Leeds’ Henry Moore Institute plays host, this spring, to a vibrant retrospective of Robert Filliou, in an exhibition that shatters artistic boundaries and defies definition.
Robert Filliou, born in France in the 1920s grew to fame as a multimedia artist; his films and sculptures key to the Fluxus ‘anti- art’ movement of the sixties. This particular collection focuses on his sculptural pieces, but if ‘sculpture’, for you, evokes images of defined bronze structures or chiselled marble bodies, this exhibition seeks to vastly alter your perspective.
The display is an abundance of surprises and juxtapositions, three rooms of the Henry Moore lost amongst wood, string, velvet, armadillos, Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse. Adult themes of war, economics and even existentialism are dealt with a childish charm.
Filliou is renowned for his proposal of Art’s Birthday. On the 17th of January, some million years ago, it came to pass that a dry sponge was dropped into a bucket of water. This, according to Filliou, was Art’s dawning. Whilst this concept may seem somewhat abstruse, this exhibition allows us to plunge into the Fluxus mode of thought, and you may find yourself beginning to reason with the claim. Next to the gallery’s stairwell is a piece entitled ‘La Joconde Est Dans Les Escaliers’ (1969) (The Mona Lisa is on The Stairs). This consists of a single broom, a bucket and a cloth. Rather than deeming this an error on behalf of the Henry Moore’s negligent cleaning staff, we can see this piece as a celebration of Art’s very existence.
Yet abstracted are our notions of the latter: ‘could be the desert’ claims one wood slab scattered in broken bottle glass, ‘could be mountains’ claims a chair. Imaginations can run riot here, for Filliou questions, like the surrealists before him, whether anything is really as it seems.
Pastel scribbles on cardboard boxes are placed in a prestigious realm. Where we might regard them as the stuff of recycling in our own kitchen, hung on the pristine walls we are invited to look and ascertain esoteric meanings, though not to touch. The last room provides a refreshing contrast. So accustomed to exhibitions’ untouchable nature I trod carefully around the 16,000 or so multicoloured biased die that littered the space’s floor. I stood and considered the shape they created and the artist’s intentions, only to discover on departure that these die are a construction of the audience. One is invited to touch, shake and scatter the wooden cubes that land, however thrown, on the number one. This interactivity renders the work and the viewer’s response inextricable.
So head to The Institute of Endless Possibilities this season, throw the dice and play the cards, through contemplating the nature of materiality, gambling and existence make your own mark in this commemoration of Robert Filliou’s stimulating creations.
Robert Filliou: The Institute of Endless Possibilities, runs until the 23rd June 2013 in Galleries 1, 2 and 3 of the Henry Moore Institute.
Photo: Ruth Kaiser