Every social solution is the creation of a new problem. In his work, Karl Philips considers the matter of strategies for survival of minorities within dominant systems. He is particularly interesdted in the repercussions of reorganisations of public space, such as in the Bois de Boulogne, a forest on the outskirts of Paris, which serves as the setting for his work Renault Trafic. The forest has a lengthy history as a niche for sinister figures and ladies of the night, as recorded in Eduard Manet's painting Déjeuner sur l'herbe.
With its majestic trees and picturesque paths, in the daytime the Bois de Boulonge is a favourite place for hikers, joggers and day trippers – but after nightfall the areas alongside the beaten tracks start to come to life. Everywhere one encounters people outside huts made of scrap materials, tents and bonfires. Later in the evening the atmosphere turns more gruesome and sex-tourism gets going in earnest. Following a heavy-handed operation by French president Chirac, 'the deed' no longer takes place in the bushes, but along side the roadside in parked vans of the cheapest possible sort – Renault Trafics. These are illegal long-stay parkers for short-stay moments of lust, with flat tyres and sometimes even lacking wheels altogether.
Karl Philip's made adjustments to the forms of three of the Renault Trafics and in doing so their dimensions have attained a sculptural value. They stand between the others as Fremdkörper, a provocative sculpture, the state of which can be followed during the four weeks of the exhibition by means of a photograph taken each day. What kind of reactions will these intruders elicit from the daytime and night time users of the Bois de Boulogne? According to Philips, “On the street, the three Renault Trafics function as a space, a stage-set for a unconscious performance, performed by an unknown cast.
In the exhibition one can see three fiberglass three-dimensional shapes. They are casts of the cargo space of the vans in their respective colours. They function as a moment of congealed, frozen activity, leaving it up to the viewers to imagine what takes place – here or in the Bois de Boulogne. In this way Philips questions the consequences of an intervention in the social order and thereby the mechanisms that dictate this order. Philips avoids the temptation to operate affirmatively as a 'cultural therapist' within the existing power structures, and avoids imposing his own vision as a matrix over the social reality, something Belgian researchers BAVO debate as being extremely problematic:
“The problem of the modernist preference for change is that, in practice, this requires of the victims that they accept processes and decisions which are seriously to their detriment. In their enthusiastic search for ways to anchor innovative projects in far-reaching processes of change, they, (the cultural therapists), communicate to those involved, the suggestion that they should not experience these processes as restrictions, but instead should welcome them as unique chances to give new élan to their lives.”1
Philips attempts rather, to provoke an interface between the arts and a social reality – in this case of the Bois de Boulogne – and to link these in a hybrid fashion. One way in which he does so is to shift public opinion by interpreting 'criminal behaviour' as a form of transparant, thus also predictable, pragmatism. According to Philips, “Renault Trafic is a reflection on the flipside of our free-market economy.”
1. BAVO (2011), Too Active Too Act. Cultureel activisme na het einde van de geschiedenis, Amsterdam: Valiz, p. 58
Text from publication Onomatopee