I’ve always loved Magali Reus’s work– her uncanny and hybridised abstractions of familiar objects are fixated with material precision and infinite detail. Equally concerned with nature as she is with the nature of production, Reus has now turned to fruit. I remember reading the artist’s profile in frieze early last year, in which Amy Sherlock wrote that “maybe it’s inevitable that a Dutch artist should feel obliged to confront this stalwart of the still life genre at some point in their career” (Reus was born in the Hague). Reus’s intricate sculptures, however, are less mundane fruit bowls than twisted manifestations of design.
Le Plat Principal (which translates as ‘the main course’ in French), is a nod of acknowledgement to its surroundings, despite the fact that only one work was made anew for the show. Centre d’Art Contemporain, Delme is housed in a disused synagogue, partially destroyed during the Second World War. Delme itself is a sleepy commune in Lorraine, France, surrounded by equally secluded towns once pervaded by war and agriculture. Reus’s explorations of agrotechnology and ecological crisis seem particularly pertinent in the setting. In fact, one of Delme’s notable descendants is Victor Lemoine, the famous 19th-century horticulturist. Lemoine was lauded for his breeding of new lilac varieties. He was a hybridiser of flowers, as Reus is a hybridiser of the rural and industry, or nature and machine.
In a series titled Candlesticks, the artist reconstructs five streetlamps, each named after the type of ‘bulb’ which sits atop them. In reality, it is sculpturally formed Epoxy resin which sits atop them, supporting wire forms reminiscent of light trails, although they are actually letters. The lamps are park trees, too; their green pillars are marked by the carved symbols of lovers and children. At their bases lie clownishly oversized and partially coloured corn, raspberries and mushrooms. Reus seems to be suggesting the potentials (or undoing) of modern farming; the breakdown of boundary between industry and nature.
Some references are slightly more direct. Clementine (Frank) (2023) is a large jar decorated with airbrushed pickles. It looks like it could be made from cement, and I wonder how it was possible to install it horizontally onto the wall (again, it’s actually resin). One of Reus’s trademarks is her manipulation of material. The material lists in her captions read almost like poems. Clementine (Frank) is the shortest, and reads: “Hand-waxed Epoxy resin and binding powder, pigments, rusted iron filings, plywood, powder coated and airbrushed welded aluminium, steel, and screws”. I get the sense that they are equally as important to Reus as a title might be, or perhaps even the work itself.
The Clementine series draws on the illusory qualities of marketing and the fetishization of the rural. The sculptures are oversized renders of the gingham jam jars distributed by Bonne Maman, which Reus posits as an apt symbol for the tension between untameable nature and the falsity embedded in capitalism. As in all advertising, Bonne Maman’s branding is not devoid of fetishism. Clementine (Frank) is engraved with the phrase ‘La Favorite’ on its side, a nod to the French royal mistress.
The third and final body of work in the synagogue is a series of what Reus calls photographic “sculptures”, titled Landings. Various fruits– peaches, grapes, cherries– have been staged amongst the waste of construction bins and captured, their swollen flesh and pulpy skin even more seductive against shattered brick and twisted wire. They speak to the same juxtaposition in agrotechnology which pervades the rest of the show. Yet again, it is their details which particularly intrigue me; on the side of each work Reus has placed a series of numbers, corresponding to the origins and purchase location of each fruit depicted. Wires trail the sides of frames as if they could burst into caterpillar-like movement at any second. They embody the crux of Reus’s work: that blurring of nature and commodity which has risen from technological advancement.