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Reading Rämistrasse #117: Jason Rohr on Christophe de Rohan Chabot at flatmarkus - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #117: Jason Rohr on Christophe de Rohan Chabot at flatmarkus

The first red square at the end of the hallway, with a face so recognizable, deflects me to the left into an adjacent room. There, two celebrities are having a stare-off. In a room with a view of the lake, Kim Kardashian gazes over the balcony toward Zollikon, where Flat Markus was located prior to Kilchberg, while Bill Gates has his eyes on the western shore of Lake Zurich towards Pfäffikon.

Installation view, Christophe de Rohan Chabot, ON, flatmarkus, 2023

Chabot's works are kept cropped, unresolved, and in primary colors. A minimalism of means and form. The highlights associated with celebrity shots taken with the flash or studio lights on are dulled, or not even there. Chabot reduces pop cultural icons to their most influential format: Instagram's square feed. He closes in on their features until the square touches the border of indistinguishability. He stops at the facial minimum of what an icon can be, in a manner of reduction like that of Malevich's black-on-white square in the corner and extrudes it to the thickness of Judd’s slabs. Although his images superficially look like regurgitations of the portrait echoed through various formats and algorithms of compression, the series relieves the tension between the unlikely pair of figuration and classical minimalism. It's the retraction of self into the anonymous glance at a constellation of celebrities that flash over billions of screens at night before sleep, with our phones above our heads, as we gaze towards the stars confined to illuminated squares on the grid. A whole mythology to project ourselves into, not unlike the idea that the Greek one was an attempt at anthropomorphizing the constituents of our minds in an age before MRIs or psychoanalysis tried to make sense of them.

Installation view, Christophe de Rohan Chabot, ON, flatmarkus, 2023

I come to see the idols Chabot depicts as proxies for our private angst and ambitions. Containers of great projected tension. The tension of adoration and idealization and the subconscious jealousy of the admired that comes with it. Or, as Nietzsche would have it, that the extraordinary must be lifted to a level of genius, otherness, or a mere product of privilege, so we do not feel insulted, that they, like us, are human. Fallible and with struggles of their own. Our idols make us suffer if we perceive them to be just like us. For how else would we account for their noteworthiness and ability to entice? And when an idol commits an all too human mistake, the veneer of perfection and grandeur cracks and our common humanity seeps out. Admiration then quickly turns into disappointment at oneself, as the illusions of their otherworldliness come undone, and we see that our greats are just like us. Except that we have no platform nor admiration, so they must pay and fall, and there's little to hold back the anonymous action of a comment. That’s something I can truly feel, when looking at Kanye's face compared to Wintour’s representation, for she has never seemed to crack in the public eye. She’s never seemed like us. Chabot's works are squares of tension that only subsides once the depicted become culturally irrelevant, forgotten by the public. Until then these idols are in the crosshairs of the viewer's gaze. Truly lethal.

Christophe de Rohan Chabot, ON, flatmarkus, Seestrasse 42, 8802 Kilchberg, until 27 May 2023

Reading Rämistrasse

If art criticism is losing ground, we must act. That’s why we created space for criticism – Reading Rämistrasse – on the Kunsthalle Zürich website and publish reviews of current exhibitions. What is published here does not represent the opinion of the Kunsthalle Zürich. Because criticism has to be independent.

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