The Pale Fox
Exhibition view, Chisenhale gallery, London
© Camille Henrot
Courtesy the artist, kamel mennour, Paris and Johann König, Berlin
Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery in partnership with Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Bétonsalon, and Westfälischer Kunstverein.
Photo: Andy Keate
The Pale Fox is an immersive environment built on Henrot’s previous project Grosse Fatigue (2013) – a film awarded with the Silver Lion at the 55th Venice Biennial. While Grosse Fatigue a empted to tell the story of the universe in thirteen minutes, The Pale Fox is a meditation on our shared desire to understand the world intimately through the objects that surround us. As Camille Henrot explains: “The main focus of The Pale Fox is obsessive curiosity, the irrepressible desire to affect things, to achieve goals, to perform actions, and the inevitable consequences.”
More than 400 photographs, sculptures, books and drawings – mostly bought on eBay or borrowed from museums, others found or produced by the artist – are displayed on a series of shelves designed by Camille Henrot in the environment conceived for the exhibition. They populate a space that is both physical and mental, conveying an almost domestic atmosphere: it could be a bedroom, a room that one could inhabit. Each of the four walls of this space is associated with a natural element, a cardinal point, a stage of life and one of Leibniz’s philosophical principles. Opening with “the principle of being” (where everything starts: birth and childhood), the installation progresses with “the law of continuity” (where everything develops: growth and teenage-hood), before touching on “the principle of sufficient reason” (where limitations arise: adulthood), and concluding with the “principle of the identity of the indiscernibles” (where things decline and disappear: old age).
According to Camille Henrot, there is “an excess of principles” in The Pale Fox. Through this pathological and almost erotic “cataloguing psychosis”, the potential for disorder returns. There is no harmony without disharmony, and no knowledge without accumulation or deception. This relationship is reflected in an ambient soundtrack which is interrupted by coughing fits, composed by musician Joakim, that is both protective and timeless. The Pale Fox proposes a narrative frieze, a dynamic parable of the failure inherent in any attempt of addressing globality. “With The Pale Fox, I intended to mock the act of building a coherent environment. Despite all of our efforts and good will, we always end up with a pebble stuck inside one shoe.”
The Pale Fox is a character from Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen’s eponymous book. Published in 1965, this anthropological study of the West African Dogon people profoundly affected the Western perception of African culture, by presenting a complex ancestral cosmogony encompassing elements from physics, astrophysics, agriculture, molecular biology, as well as mathematics and metaphysics. In this myth of origins, the god Ogo, the Pale Fox, embodies an inexhaustible, impatient, yet creative force. “This is what I’m drawn to in the figure of the fox: it is neither bad, nor good, it disturbs and alters a seemingly perfect and balanced plan. In that sense, the fox is an antidote to the system, acting on it from inside.” A meditation on order and disorder, The Pale Fox addresses the tragic side of the human species in its most basic dimension, the aspect that emerges, according to Bataille, at the moment of cuting one’s nails or puting on socks. Staging an impossible and fetishistic attempt of ordering thoughts and objects, the exhibition nevertheless offers its enclosed universe to the freeing potential of an insatiable fox.
Extending from Camille Henrot’s collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, where she held an Artist Research Fellowship during the preparation of Grosse Fatigue in 2012, The Pale Fox has been nurtured by a fruitful collaboration with the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. A series of public conversations between artists, curators and scientists will take place between Bétonsalon – Center for art and research and the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle throughout the fall, starting with a talk by Camille Henrot on September 24, 2014.
(Press release Bétonsalon)