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Reading Rämistrasse #134: Armand Zanota on Christelle Oyiri at gta exhibitions - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich
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Reading Rämistrasse #134: Armand Zanota on Christelle Oyiri at gta exhibitions

Christelle Oyiri’s current show at gta exhibitions is an undated postcard from overseas. It contains fragments of holiday snapshots, lawsuits, panoramic views, contracts, idyllic beaches, poison, complaints and lies. Distant yet familiar, halfway between advertisement and critique, the radically multi-hyphenated result is difficult to pinpoint – like Oyiri‘s practice itself.

During the opening, many asked whether the exhibition was about irony, institutional critique or a kaleidoscopic outpouring of hybrid content. Deeply elusive, VENOM VOYAGE is a tongue-in-cheek statement, mapping a new cultural terrain simultaneously disruptive and ironic. Its works refuse to engage with categorisations, preferring instead a liminal stance that is flexible enough to engage with our multifaceted present-day situation.

No location could better reflect this posture than the HIL Foyer. Situated within the architecture faculty building of the ETH, this foyer is less an entrance, than an oddly wide corridor operating as an amorphous threshold. Accessible from all sides by at least four doors, two corridors, a set of lifts and stairs, it is the antithesis of the standard dead-end gallery structure. Its walls have been painted either neon green or black, leather armchairs installed and VENOM VOYAGE logos spread around. This setup seems primarily designed for photographic documentation, as if its components were geared towards their own digital dislocation. Acting like props, the works presented openly embrace contemporary methods designed for shareability on fast-paced online platforms, rather than generating a physical aura. While past modes of display relied on explanation and definition, Oyiri’s show operates predominantly through instant immersion and attitude.

Christelle Oyiri, VENOM VOYAGE​, gta exhibitions, 2023

Image: Andrea Rossetti

The armchairs are placed in an grid. On their armrests, glasses spill a vivid green liquid, contaminating the paper documents on which they are placed. These are lawsuits, contracts, scientific reports or letters of complaint, focusing on soil and water contamination in Guadeloupe and Martinique resulting from the use of pesticides. Despite being banned in other countries, these pesticides were being used until recently on the two islands, all while their highly toxic nature was known – and the islands were advertised as paradisiac travel destinations. The image of a smiling man on a jet ski underlines this contradiction, embodying contemporary adventure, fun and relaxation. It highlights the absurd situation where the alluring appearance of a tourist destination can coexist with the harsh reality of the islands today. VENOM VOYAGE stands at the hinge of this collision.

Christelle Oyiri, VENOM VOYAGE​, gta exhibitions, 2023

Image: Andrea Rossetti

Additional works build upon this dichotomy. On one of the black walls are seven grainy and oversaturated holiday snapshots, printed on plexiglass sheets overlaid with text. Critically reenacting display methods from advertisement techniques, these works push our existing systems of meaning to the limit of the post-modern ode to deceptive irony. The ingenuousness of the grainy images smashed by the wry sentences makes these works blur the lines between amusement, aggression and satire. It would be naive to call them a simple contemporary extension of conceptual text-based works, but it would equally be cynical to call them memes. The result lies somewhere in between. Fundamentally ambivalent, they render visible the tensions and contradictions of a system that overlays an engineered market of escapism and paradise on a corrosive situation. The exhibition illustrates a contemporary shift where commerce can no longer be opposed to culture. While traditional platforms separate the advertisement from its content, Oyiri’s setup reenacts both at once. In navigating this discrepancy, VENOM VOYAGE engenders a sour feeling of dismay, luring us first with seductive aesthetics while laying bare the discord embedded within these colonised and now toxic territories.

Christelle Oyiri, VENOM VOYAGE, gta exhibitions, 8 November–8 December 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 in Zürich. What is published here does not represent the opinion of the Kunsthalle Zürich. Because criticism has to be independent.

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