dimanche 11 février 2018

Jean Luc Johannet’s Tower of Babel (1980s)


Carved on cliff faces in Lebanon at Wadi Brisa are two reliefs dating to about 500 BCE depicting the Tower of Babel. In late medieval Germany, Meister der Weltenchronik paints a charming little, five-storey tower standing beside a thatched workspace and half a dozen artisans busily constructing the modest tower. Two hundred years later, Dutch artist and map-maker Cornelius Anthonisz produces a dramatic etching of a colosseum-inspired building spiraling into the sky, the top smashed by a violent wind, chunks tumbling to the ground hitting people, and a small army of sword-wielding, trumpeting angels flying towards the catastrophe. In 2011, Iranian artist Goran Hassanpour assembles TV screens into a tee-pee shaped conical tower whose screens display different views of the same dramatic waterfall.

The story of the Tower of Babel has provided and continues to provide material upon which artists, historians, linguists, theologians and archaeologists build explanations for any number of positions and viewpoints.

Jean Luc Johannet’s Tower of Babel does not often travel as it’s fragile but currently it’s showing in Paris at the Halles St Pierre to the end of February 2018. It’s worth a look. It’s a gigantic pencil and china ink drawing made in the 1980s by a gifted polymath who is able to incorporate his training in architecture, sculpture, poetry and painting to produce a version of the Tower that is altogether unique. His work references the “naive art” movement exemplified by Ferdinand Cheval and the Catalan modernism of Antoni Gaudi. He also takes inspiration from Swiss set designer and sculptor H R Giger whose aesthetic sets the mood for the Alien films. Johannet’s Tower is a pyramidal structure built on a river, straining to reach a baroque sky and populated by mechanical birds, winged ships and shifting nightmarish flying creatures. The Tower itself looks alive, its projections resemble horned masks, giant cilia, rows of sardine-like statues and at least one monkey and snake embedded in other figures.

Johannet’s tower is the Lovecraft version of Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who.

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