Paris

Francesc Ruiz: No Words, 3 Walls, 3D Porn at Florence Loewy

Francesc Ruiz’s solo exhibition at the Florence Loewy gallery in Paris, No Words, 3 Walls, 3D Porn is an exercise in media archeology, with the central subject Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Images of Nazi book-burning campaigns combined with social anxieties concerning the increasing hegemony of media suspected of the 1950’s newest technological advancement, the television, inspired Bradbury’s 1953 novel. Bradbury presents a society in which firefighters no longer extinguish fires, but instead initiate them for all books to burn within. Fascinated by entertainment, the people living in this dystopian world consume the perpetual programming in public walls of television screens, pornographic 3D magazines, and comics. In the novel’s 1966 film adaptation, director François Truffaut doesn’t envision the pornography, but does give comics a key and disturbing role as the only official reading material of the tale’s alienated protagonist, Montag.

Francesc Ruiz. Exhibition view, No Words, 3 Walls, 3D Porn, 2016; Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Francesc Ruiz. Exhibition view, No Words, 3 Walls, 3D Porn, 2016; Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Montag’s wordless comic is an item that has been the object of study and speculation of media critics and comic scholars for decades. In creating Fahrenheit 451’s Comic, Ruiz followed the footsteps of the film’s production designer, and ultimately discovered a link between Truffaut’s production and James Bond films of the time. By mixing the visible frames of the comic in the film, strips from James Bond comics published in the 1960s, and his own drawings, Ruiz put together an eight-page broadsheet, published by Captures Éditions to coincide with the show and to be available to be read in the exhibition space.

Francesc Ruiz. FAH (8), 2016; Chinese ink and watercolor on paper; 11.8x15.7 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Francesc Ruiz. FAH (8), 2016; Chinese ink and watercolor on paper; 11.8×15.7 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

 

No Words, 3D Walls, 3d Porn takes its name from the three forms of entertainment in Bradbury’s novel and presents eight original comic panels by Ruiz and a mural that symbolically transforms one of the gallery walls into a television screen with eight vertical wall-to-wall color bars. The colors illuminate the room and evoke a now bygone time when electronic transmissions were concentrated in just one appliance. On each side of the wall Ruiz has placed five and four comic panels respectively, grouped according to their palette’s similarity to either side of the color spectrum painted on the wall. On the far left, closest to the white bar, there are two panels corresponding to what is shown in the comic from the film: somewhat abstract and monochromatic scenes that, as wordless comics specialist Jessie Bi remarked, “seem to function as a panoptical zapping” in which neither sequences or emotions are evident.

Is Montag reading these comics as one would watch the news—a decontextualized feed of “factoids,” in Bradbury’s own words—or could there be some other, indiscernible code behind the arrangement of the panels in relation to the color wall? Ruiz tests both possibilities in his own reconstruction. Some lively colored panels show recurring characters in recognizable, if only brief–sequences, while others seem to be the grouping of otherwise loose pieces from different stories. Ruiz’s use of James Bond comics is evident, with some frames clearly bringing to mind action sequences, car chases, or the plotting of menacing groups. The artist’s construction shows the versatility of the comic form with panels that, however muted, are full of action and emotion, sharply contrasting with the lethargy in the broadsheets created by Truffaut to be read by Montag. This opposition makes one wonder about how carefully crafted Truffaut’s comic must have been in order to render it both malevolent—with certain panels showing what looks like a Ku Klux Klan meeting—and yet deeply monotonous.

Francesc Ruiz. FAH (6), 2016; Chinese ink and watercolor on paper; 11.8x15.7 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Francesc Ruiz. FAH (6), 2016; Chinese ink and watercolor on paper; 11.8×15.7 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

In unearthing a possible story for this mysterious fifty year-old comic, Ruiz brings to the foreground a tired, yet still ongoing debate about the value of graphic narratives as compared to literature. Both Bradbury and Truffaut tacitly agreed on the negative potential of comics, a medium the film director—who rendered his comic wordless while Bradbury only mentions “comics” in his novel—deemed significant only as a measuring rod for established narratives in books, a medium that, in contrast, seemed unquestionably precious.

In consonance with mass society theories of their time, Bradbury and Truffaut imagined a world devoid of what they considered high culture—exclusively books—and where popular culture was just a cheap tool used by a fascist state to anesthetize the people, impose ideologies, and perpetuate its repressive regime. Although the arguments have changed, and comics are discussed and described with new attention and discourse, the medium must still fight to be recognized as an art form in its own right. Whether with or without words, the medium of comics and its many layered aesthetics, narrative implications, and contextual significations remain an open field that has just begun, with the help of artists like Francesc Ruiz, to be truly expanded.

No Words, 3 Walls, 3D Porn will be on view through December 17, 2016.

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