The Potemkin Village series by Gregor Sailer plays very sophisticatedly on a kind of double deception. The “Potemkinian villages” that the artist has identified for two years all over the northern hemisphere, whether in France, Germany, England, Russia, China or the United States, are very often photographed up front one of the characteristics of the documentary style such as Olivier Lugon has clearly defined it in his book ” Le style documentaire”. This style – a description of the tangible world – can, for example, reveal the social structures that govern us beginning with architecture; but it is mainly driven by the ambition to state certain truths about the balance of power in our societies. But here about all the facades presented in this exhibition are fakes. They make us believe in uses not fulfilled by the buildings.
Thus, a French village in the spirit “quiet force” has basically nothing idyllic, just like the center of a new postmodern city in France. The two views are actually pictures from military training sites for the French army (the Training Center for actions in urban areas (CENZUB) in the Aisne Sissonne), like the 24 villages of Eastern style located 10,000 km from the Mediterranean Sea in the Mojave Desert in California and built by the United States for training in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere (Fort Irwin National Training Center).
The small houses of Scandinavian spirit do not shelter, anybody either; their facades have just been erected to simulate a village dedicated to Swedish road safety (Carson City and AstaZero). The facade of the large office building has never existed either; it is just a tarp on which the illusion of the facade of an administrative building has been printed and which hangs among others in the streets of Suzdal, the city where President Putin received the BRIC leaders and other diplomats in 2015. But as the host city was not really presentable, “villages Potemkiniens” were set in snow landscapes to look good, just like those that the Marshal Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin had – according to legend – had build in the Crimean countryside on the occasion of a voyage of Tsarina Catherine II in 1787.
All these facades photographed by Gregor Sailer could very well have been included in the fALSEfAKES exhibition that the Geneva Photography Center presented in 2013. Indeed, it is common nowadays to be wary of the plague of the possible manipulation of the photographic document in the era of its digitalization; Yet nobody makes the link with the observation that a good part of our built environment is already false, whether it is interior architectures but also whole cities – like for example the Val d’Europe built like a Haussmannian Paris near Eurodisney. It is from this world that Gregor Sailer speaks, especially in his series of Chinese cities which, built on the principle of imitation, are in the image of some German or English cities, such as Thames Town, on the edges of the Yangtze, near Shanghai.
These shots taken in winter to obtain a diffused light and a room for a perfect rendering were gathered in a publication of the same name published by Kehrer Verlag in 2017.
The Potemkin Village exhibition, presented by the CPG as a world premiere at the Rencontres d’Arles 2018, shows a selection and offers a two-step reading. The viewer faces both wallpapers that reproduce facades, but also small prints that reveal the back of the scenery and give the context, always in the absence of any human presence, with the exception of Chinese tourist destination.
Joerg Bader – Director
Gregor Sailor: The Potemkin Village
February 27 – April 21,2019
28 rue des Bains
CH – 1205 Geneva