Article by Jeremy Benson

On Friday, December 4, Bay City's Studio 23 gallery premieres its latest show, "Artificial Selves," featuring the work of Pierrick Gaumé. For the last 15 years, Gaumé has reflected—in a skewed mirror—our hyper-consumer society through a variety of hybridized forms, from "refleshed" automotive collages and "Facetowns," to warped reflections of the world, photographed in the rear quarter panel of a Porsche.

As a student of the ENSCI college of industrial design in Paris, Gaumé studied personified products aimed to project a life of material bliss—often, Gaumé says, at the loss or rejection of actual human interaction. After graduation, Pierrick designed aquarium products and graphics in Tel Aviv, commuting with the masses and consuming those same "happy successful objects" which slowly replaced his friends. "I would shop for 'artificial selves' along the way," he says, reasoning, "These would not question me." His disillusionment of the rat race soon turned his graduate thesis from an academic interest into an artistic expression of how he saw the culture around him.

Gaumé excels at choosing the right media to express his vision, resulting in the handful of well-nuanced sub-series that make up the show. The flesh-toned acrylic paint bathing his collages from the "Refleshments" series adds a primordial mortality to the clippings of automobiles, can openers, and Warhol portraits of Marilyn Monroe. The faces on the cars and buildings of "Urbanoids," rendered in acrylic and crayon-like pastels, portray a childish anamorphic vision, although predatory SUVs and phallic porn shops lurk in the corners, belying the perfection of the material world.

As a collection of cityscape photographs, "Automorphoses" deviates from the intended evolutionarily and psychologically regressive style of Gaumé’s drawings and paintings, but nonetheless continues to examine Western culture relative to its materialism. Each photograph is a reflection in the warped body of a car, producing eye-catching patterns and mutated portraits, alluding to Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Memory." The reflections are images that citydwellers see on a regular basis but rarely notice. Much less examine. Gaumé hopes his photographs will encourage viewers to look at the world in a new way.

Although "Artificial Selves" is a reflection of our society as a whole, the exhibit could easily stand as Gaumé's own visual memoir. While most French children in the 1970s were asking their teachers about horses and puppies, young Pierrick pondered the design of each curve and headlight on his favorite cars (his childhood hero was Flaminio Bertoni, the designer of the Citroën DS). One piece in particular, titled "La Rouille du Deuil" (“The Rust of Mourning”), is a dual portrait of his late father and the cars his father drove. "Each time I go back to France and see one of these cars, it's like seeing him," says Pierrick. The work suggests that not only can inanimate objects act as talismans and extensions of their owners, but that they can take on the memory of an individual or culture. Likewise, Gaumé is fascinated with the Volkswagen Beetle, a car well-known for its friendly "face," though ironically this vehicle's concept was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler.

What makes "Artificial Selves" especially compelling is its timing, as American auto companies undergo restructuring in response to criticism that they primarily design personal image boosters, rather than effective modes of transportation. Whether intentional or not, Gaumé's work comments on the auto industry's business model for the last 80 years, although it notes, too, that consumers have not refused these image-heavy cars, or any personified objects available to purchase as extensions of their identity. As a limb of the auto industry at the top of rust belt, Bay City is an equally fitting setting for such a collection.

Studio 23 opens the show Friday with a Black and White Affair (by ticket only), and will display the work through January 16, 2010. Admission is free. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays from 12 to 4 p.m.  It is located at 901 North Water Street in Bay City. For more information on Pierrick Gaumé and his work, please visit http://www.pierrick.co.nr/.  To hear an interview with him at Delta College's NPR station Q 90.1, visit FM Forum for December 9, 2009.

© Jeremy Benson, 2009