Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Review: Ma Ligne

This is a review from Icon 100, October 2011. It wasn't put online as part of Icon's routine archiving so I'm posting it here.

“Mindless violence” is a concept that has been much aired in the media in the weeks after August’s riots in London and other UK cities. No doubt some violence really is mindless: spontaneous, purposeless, from nothing, to nowhere. The term was, however, mostly used as a declaration of lack of interest in the workings of the minds that engaged in a four-day carnival of theft and destruction on British streets. Thus the discussion can be sped along to retribution without any tiresome consideration of motive or causation. But violence and casual destruction deserve more attention than that. We can hardly do much about minimising them if we don’t examine them.

So we come to Ma Ligne. This is a curious little book, slim and highly seductive between grey suede covers neatly printed with the mysterious legend FUZI UV TPK. It is part art monograph, part police dossier: a catalogue of destruction. “Fuzi” is a French artist and, there’s really no point in being delicate about this, a vandal. Ma Ligne brings us five years of his work: his tag sprayed and scrawled over train carriages or cut into the fabric of the seats. Fuzi is not Banksy – he will not boost anyone’s house price and the council will not be listing his work. This is a loving tribute to routine vandalism. And seeing this kind of material degradation in a posh hardback edition of photographs gives us a crucial fraction of distance, which we can use to think about it without endorsing or condemning.

Fuzi’s medium and gallery was the St Lazare/Mantes la Jolie train line, which serves the western suburbs of Paris. The snapshots are mostly depopulated, giving them a melancholy, after-hours feeling. The only people who appear are members of Fuzi’s group, UV, Ultra Violent. The lack of audience is a necessity. This work takes place in moments of non-looking, inattention, when passengers, rail authorities and police are elsewhere. Once the act is complete, it is all about looking: catching attention, putting one’s name in front of people, claiming a space.

The accompanying texts (in French) give some background to this dedicated daubing, smashing and slashing. They’re a liberating read, even when you have to limp your way through with a dictionary, simply because Fuzi never really tries to justify his work. We don’t have to engage with an argument over why he’s right and our bourgeois notions are wrong. Instead what we get is a kind of love letter to the line, “My Line” (as the title says). “Elle était tout pour moi,” she was all for me, he writes tenderly. He enjoyed her every day, listening to the wheels, moving through her and around her in a state of perfect freedom, with rules or laws, “all-powerful”, writing his name on her skin. A career of vandalism becomes a passionate (and, clearly, abusive) love affair, with the police in the role of jealous husband. The poem Ode à la Destruction, one of two, layers a strong sexual vibe through the violence, “strong sensations, primitive”, with seats as “consenting victims”. Arrival at St Lazare seems cathartic. It’s troubling, haunting stuff, consciously provocative; certainly not mindless. Tags are more luminous after reading it, if no more attractive, justifiable or desirable.

Ma Ligne, FUZI UV TPK, Edition Patrick Frey, €46

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