Johan Parent
Updated — 20/09/2023


Asphalt, by Jean-Marie Gallais
Published in Asphalt, Galeries Nomades 2012, Institut d'art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes, Supplément vol. X, Analogues, Arles
Translated by Simon Barnard

[...] Farbstein smoked in peace, smiling to himself, scarcely listening. The Commissioner left the radio on for so long that finally Hillis, wincing a little, asked him to turn it off, which he did with a shrug a short while later. “And all this proves?” asked Hillis, who knew damned well what it proved.“It seems obvious”, said Hardy. [...]
W. R. Burnett, Asphalt Jungle, 1950

An anthill always seems inert if you don't go near it. The curious mound of sand, soil and pine needles only reveals itself in two ways: you have to approach it or stop to see action—the frantic movement of the insects. Continuous but not strikingly perceptible effervescence, like that of
an anthill, like that of a city, the setting of Asphalt Jungle (1950), a dark film by John Huston, is precisely the situation and what is to be seen at Johan Parent's exhibition at La Serre in Saint-Étienne.
You first have to approach, or stop, to see the reflection of weather and time in the face of the mirror-clock hung above the entry. We have been warned: there is a half-absurd, half-sane universe behind the door, a half-contemplative, half-deceptive vision loaded with revealing insinuations.
Again, once you are in La Serre you have to approach or stop to understand everything that is going on and to perceive the real activity.
You are greeted by a gentle cacophony—motors start, machines spin, crackle and smoke and a carwash starts splashing... A mechanical ballet that is paradoxically discreet, even semi-secret, with no human presence.
Inclined circular mirrors fixed to the ceiling turn slowly and reveal unexpected fragments of space, giving vertiginous perspectives. You can hear a bumblebee circling and approaching insistently, but the attentive observer will have understood that it is an old radio that has been fiddled with somewhat and is crackling towards the end of the room. Further, a closed site hut releases enigmatic smoke.
Here, records replace fan blades, and there neon lights function even though they are disconnected, ringing sounds are heard and flashes and vibrations assail the visitor but not brutally. We are still in the midst of the dysfunctional and the completely paradoxical.
Objects and machines finally recover their autonomy: electronic programs or cogwheels have taken vengeance on human domination and the whole of this little mechanical society now seems to decide its fate in a sovereign manner. In a series of drawings, Johan Parent had previously freed the objects from their condition by showing them mimicking human postures and gestures; this is perhaps the core of his work—making paranoiac objects and hypochondriac machines speak, letting them say more to us, revealing their conditions and, by a mirror effect, our own conditions, obviously.
In the way that animals are preserved in jars of formalin, Johan Parent keeps mechanical parts in jars filled with oil. Using failure and dysfunctioning as raw materials, he reveals and challenges not only our relations with objects, habits and appearances but in the exhibition also includes an echo of a precise context. His most spectacular action in La Serre is doubtless the setting of a giant 'sandglass' behind the walls; this gives intermittent flows of sparkling black sand through a hole in the wall; it is impossible to know what the sand is timing. Little by little, sliding sand makes a black wave that invades the exhibition space, making an improvised beach for the palm trees in La Serre.

The encroaching black mound obviously brings to mind the slag heaps of Saint-Étienne while a series of drawings of industrial buildings built in Saint-Étienne serves