned in place. Put in display cases
and hung on the wall. They are perhaps a metaphorical homage to the wings lent to the imaginations of children, who through their
use of pencils create other worlds and other realities in their drawings and writing. We too felt this promise within them. With a
simple pencil we could fly far away. Perhaps the shavings are above all an invitation to go back and start again. Sebastien Gouju’s
work seems to address the child who is hidden, sleeping within all of us. They are conceived to bring out the child in us. Their aim is
to take us back – even if only for the briefest instant - to that precise yet fleeting moment where our perception of the world was not
fixed, not prefabricated and moulded by habit and convenience.

Many of Sebastien Gouju’s works function in exactly the same manner. First they create expectation, which they gladly transform
into disappointment, which in turn rapidly becomes astonishment. Astonishment is of course a truly childlike emotion. It was also
– need I remind you – an emotion readily felt by the philosopher Aristotle (Metaphysics)

In his work Les Ballons (Balls), seen from a distance, we expect to encounter the malleability of rubber, an object with a certain
lightness. Instead, on approaching closer we find the hard surface of glass and a distinct weightiness. Another example is
Les Soldats (The Soldiers). Stuck to the floor, viewed from above, there seems to be a carpet of leaves. On closer inspection this is
revealed to be camouflage, concealing a series of soldiers. At least on the condition that we have a good look and even get down to
their level, their scale.

Another essential aspect of Sebastien Gouju’s work is his desire to influence the movement of the body. That is the reason I spoke
earlier of performance and not simply objects. His oeuvre, I believe, generally speaks directly to the body. The body is the place
where sensations are felt, where memories and protocols are preserved. This is in no way conceptual or intellectual art. On the
contrary, everything depends on intuition. Sebastien Gouju’s work subtly perturbs our expectations and our habits. One would
hardly notice. Their beauty and effectiveness lies in this discretion and this simplicity. As I mentioned earlier, they take us back to
the dawn of our first experiences, our first discoveries. Before the world became the real world, before we stopped paying attention
because we have simply been here too long.

François Coadou