As above, so below

It was an honour to be asked to write an essay on the sorcerous art of Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert for the exhibition catalogue of AS ABOVE SO BELOW, which opened yesterday and runs until the 30th December. The exhibition is curated by Kevin Muhlen and Emmanuel Cuisinier at the Centre des Arts in Enghien-les-Bains, France, and features the work of Bouschet and Hilbert, and Laura Mannelli. Bouschet and Hilbert continue to question the principles of structure and of power, a thread which runs through their entire oeuvre, photographic, video and pictorial. In recent works they confront the brute forces of nature with the (dys)functions of our contemporary society; ‘Cocytus defrosted’ exposes us to the thaw of the lake that once immobilised Lucifer by the ice deep in the underworld. This theme is explored in relation to their work in the piece written for the exhibition, ‘Cocytus defrosted’ (Peter Grey):

Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert follow a path of katabasis; shadow, silt, and specks of light descending into the underworld. It is a descent that is verboten in a culture of surfaces, where the bright simulacra of consumer goods has no visible cost. In stark contrast, their palette is patiently ground from a mineral subterranean strata, yet it both glitters and compels, cannot be touched, and touches our unknown interiors. There is a profound sense of gratitude for the discovery of what we thought was lost but is the ephemeral and eternal mystery couched within the earth and in the labyrinth of our own bodies.

We are enfolded in their work, and, as our eyes adjust to the darkness, we begin to inhabit a place where time, flows and awareness are initially disrupted but then assume a new coherence. The hierarchy of the senses, overstimulated by the demands of the digital — which excludes all introversion, all contemplation — return to an older order. It is in a return to a world without humans, before humans, of geological time and mythic time, that a profound healing seeps over us. The eye turns inward and the dark senses feel their way through space. Mollusc sense, spider sense, bat sense, snake sense stir and a sublime synesthesia engulfs us. But the work does not end there, we gain virus sense, root sense, rock sense, as the divisions between animate and supposedly dead matter are revealed as arbitrary mistakes of perception.

The full text can be read at Bouschet and Hilbert’s website, along with views of the installation, catalogue images, an essay by Benjamin Bianciotto, and a conversation between Laura Mannelli and Gast. Having experienced the liminality and raw sensory exposure of immersion in the spaces created by Bouschet and Hilbert through their art, we highly recommend going to the exhibition if you get the opportunity.

Peter Grey