Spread, Part II – Paul Kos + Julien Berthier

Paul Kos, Le Petanque, Petanque terrain, galvanized metal sign, gravel, wood, and 12 steel balls, 30'x10', 2011

An artist goes in and out of shape. And by that I mean, very similar to being an athlete. When an athlete’s in shape, every movement that they do comes intuitively. In art, when you’re in shape, ideas are coming faster than you have time to make them. Being in shape is really being able to see accidents. Accidents are much more interesting than that which we can contrive while sitting at a desk. But if you’re not in shape, you don’t even see it happen and when you are, there are accidents all around, publicly, everyday, that are wonderful to take advantage of. ~Paul Kos

Walking into SOMArts Cultural Center’s main gallery during opening night of the Spread exhibition and seeing a game of Petanque being played by what seemed to be expert players as well as a few patrons piqued my interest immediately. Let’s face it, if people respond to anything, they respond to games (or loud noises). Never having played Petanque, there was a fair bit of trepidation in asking how the game was played. The court itself took up one side of the gallery with curious bystanders who felt the same. Continuing to watch the game play, I was trying to figure out the deeper meaning. Did it have to mean something (specific)? Anything other than what is was? Slowly making my way around the court, there was a dark room from which one could view a video. The video presentation on loop was of a boat that looked as if it were sinking but floating but sinking simultaneously. As you watch this boat at sea, you can’t help but think, “This boat is sinking but it’s not but it will but the man in it is leisurely basking in the sun but…huh?”

If you’re not into conceptual art, you’re probably asking yourself, “Is this really art?” Seriously now? My answer: Yes. Yes it is and it’s rather clever. You gotta do a little bit of thinking, I know, I know. Hard right with all these other things on your mind and all these things going on in your life but if you’re open to non-traditional materials and a sense of humor, you will be enamored with vanguard artist Paul Kos and his selected artist for the Spread show, Julien Berthier.

Julien Berthier, Love Love, Single Channel video with sound, 2007

Love-love is the permanent and mobile image of a wrecked ship that has become a functional and safe leisure object. ~ Julien Berthier

Paul Kos‘s, Le Petanque, and Julien Berthier‘s, Love-Love, look at life through metaphor. Experiencing their work is not too dissimilar from solving a riddle. These artists also assume you’re intelligent. There’s a fair bit of critical thinking involved. Although comical, at first, there is something deep seeded in the presentation of their work. Kos and Berthier’s ideas can’t really be described in words due to their monumental and grandiose nature. It’s as if Kos woke up one day and wondered what it would be like play Petanque in a gallery, which is probably much more engaging than what’s actually being discussed while patrons are walking around. Berthier also engages in changing the viewer’s perceptions and experiences by altering the audience’s visual landscape and creating something completely illusory, on purpose. Not to be ironic either. Both artists examine concepts and ideas in our cultures and create images and physical interactions that elicit the viewer’s understanding of our perpetual nature towards absurd behavior.

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, networked culture, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She is currently the managing editor for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured and spoken at the De Young museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” has been published to The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture in 2016. She serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center, and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Digital Art and New Media department.

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