Vincent Fournier’s exhibition at the Diesel Art Gallery shows a love and fascination with technology, but it is not a straightforward adoration. The French photographer combines this with an impish sense of humor and also brings a sociologist’s view to his subjects, which are portrayed with luscious precision.
Despite the relatively small space there are three projects on show; “Space Project,” “Post Natural History” and “Man Machine.” The first two could be said to have their roots in the pioneering work of Albert Renger-Patzsch, who embraced modernity through the documentation of industrial and natural forms. Fournier adds dry wit to the “straight” photography aesthetic and reminds us that nothing goes out of fashion quite like the future, and that technology can define us even though we are nominally its creators.
A photograph taken at the Russia Cosmonaut Training Center, for example, shows a pair of worn spacesuit gloves against the incongruent background of kitsch wallpaper. Another taken at the European spaceport in French Guiana is a conscious mash-up of comedy and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (it helps if you’ve also seen Jacques Tati struggling with modernity in “Mon Oncle” or “Playtime” to get this). The detail and ambiguity in these images is mesmerising.
“Post Natural History,” a bestiary of imaginary creatures such as a metal scorpion with soldering clamps for claws, worked less well for this viewer. Ultra-glossy, with restrained single-color backgrounds, the series is an amalgam of the product shot and the wunderkammer, with the aesthetic of the former taking perhaps too much precedence. Certainly, they have a strong and immediate impact; some of the images have appeared fleetingly in “The Amazing Spider-man 2,” which also hinges on the idea of species hybridity. It’s a nice in-joke, and a way for Fournier to feed back into cinematic science fiction, one of the main sources of his inspiration.
The “Man Machine” series portrays real-life robots in deadpan scenes of everyday life, most of which are in Japan. This is eerily reminiscent of anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s suggestion that Japanese society contrives toward making technology increasingly anthropomorphic, whereas in the United States the tendency is for people to become more like machines. In an interesting twist on the common sci-fi trope of mankind being killed off by robots, the “Man Machines” are surprisingly pathetic; they move slowly like elderly grandparents being careful not to fall over, while human bystanders either look on blankly or ignore them.
“Archeology Of The Future: Vincent Fournier” at Diesel Art Gallery runs till Nov. 14; open daily 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Free entry. www.diesel.co.jp/art