Tuesday, 15 March 2011


I knew at first glance I was in front of a fascinating object when I met this pigeon at COLLECT 2010 in the Lesley Craze Gallery space. Let me introduce you to “Io ce l’ho d’oro” by the French artist Benjamin Lignel:

Io ce l’ho d’oro, 2007. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

This work is labelled as:
“Io ce l'ho d'oro (yeah...but mine's gold)” 2007
Beak extension for pigeon 

Fine gold 
6,5 x 3,4 x 3,4 cm

Benjamin Lignel describes it as “an experiment on the ambivalent use of accessories to either mock, or ape, the demeanour of our betters”.

This project is a perfect illustration of Benjamin’s artist statement: trained in philosophy and literature, then art history at New York University, he then graduated in furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, London. This gave him an “interest in the functional object, complicated by a penchant for art, and further perverted by sustained exposures to literary works”.
His approach is design-led and offers an “alternative to our craft-based profession: as an extended family of individual objects that hope to tackle specific aspects of body adornment - with little concern for overall stylistic or technical homogeneity”. (Klimt02 website)

One specific aspect of body adornment that Benjamin is researching thoroughly in his last projects is to describe “the changes and exchanges that the body tolerates, that its owner submits it to, sometimes encourages.” He doesn’t like the word series (as he prefers to remain more ambiguous and address several themes at once in his projects) but the pigeon is part of a family of projects that tackle this subject of body’s alteration. In his publication “Benjamin Lignel / Comic Book” (self-published, second édition, June 2010) he writes: “While plastic surgery presupposes an ideal body type it strives to emulate, it in fact establishes a completely new aesthetic genre. Thus modified features can, and often do, convey something other than their intended message. This effect is never as strong as when surgery somehow misses the ‘natural effect’ (a contradiction in terms, some would say) and hits upon a super-natural effect: forms that are both excessive and idiosyncratic, common and strange.”

Other projects revolving around this theme include:

Gold Lingam, a project developed in response to Ruudt Peters’ invitation extended to over 100 artists to re-interpret this votive representation of the Hindu god Shiva.
Benjamin Lignel describes it as “an educational toy for the 21st century man

 Lingam, the collapsible version, 2009. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

Lingam, the short collapsible version, 2009. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

Getting old sucks : this piece was short-listed by Chi Ha Paura in 2010 for its ‘Body stories’ collection (it did not make it to the final selection of pieces produced by CHP) .
Benjamin describes it as “Brooches for mammal in the p.m., worn to signal some things other than protracted youth: feed, sag, and pride. (The pair)”.

Getting old sucks, 2006-07. Photo Joel Degen, London (still life) and Elene Usdin, Paris (portrait). Courtesy of the artist

The ‘Post-Columbian gold’ series was developed towards ‘Ultrabarocco’,  an exhibition curated by Valeria Vallarta Siemelink as part of the Walk the Grey Area project (Mexico, May 2010). It was showcased alongside a headgear by another artist, Alex Burke, which completed the installation. Each piece was displayed in lieu of the body part it was supposed to enhance…This series take its cue from “both contemporary corrective practices, and pre-columbian gold ornaments - anthropomorphic add-ons which suggested a somewhat improved version of reality”. Another project, “Redecoration II” follows a similar idea and was displayed at COLLECT 2010 next to the pigeon: I presume that “Redecoration II” is the feminine counterpart of the beak extension for pigeon

Post-columbian gold (facebow), 2010.
Post-columbian gold (pads),2010
Post-columbian gold (sheath),2010
Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

Redecoration II, 2010. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

So having set the context of the beak extension for pigeon, let’s go back to it. While I find those explorations about body alteration very interesting, my heart goes first for the mocking bird.
Several layers of meaning can be found in this installation: first the title “Yeah, but mine’s gold” refers to men’s tendency to show off and to compare themselves with others (physically but also through material goods). I questioned Benjamin and he confirmed that the pigeon was male and that this detail was of great importance. Then the verbs in the subtitle have also been carefully chosen: to mock or ape. “This dual dynamic”, Benjamin tells me, “echoes mediaeval parodic practices as exemplified by mystery plays, and their reversal of the established order and values. Grotesque was an important element of these plays, in which, actors dressed to look like the social elite – the lord and the clergy – at its most caricatural took a trip down the gutter”. Here the artist has chosen a pigeon, which is a nondescript bird, a kind of city’s vermin, to convey his message, and if you look closely to the beak, it is aimed to look like an eagle’s beak, one of the most noble and majestic birds on earth…

Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

The verb “to ape” has been chosen by the artist to convey another idea: here he talks about social hierarchy and the fact that humans tend to emulate the social class they aspire to join. So there are different meanings possible and as a viewer you can make your choice: is this pigeon mocking or aping the eagle?
The use of gold is important too: if you want to climb the social ladder, you might use visible signs like gold or expensive accessories. Gold is fascinating and spectacular. This beak is made in fine gold and the artist has made a “sport” version of it in 9-carat gold, still precious but more casual. And this beak is longer, strapped on the back of the head like a baseball cap and is worn by a blackbird… I personally find the idea to make a subtle variation of the pigeon’s beak extension brilliant!

Io ce l’ho d’oro (sport), 2009. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, Paris. Courtesy of the artist

I really don’t know which one I prefer: the defiant pigeon or the slender blackbird…  But they work very well together and are usually displayed in pairs.

It brings the question of the display of such a work. As this “experiment” navigates loosely between art, design and craft disciplines, the environment in which the birds are displayed can give rise to different interpretation of the work. The first time I saw the pigeon was at COLLECT. It was displayed on the wall, highly perched, pairing with the blackbird sport version, with “Redecoration II” standing in the middle.

Photo Benjamin Lignel, courtesy of the artist

This was, I think, too formal and had a “Museum-like” feeling. The connection between the pieces was also not obvious and the birds looked somehow lifeless. The mocking part of the message was, in my mind, also missing.

The birds travelled to another exhibition called “Under the Counter” by the artists collective “Intelligent Trouble” (website). Through the work of five artists the exhibition called “Jewellery conversation” sought to explore jewellery’s communicative role and potential in a wider social field.
The pigeon was therefore in conversation with the other pieces of the exhibition and he was standing on the top of a blackboard.

Photos from Intelligent Trouble website

I think this display was far more successful as the pigeon was integrated in the decorum as if it just landed here by mistake. And with a closer look, one could discover it was wearing a golden beak.

According to Benjamin Lignel, the most successful display so far was on show at Galerie Jungblut, where he had his first solo show last November. There, he put the two birds on top of white columns two meters high:

Photo Benjamin Lignel, courtesy of the artist

Here the birds majestically overlook visitors in their grandeur and they really are showing off. The white cube surroundings gives an Art Gallery feeling.

The last display I would like to mention is my favourite: Benjamin Lignel and 8 other artists have been invited by “Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris” (Hunting and Nature Museum) to place their work in the permanent collection of the museum. The theme of the exhibition was: “Ghosts hunting” and people were asked to stay alert and be prepared to unusual encounters.

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris. Photo Enrico Bartolucci, courtesy of the artist.

The pigeon can easily be missed – nothing apart from the beak itself, indicated a status different from that of its surrounding - but if you spotted it, you could almost hear it whisper: “Yeah, but mine’s gold!

No comments:

Post a Comment