Atelier Van Lieshout

This review of an Atelier Van Lieshout show at La Friche la Belle de mai was posted on

“The Butcher” is the first installment in the New Tribal Labyrinth trilogy, the latest Gesamtkunstwerk by the Rotterdam-based collective Atelier Van Lieshout in the greatly expanded exhibition space at Marseille’s La Friche la Belle de Mai, which has been spruced up like the rest of the city to mark its term as the 2013 European Capital of Culture. The work comprises large-scale sculptural installations inspired by the built environment the Industrial Revolution left behind; agriculture, industry, and ritual are the three pillars upon which the imaginary society of the New Tribal Labyrinth rests.

“The Butcher” comes in two discrete parts. An entire floor of the main exhibition space is taken up by drawings, urban plans, architectural models, sculptures, and installations, giving body to the elaborate fiction upon which the collective’s dystopian project Slave City, 2005–2008, rests. In Board Room, 2007, a table fully spread with oddly shaped crockery, illustrated with scenes from the daily life of Slave City, makes for a spectacular if unsettling introduction to the local mores. These are made more palatable perhaps by the use of materials such as resin in Headquarters, 2008, and cardboard in Male Slave University, 2007, the latter of which incorporates the shape of the body and its innards into architectural design. For all their aesthetic appeal, the objects on view chill the viewer to the bone once one discovers precisely how they fit into the overall scheme of the profit-driven and “green” Slave City, which admits of producing no waste—least of all human—in a way that inevitably recalls Nazi labor camps (as do some of the Bauhaus-inspired, no-frills architectural models).

After this, the bulky industrial machinery, rusty pipes, and conduits of the New Tribal Labyrinth make for easy viewing. The installation is livened up by a few brightly colored AVL-designed chairs, which form part of the centerpiece work—Blast Furnace, 2013—in the second space, the Panorama. Blast Furnace is a monumental installation incorporating three large steel tanks amid smaller tanks and a large steel furnace. These elements are interconnected by a network of steel pipes and connected to two manual traction wheels, also made of steel. Accessed via a vast rooftop terrace offering spectacular views of Marseille, the self-contained Panorama provides a much-needed change of scene, if not quite light relief.


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