Philippe Durand

Pascal Beausse, Drifting (EN)

There is a Philippe Durand method. One which is not at all systematic, much less scientific, because it comes from an artist who is examining contemporary realities in an empirical way through photographic representation at the very moment of its obsolescence. During the 1990s, he scoured cities and urbanised areas, with a few forays into the countryside. From Barcelona, Champclause, Paris and Los Angeles to Brussels, Odessa, Cahors and Nice, he collected minimal indicators: traces of vernacular culture resisting the trivialisation of urban planning, archaic survivals infiltrating the symbols of modernity, signs of the individual’s appropriation of the city. In order to produce dialectical images, where the past would be crystallised in the present by conflating the signs of heterogeneous time frames. He thus arrived at portraits of cities which owe as much to Walter Benjamin’s Urban Landscapes as they do to the psycho-geographic analyses of Ralph Rumney. His attitude corresponds to the hybrid positions of an ethnographer observing the contemporary industrial world, a traveller exploring the space of postmodernity or a tourist whose objective is not to reproduce postcard images but to look at the margins, where the cracks appear in the decor. In each of his incursions into the real, Durand resists fictionalising a world which is seemingly stripped of its reality by rampant synthetisation and standardisation.

What he does cannot be reduced to either criticism or illustration. Rather, it involves playing with the different systems of repre-sentation available in order to propose the composite image of a particular situation. His photos might seem to result from a quick, snapshot-like visual take. But this is not the case, for all that his work has in common with street photography is an experience of the urban space, and even here, it is one which introduces the additional dimension of playfulness. It does not involve the application of an aesthetics of discovery, but rather, an extreme attention to insignificant, unstable things, traces of life and individualities which do not fit into the norm. Durand also has certain affinities with Gabriel Orozco and his conception of photography as a shoebox a punch that serves to cut a readymade configuration out of the real. It is photography in its sculptural dimension which, following Brassai and Dali, indicates the coupling of a parking meter and house plants or a bush and a tube as so many elements of sidewalk statuary resulting from an improbable creative dimension.

If he carries out multiple forms of enquiries within the social space, Durand does not see his work as belonging to an art of investigation in the strict sense, with the analytical thrust and political dimension that this would presume. For if there is a policy behind his photographs, it is that of eroticising the real, where the world is captured in all its organic complexity. Vegetation struggles with asphalt, pollen allies itself with a sewer cover. We are far away from laws, regulations and statistics. Durand does not in any way pretend to
decode the real but rather to recode it by passing it through the prism of this singular perception. When they are photographed, graffiti traced in the dust on a shop window can only express the enigma that their anony-mous author offers to the passer-by. The artist is not pretending to reveal a monolithic truth, but on the contrary, to amplify this unreadability.

Several categories of images might be identified within the corpus Durand has constituted. Among them, after the involuntary sculptures, from choses modemes (Modern things) to les annees nonante (The nineties) and doigts, pollution (Fingers, pollution), there are reflected images: thin layers of reality appearing on the surfaces of car windows or abandoned storefronts. These improbable windows are the meeting-place of timeworn stickers and whitewash, advertising images of hi-tech bodies and automobiles. The reflection is used as a technique of instant collage, where the persistent zooming in on a segment of reality creates a system of hallucinatory vision.

Durand knows what he owes to Raymond Hains, as much for the sharpness of the eye directed towards an urban environment in perpetual mutation as for the accumulated sequences of words or acronyms which, owing to the intermingling of handwritten letters and advertising characters, produce found poems in the line of the Lettristes. Framed by the artist, the plaque at the entrance to a building, the florist’s sign, the caterer’s shop window or that of the pharma-cist become so many elements of a poetics of the ordinary. Implausible, eccentric, resistant to fashion, neither nostalgic nor mocking, this poetic school rallies battalions of house painters and advertising agents, injecting a salutary high into daily life: “Elle s’appelle Everblue et je l’aime” (She’s called Everblue and I love her) proclaims the swimming-pool ad. This modest re-enchantment of the world has nothing demiurgical about it but efficiently refutes all the sorry promises of a boring standardisation of our environment resulting from the politicians’ compulsive invocation of the ‘modern’. Durand develops a constant symbolic exchange with the real by restoring the world’s unintelligibility, its joyous absurdity, and proceeding to accentuate it. Art today does not have to confront the real head-on; on the contrary, it should skim over it, drift into the information society, oppose the digital coldness of the Neoliberal era with a playfully constructive behaviour. Philippe Durand’s photography invents just such an ecology: that of the hyper-mental eye.