Shotgun Reviews

Ludovic Duchâteau: In Dreamland at A Stark Project

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Noah Sudarsky reviews Ludovic Duchâteau: In Dreamland at A Stark Project in Berkeley.

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Ludovic Duchateau. In Dreamland, 2016; installation view, A Stark Project, Berkeley. Courtesy of the Artist and A Stark Project. Photo: Hillary Goidell.

French sculptor Ludovic Duchâteau’s first solo show in the U.S., In Dreamland at Berkeley’s A Stark Project, is a polished articulation of his dystopian obsessions, which previously found homes in miniature scenes of domestic life cleverly ensconced inside otherwise ordinary-seeming briefcases and among tentacular silicon sculptures engineered with e-waste. Originally a game programmer, Duchâteau abandoned digital media at the height of the first internet bubble in favor of working with a broader variety of materials [1]. The result is particularly striking, evidenced by the ominous installation, In Dreamland.

In the life-size installation featuring epoxy resin and aluminum wire (among other materials), a boy inside a black tarp has fallen asleep reading a famous graphic novel, Akira (set in “Neo-Tokyo” in the aftermath of World War III). The science-fiction titles that are scattered around his makeshift campsite complete the post-apocalyptic literary symbolism. Next to the boy, a cryptic life form emerges from the tent, its gigantic tendrils scouting the empty terrain; this massive, encroaching root system may be a projection of the sleeping boy’s imagination, or perhaps it is all too real—a slithering alien creature seeking to occupy an already ravaged world and replace the frail remnants of a depleted humanity. Either way, viewers are confronted with a heart-stopping scene that belies the pacifying title of the work.

The nightmarish quality of the horrifying habitat is transfixing, in the subliminally deranging manner of a bad accident that is glimpsed, then gone, leaving only a sentiment of cognitive dissonance and a disquieting aftertaste. The blackened radio flyer wagon that lingers at the periphery of the installation adds to the dread. In this sprawling, lifelike piece, Duchâteau reverses the usual dynamic of his smaller, more fastidious works, in which the blissful veneer of domesticity only hints at macabre truths coursing beneath the surface. Here, the unnerving effect of a mutated appendage snaking stealthily out of the boy’s exposed redoubt is the first thing viewers see. But closer examination reveals the relaxed position of the sleeping child, and the possibility that we are, in fact, worlds removed from an apocalyptic reality, inhabiting nothing more than a sinuous, ensnaring dreamland.

Ludovic Duchâteau: In Dreamland is on view through January 15, 2017.

Noah Sudarsky is the Project Manager at the Center for Environmental Structure in Berkeley. His art coverage has been featured in New York Press, the Village Voice, New York Magazine, Whitewall Magazine of Contemporary Art, and The Onion.

[1] Conversation with the artist.

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