“Western civilization cleared its space in the midst of the forests”, wrote Robert Harrison.
“The dark edge of the forests set the limits of its culture, the frontiers of its cities, the boundary markers of its institutional domain; and, beyond that, the extravagance of its imagination.” Chambon-sur-Lignon is a commune in the Haute-Loire department in south-central France. It has a population of about 2,500. The frontier analogy is particularly noticeable there. The vast “Parc International Cévenol” (which used to be a secondary school until 2015) lies in the midst of a dense forest – the time of which, it seems, is nearly up. The “Parc” is divided into buildings, lawns and stadiums. Pierre Unal-Brunet’s exhibition, Innsmouth, is housed within the thick formidable walls of a barn.
Through this exhibition, Pierre Unal-Brunet asserts himself as being part of the community of artists who are fans of Lovecraft. The title of the exhibition is inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth (1931). In this novella, the nosey narrator wanders around a crepuscular spectacular city inhabited by oddly deformed people. That setting is the backcloth of the exhibition: a hessian cloth, sketched out in broad lime-green strokes, is laid down on the floor. The sculptures, which are made of wood and hessian cloth, are shaped in tortuous organic ways. They look like hybrid beings responding to the call of a city that smells of fish and sulphur. A barn-mouth that swallows bodies, “Innsmouth” is also a portmanteau word that sums up Pierre Unal-Brunet’s first night in here. He spent that night alone with his dog in what used to be the pupils’ dormitory. He experienced that place in a new way and suddenly felt the oppressive existence of the objects that surrounded him: tools, machines, trash, boxes, Chinese dragon costumes… “An orgy of materials, textures and scents” that threw him into the stories that haunt this barn. Pierre Unal-Brunet has made of that reality a Lovecraftian experience, thereby proving that our reality is narrated by the stories that are within us.
The exhibition is peopled by sea creatures beached on the floor: they seem to have been dropped off there by some fantastic upwelling, as in The Whisperer in darkness by Lovecraft (1931).
The sculptures were made out of pieces of wood enhanced by vivid colours and out of shreds of hessian cloth that look like dead skin. These sculptures were the products of a long meeting process. The wood was conscientiously brushed so that, as Pierre Unal-Brunet explains, “the worms may get out”. The wood is left with its roughest zones, revealing a secret architecture, such as that pink stump covered with green pimples that reminds me of the skin of some eccentric reptile. A green shape, with its golden yellow mouth and its pink veined skin ruff, is crawling on the floor. Pierre Unal-Brunet only works with simple painting tools – wood, hessian cloths, gesso and colours – and is guided by animal and vegetal shapes – the shapes of which he is in love with. The shape of the electric eel is one of his favourites, as many versions of a huge supercharged-coloured hessian cloth show. Many materials which he uses were found during his stays, such as that round piece of wood (which seems to be trapped in perpetual movement) which he spotted in a canal lock in Moly-Sabata. But it’s in La Feyssine - a park located in a polluted submersible area between Villeurbanne and the Rhône river - where slums, joggers and “cruising enthusiasts” rub shoulders, that Pierre was inspired by the scenery of an ever-changing hybrid world. IMO, this is precisely why this exhibition cannot be described as a dystopia, i.e., a mutant world produced by the destruction of the ecosystem. Pierre Unal-Brunet’s works are rooted in his intimate experience of margins and frontiers, of this “provincial” zone (as Robert Harrison would describe it), i.e., this opaque frontier where “human habitat reaches its limit”. Here, it’s still possible to remember that the forest is the place where we come from, our foundation, without giving in to nostalgia. Here, our thoughts can still be radical ones.