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Pretend Art, Pretend Critics: Fabrice Le Nézet's 'Elasticity'

11/08/2014 16:21 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 10:59 BST

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In the press release for his latest installation work, artist and director Fabrice Le Nézet describes 'Elasticity' as a work which 'materializes the idea of tension by making the notion of weight and stretch palpable through the use of four massive and abstract metal structures'. The accompanying photographs show enormous concrete forms suspended by warped orange metal from the ceiling of Dalston Junction station in north-east London. The images create the illusion that the blocks have fallen through the ceiling, barely caught by metal railings. Reputable art and design website 'It's Nice That' has been amongst the most vociferous champions of 'Elasticity', calling it 'ingenious', and interviewing the artist at length about the materials, construction techniques, and inspiration behind the piece.

It is no surprise, then, that the editors of 'It's Nice That' have greeted the news that the piece does not exist with a mixture of embarrassment and irritation. 'Elasticity', as the internet was slow to realize, does not exist in any physical form, but only in the doctored photographs, video, and text which comprise Le Nézet's press release. As anyone who had commuted through Dalston Junction in the intervening time could have told you, there were no enormous concrete blocks hanging from the ceiling of that particular underground station.

That is not, however, to say that there is no such artwork as 'Elasticity'. Rather than provide public sculptures, Le Nézet's digital sculptures duped online appreciators of art into discussing, describing, even praising objects which did not exist in the world. This is most shocking in the case of 'It's Nice That', who have openly acknowledged that their offices are less than fifteen minutes walk from Dalston Junction. 'Elasticity's fraudulent press release has exposed something of the nature of art criticism and art consumption in the twenty-first century. It does not matter that the piece is not corporeally manifest, it was still proven 'real' by the sheer volume of websites which disseminated the press release without having seen the artwork itself. Critics saw only the press release materials, and in doing so stretched, like elastic, the limits of the artwork to include their own fictional appraisals. Le Nézet's piece is a meditation not on what we see, but on how we see.

All this has raised a few interesting questions. In the somewhat bitter (though laudably honest) apology on the 'It's Nice That' website, the work is described as a 'fake project', a 'hoax'. The editor in question also responds to Le Nézet's falsified answers during the interview they conducted with the artist (an interview that is painful to read with the knowledge that the interviewer cannot possibly have seen the artwork in question). He writes, 'to carry on lying when someone takes the time to find out more about the project seems like an unfair extension of the original ideas he was exploring'.

But is it unfair? Who is it that gets to set the limits of where an artwork begins and ends, to set a metaphorical frame around it and demand that its lies stop at that line? Perhaps the dishonest interview answers were well within the parameters of the 'original ideas' the artist was exploring. As commenters on the site have been quick to point out, a website which claims, in its slogan, to 'champion creativity across the art and design world' might do well to broaden its conception of the limits of the artwork.

As for the question of Le Nézet's 'lying', and the idea of the project as a 'fake', we all might do well to keep in mind one of the earliest critics of art. Plato accused all art, across the board, of being nothing more than lies. This is usually interpreted as an attack on art, but hundreds of great minds since Plato have explored the subtle relationship of artworks and artifice, of fiction and fabrication. Nabokov is perhaps exemplary here, in that he openly equated art with lies. Plato used the word 'mimesis' for art; one of the modern definitions of 'mimicry' is still 'mockery'.

The editors of 'It's Nice That' should try not to be too offended if, in the process of praising art, they have found themselves mocked. The distinction between art and life doesn't always hold as readily as we might like, and the discussion of art might be more than just a day job, something we can turn off in the evening like a switch on our computer. Le Nézet's piece seems to pastiche the professions of both artist and art critic by altogether jettisoning the artwork: mediation between artist and audience occurs only in the sterile space of the press release. If the critic stops demanding anything more than a press release of the artist, he might have to steel himself in the face of a little mockery once in a while.

Perhaps Le Nézet's excellent, provocative project might even be taken as instructional; it might mean that more appreciators of art take it upon themselves to actually see the works they discuss. Like so many tourists viewing the world through the lenses of our digital cameras, we might want to take a moment to let our naked eyes meet an actual object once in a while. Perhaps art critics might lean back from their computer screens, stretch off a little, and go out into he real world to see the works they so enthusiastically write about. Maybe then they might be a little more justified in writing about what is fake and what is real.