February 2008, Ultralab @ Jeu de Paume

UltralabP4 Île 01™, The Wonderful Island that almost was, Vidéo 01™ - Destruction's Mix 2007 Ultralab™ et Sylvie Dupin Copyleft Ultralab™ Courtesy galerie Magda Danysz, Paris

Ultralab- Jeu de Paume
Through December 30th, 2007

Ultralab™ is a group of artists that fakes it. They exhibited at the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume, a renowned Parisian institution.
Ultralab™ is a group of artists that invades. At the Jeu de Paume, Ultralab™'s traces can be found on the ceiling, walls and even in the stairwell of the Edward Steichen exhibition.
Ultralab™ is a group of artists whose very status as 'artist' is debated to this day, if one is to trust a recent film made by the collective, The Psychopathology of the Everyday in the Artworld.
But how can trust be defined for someone who, for a whole year, deliberately misled the French art world into thinking that there were exhibitions going on that really weren't, using the names of real artists and veritable galleries?
But perhaps a bit of explaining is needed here.
In late 1998, a team of French artists and graphic designers collaborated to create an invitation to a gallery opening for a show at —paradoxically— the Jeu de Paume. The artist, Vincent Corbet, was real enough, only the actual exhibition in course was a Jean-Pierre Raynaud retrospective.
Result: total mayhem. People showed up to galleries and museums expecting to see their favorite artists' works only to be told they were mistaken. Galleries and museums were forced to publish statements declaring the falsity of the invitation cards. Artists (especially Corbet) were accused of performing publicity stunts in order to get shown at institutions that would otherwise never pay attention to them. In short, the relatively small, hermetic structure that is the French (and particularly Parisian) art scene was turned wrong-side-up, while the orchestrators of the ruse hid behind a tongue-in-cheek calendar sent out at the end of the year showing off all ten invitations.

UltralabP3 L'Île de Paradis, Map 03™ - Unreal' Super Sunshine Special K Exhibition Edit 2007 Ultralab™ Copyleft Ultralab™ Courtesy galerie Magda Danysz, Paris

The fiasco, which became known as the 'fake invitation card affair' (or booby-trapped, some said) resulted in the formation of a group who named themselves Ultralab™, a collective whose identity, along with modus operandi has shifted over the years to include different artists and developments. Nearly a decade has passed, along with the turn of the century, and Ultralab™ are now being shown in a state-with-a-capital-S-run institution that may have never paid attention to them if not, of course, for the fake invitation card affair.

As the follow-up to such a dramatic prologue to an artist's career would have to be anything but anti-climactic, the question which comes to mind is, do Ultralab™ live up to the hype?
I must admit that when I first went to see the exhibit, I wasn't entirely convinced. Ultralab™ 's intervention at the Jeu de Paume, “L'Île du Paradis™ (version 1.15),” or “Paradise Island™ (version 1.15)” is nuanced and subtle, and did not immediately reveal its intentions. But the more I pondered the curious virus-shaped structures, lodged into the ceiling and floors of the building and peppered throughout the Steichen exhibit like bombs, the more intrigued I became. The spooky waiting room with its travel catalogs, futuristic white couches and palm trees, the video game/virtual gallery visit styled after a first person shooter video game together seemed rather incongruous, but promising nonetheless. It was then that I discovered where the key to the exhibition was– it was on their website.
For the “Un voyage au milieu du temps,” “A Voyage to the Middle of Time” virtual exhibition, the idea of a paradisaical island is expanded upon by the addition of sixteen others, each whose existence and evolution is defined in detail (in French). It is here that we discover that two of the founding members of Ultralab have in fact, perished on Paradise Island, along with a creation that announced the death of contemporary art, which has now been replaced by a global video game.
There are also numerous images of the Jeu de Paume exhibit, delimited by zones, for those who won't be able to reach Paris in time to see the show in person.

UltralabP1- L'Île de Paradis, Map 03™ - Unreal' Super Sunshine Special K Exhibition Edit 2007
Ultralab™ Copyleft Ultralab™ Courtesy galerie Magda Danysz, Paris

The group's success testifies to the possibility of existing outside of the boundaries of what defines art today. But the key to Ultralab™ also lies in their continued critique of the art world that has now more or less embraced them. While everyone knows that “art” can be a painting or a sculpture, a drawing or an installation, Ultralab™'s example reminds us that art can also be a Fluxus-esque 'happening,' eerie music filtering in through a bathroom, or even a video game. Ultralab™ creates virtual spaces that are parallel to our own in order to show us that constructing paradise may still be possible, we just have to be willing to jump ship.

Ultralab are: Frédéric Bortolotti™, Gosia Galas et P. Nicolas Ledoux. (With the participation of Christophe Demarthe, Anne-Valerie Gasc, Herman Gomthir, Soyung Lee and Anne-Laur
www.iledeparadis.org / www.jeudepaume.org

Cynthia Valdez, WM Paris

Cynthia Valdez is a writer in Paris.

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