“The island you are about to discover is a remote site, where human beings have no place,” says French artist Cyprien Chabert, introducing his collection of works hosted at Agnés B’s Librairie Galerie on Wing Fung street in Hong Kong.
The opening party of the exhibition, titled "Dogs Meow," on May 20 invited guests to interact with the largest work, a ping-pong table shaped like an island where Chabert imagines that humans had formerly stowed the last vestiges of nature to preserve what mankind was obliterating: greenhouses filled with the last plants, aquariums for the last fish, and strange zoos for the last animals.
This exhibition focuses on what becomes of the island when humanity inevitably brings about its own destruction. Chabert envisions fish tanks cracked into the ocean, monstrous orchids puncturing glass, and “exalted whales and donkeys.” The works suggest glistening ruins, and a wilderness where “only a few architectures seem to regret men’s departure.”
Chabert plays continually with the division between the man-made and natural. Symbols and images flutter harmoniously though his Série Les Verriéres, Macao’s Island, Arches De Noé and the various ink drawings and engravings. A sculpture of an extended key, a human object, is so elongated that one is forced to notice that the lumps and rivulets on it are tiny mountains. Next to the key are mounted miniature greenhouses, dubbed the Poisoned Gardens. The light that shines on them casts distorted shadows from otherwise comfortably human shapes. Perhaps the most emblematic of this subject is the large ink drawing of a landscape that straddles the line between a blueprint and a botanical study. Whatever medium he employs in this collection, there is a sense of balance between the clinical and the wild, between decay and birth.
One piece alone is purely text, printed on an A4 page and framed in simple black. On it is written a message from the artist with a description of the island and instructions for those who choose to travel there. He encourages his guests to garden, and to wonder at the many harmonies that have come to thrive on the island. It is possible when reading it to be immersed in his vision, one that has made Chabert a “promising and emblematic” French artist.
In the text, he recounts how a traveler will discover the “singing of happy animals” with the single dissonance of a barking dog. This dog is apparently barking in a manner disruptive to the utopia, and the traveler is instructed to “make him stop or make him meow.” The dog is not depicted in any of the works, although the disruption that he causes is reflected in other elements. For example, one photograph shows a room regally decorated with portraits of haughty children and decadent nobility. Huddled in the middle of the lavish room, however, is a sinister crouched leopard-print form that towers over the viewer.
"Dogs Meow" featured stilted sculptures, ink drawings, wall drawings, photographs, engravings and the miniature greenhouses. It was no surprise that Agnés B, a fashion brand known for its subtle creativity and monochromatic tendencies, hosted Chabert’s work. The opening event was attended by artists, socialites and various others who interacted with the art itself. The exhibition was part of Hong Kong’s annual springtime festival of French art, called ‘Le French May.’
Chabert was born in France to a French father and African mother. Symbols of his mother’s heritage persist in his work, such as in the drawing Aqua Ba (2007), inspired by a lucky token for pregnant women in the Ashanti tribe. His creations prior to Dogs Meow shows his adept ability to toy with landscapes, along with an interest in botanical aesthetic. He has professed an interest in the borders between the architecture of nature and of humankind.