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Max Wigram Gallery Temporary Exhibition Space, London June 12 to July 31 2008

This exhibition takes its title from a 22-minute film Hugonnier shot on the River Niger. It begins by showing Damoure Zika and Mousa Hamidou discussing cinema as they travel by boat to a 'Holley' ritual in which celebrants allow themselves to be possessed by spirits. Both men worked with French visual anthropologist Jean Rouch (1917-2004) on his West African films. Rouch's The Mad Masters, 1955, was enormously influential on French new wave directors, who copied the hand-held camerawork. This influence is addressed during some very jocular banter in Hugonnier's film about West Africa being the birthplace of modern cinema. Rouch recorded the effects of colonialism on the Songhai people, and self-consciously revealed the ways in which his presence affected their behaviour. Hugonnier uses Zika and Hamidou's observations to highlight the African stake in modernity.

Hugonnier presents ritual preparations and the Holley ceremony as everyday events akin to a summer fete in England. Children have their faces painted, while the music and dancing are obvious sources of enjoyment. The ritual resembles both Brazilian Candomblé and Haitian Voodoo. Alongside The Mad Masters, Maya Deren's documentary Divine Horsemen, shot in Haiti 1947-1951, edited posthumously by Teiji Ito and Cherel Winett, will be a point of reference for many viewers. Happily Hugonnier's film more than meets the high standards set by her illustrious predecessors. All three shorts show instances of spirit possession. In The Secretary of the Invisible, 2008, the spirit of a chameleon transmigrates from a mask Hugonnier acquired on her boat trip along the Niger, and enters the body of a dancing woman. In a complex overlaying of themes, the chameleon and the mask are identified with the trickery of artists, writers and filmmakers. The mask is displayed in the darkened film screening room, where it is eerily spotlit.

Another space features examples of Hugonnier's ongoing Restoration Project begun in 2006. These are old landscape paintings that have been professionally restored and placed inside modern white frames. Beside each of the reframed pictures there is an identically framed report on their condition before restoration, and a second detailing the ways in which they've been 'improved'. Representational paintings are thus transformed into delightfully bizarre conceptual triptychs. This draws out the ideological construction of landscape painting, as well as the historical location and time-bound nature of these works. The pieces are among other things a very subtle reworking of Asger Jorn's modified paintings (shown at Galerie Rive Gauche, 1959).

A third room features two large photographs showing the passage of storm clouds through the International Tropical Convergence Zone. Alongside these are smaller collage works, made from newspaper illustrations and tracing paper, which once again address the passing of time. In another space there is a spider and its web, an open window, and a young man in a tuxedo who repeatedly changes the only framed piece on display in this room. That said, visitors are unlikely to see all 11 works being rotated on an hourly basis: they are the distressed but complete pages of a French edition of Stephane Mallarme's 1897 poem 'A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance'.

Hugonnier once moved in the same Parisian art circles as the almost fashionable curator Nicolas Bourriaud, but tends to be conspicuously absent from his polemics. Despite superficial similarities, Hugonnier's practice is at its core diametrically opposed to the notions of 'relational aesthetics' and 'altermodernism' as championed by Bourriaud. Interviewed recently by Anthony Gardner and Daniel Palmer, Bourriaud claimed 'our new modernity is based on translation'. Hugonnier's presentation of Mallarme in French to an English audience is indicative of her resistance to such ideas. When in the interview just mentioned, Bourriaud speaks of the 'fight for autonomy and the possibility of singularity', he could be mistaken for a late-twentieth century disciple of Italian Dadaist Julius Evola.

By way of contrast, Hugonnier - like Rouch or Daniel Pommereulle (in Vite, 1969) - collapses the notional boundaries that separate her camera from the so called Other. This may not be good anthropology, but it certainly leads to a more satisfying art practice than that pursued by the likes of Liam Gillick and Angela Bulloch, whose work neatly fits Bourriaud's theories. Most of the artists Bourriaud initially championed were born in the early to mid 60s, whereas Hugonnier belongs to a subsequent generation and she successfully gets to grips with the myriad cultural possibilities of the 21st Century. Hugonnier's artist film making peers include Omer Fast and Matthew Buckingham; her work in this medium is as impressive as everything else she does.

London Art Tripping (psychogeography of 50 years of bohemianism)

Andre Stitt (live art and shamanism)

How To Improve The World (Hayward show of Arts Council Collection)


Portrait of Marine Hugonnier
Marine Hugonnier.

detail from Marine Hugonnier show Secretary of the Invisible
Detail from Marine Hugonnier show "Secretary of the Invisible".