Philippe Meste is an action artist. His work drives violence and sex into the farthest corner of aestheticism.
His actions, which are wrongly seen to be antimilitaristic, give form and substance – in a natural setting – to our blasé fantasies of insecurity and violence. He attacks the flagship of the French navy, Aircraft carrier FOCH with a tiny boat armed with small rockets and activates the reality of war in the middle of the peaceful Mediterranean (‘L’attaque du Port de Toulon’ (The Attack of Toulon Harbour), 1993). He plants his sandbags and Kalashnikovs in the middle of Marseilles’ flea market and the citizen enters guerrilla warfare (‘Poste militaire’ (Military surveillance Post), 1994).
His language is that of the revolt of impunity: The limits of what is admissible and tolerable are pushed back without hesitation, in the name of art. Anachronistic inadequate violence that tries to shakes us out of consumerist lethargy and an ‘I couldn’t give a damn’ attitude.
He uses his weapons (‘Gunpower’) to explore inflicted or suffered violence. In this way he connects policed social awareness and the primary rebellious subconscious. Defending and attacking. Yet the artist is not a guerrilla or sniper. He is just an explorer of human morbidity.
Weapons are seen as artistic, they are camouflaged as sculptures, but a human decision restores their primary, lethal function. Humankind is endangered by the work of art.
With ‘Robogun’ Meste takes a more conceptual approach. This remote-controlled video terrestrial robot makes the human invisible. The artist is no longer at the centre of action. He directs it from his control screen and dehumanises it. The result is an awareness of violence without its dirty, embarrassing materiality.
Philippe Meste is also an artist of expulsion. Whether he ejaculates on icy beauties to turn them into amazing and upsetting ‘watercolours’ (‘Aquarelles’) or projects ammunition from his armed sculptures, he voids his own body violently, be it directly or through an extension.
His approach to sex is provocative. Indeed, it could also be defined as reflexive and reactive. Lewdness is in the eye of the beholder, pleasure in the eye of the artist. Meste’s ‘Aquarelles’ (‘Watercolours’) are proof of his admiration for beauty and the inaccessible. In these works, artfully shaped semen stains soil (or exalt?) top models posing for prestigious brands. His ‘Women in Love’ reveal an aspect of desired but reproved pleasure, that of skin flicks. The porn stars step into models’ shoes and the message slides towards the social, i.e., these women share men’s stereotyped visions of them. With his ‘Sexe Moderne 2’ (Modern Sex 2), Meste introduces submission and violence into sex. Pornography and art connect. This sculpture, which is made for use, is activated by the body of the woman who slips into it to be reduced to erogenous zones offered up unabashedly. It’s the titillation and frustration of making love to a fantasy that doesn’t pine for you.
Everything in Meste’s work is aesthetic. This is a sine qua non of there being some artistic value in these so violent, so unhealthy, and oh how human actions and objects !
Brussels, November 2002