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Friday, February 7, 2020

Exhibitions of the 47th Angoulème International Comics Festival: La bande d'Antoine Marchalot dessinée

Upstairs on the top floor of Angoulème's l'Alpha Mediathèque is an officially designated exhibition room where visitors would logically expect to find, based on the Festival maps and orientation literature, the exhibit about the comics of French cartoonist Antoine Marchalot .

"Yeah, well this here is also an exhibition room, eh"
This was not at all the case as the exhibition was actually installed outside of that room - which was closed to the public during the festival - along the four available walls that surrounded the staircase leading up to the top floor. 


It is unclear whether this choice was a result of political, logistic, scheduling, administrative or financial constraints (last year's exhibition on Jeremie Moreau was held in this same space), or a deliberate attempt to evoke a sense of absurdity that is characteristic of the work of Antoine Marchalot. It is totally feasible and appropriate if the answer is the latter since Marcholat himself is the author of this exhibition and he grasped the opportunity to make a meta-joke about the situation. In other words, he doesn't take things too seriously, and that also applies to himself and the presentation of his own work.

Even the title of the exhibition is compromised by Marchalot's sense of absurdity, functioning as both a visual and literary pun in French that subtly shifts meaning of the sentence due to the placement of his name in the sentence. One expects it to be say "Bienvenue dans la bande dessinée d'Antoine Marchalot" [Welcome to the comics of Antoine Marchalot] but what it actually says is "Bienvenue dans la bande d'Antoine Marchalot dessinée!" (loosely translated here as the slang is so French-specific to be [Welcome into the drawn version of Antoine Marchalot's hood!]).  

The introductory panel to the exhibition also provides all of the necessary clues to coach visitors to prepare themselves for what they are about to experience. This is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a comics exhibition whose comedy is amplified because it takes the piss out of a typical comics exhibition by presenting itself as one. This sense of absurdity even informs the encouragement to go downstairs to the Walking Dead exhibition first to get an understanding of how comics (and comics exhibitions) work before returning upstairs! 

For example, the presentation of Marchalot's work is not meant to fetishize his original artwork, but to showcase in very broad terms the comedic register that grounds it. The text boxes only provide the title information of each piece and its date of creation. There is no other metadata about the work other than Marchalot's running commentary, which he uses in a self-deprecating, exaggerated and parodic tone to both inflate and take the piss out of his own work.

The framed pages could be read on the wall as well as in their respective published versions from Les Requins Marteaux, which were chained in a deliberately ridiculous manner to their display tables. Whether it was a public action of reading on the wall with other people at the same time or an individual reading of the chained books, many of the visitors that were present while I was there were outright laughing out loud - first at the gag, then at the commentary. 

There are certain points in the exhibition where visitors must certainly begin to pick up on what Marchalot is up to. The photos below offer some of the exhibition highlights where the absurdity is self-evident. No cow is too sacred for Marchalot, especially when it comes to the discourse of comics exhibitions. The absurdity that he associates with the way that comics aesthetics, form and content are currently valorized and discussed presents readymade targets to take down.

Newspaper and magazine covers. Appeared between 1975 and 2019.

Planche de bédé sauvage. Captured on the outskirts of Bretagnolle, Corrèze, 2019

Actual Caption: "The author desperately seeking to leave the underground". 2019.
It's a pity that the exhibition was only installed for the duration of the Festival weekend as this is the kind of exhibit that demands patience for an audience to appreciate. It took me a while to recognize what Marchalot was doing with his work and this exhibition, but once I understood the method to his madness, things all became clearer and hence, much funnier for me.

Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

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