A sincere and sentimental appreciation for old, neglected, or discarded objects characterizes and colours Lucien Durey’s practice. Some of these objects are found by chance, some are gifted to him, some purchased cheaply in thrift shops. Durey finds their worth not in their market value as commodities but rather in what he calls their “embedded narratives.” To create the two installations conceived for his exhibition at BAF, Durey recasts and reconfigures a selection of disparate objects from his personal collection—a chaotic, ongoing accumulation of seemingly negligible things, many acquired years ago, others more recently. Describing himself as independent of “allegiance to any medium,” Durey prefers to let these storied materials themselves guide his process.
Durey developed a trio of chromogenic prints, titled Leaving (2016), from a curled strip of 35mm negatives that he discovered streetside. They feature three perspectives of a windowed house surrounded by a field of green grass and trees. Scarred and pocked by dirt particles, the damaged negatives have produced highly saturated, almost painterly photographs; they share the shimmering palette of Van Gogh’s celestial The Starry Night. Photographs often serve a mnemonic function but this is impossible here. We are left instead with questions: Where is this magical place? Are these the images of a lost family home? Snapshots of a holiday vacation in some Mediterranean clime? Durey deepens the aura of mystery surrounding these images by adding an assortment of evocative materials. The photographs are accompanied by a series of found floral-patterned curtains (stretched on frames like canvas) that Durey has sprayed with gesso, dye, and beeswax to batik-like effect. These photographs and domestic textiles are presented alongside a kitschy toy parrot from a cruise ship’s tropical-themed restaurant, exotic bird feathers collected at Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory, plastic cocktail picks, and other emblematic objects that hint at the threads of nostalgia, longing, and loss that reverberate through this work.
Occupied by retro lamps and vintage furniture, Parlor (2018) comprises a dimly lit living room punctuated by objects of particular significance for Durey: a shabby pillow, a crooked lampstand, the faintly green glass of shattered car windows. Like key props on a film set, each is poignantly linked to a dark tale: an abusive relative, a Holocaust survivor, a fatal car crash. Durey—a former choirboy—teases out their latent microhistories through a series of musical compositions to be sung at a special performance during the exhibition. He describes the lyrics of these songs when performed like “impermanent captions” (in lieu of didactic texts) to the individual objects.
In his essay “The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process” (1986), anthropologist Igor Kopytoff proposes that objects have lives, careers, even status, just like people, and by this token, “In doing the biography of a thing, one would ask questions similar to those one asks about people.” In this vein, Durey, drawing from his subjectively constructed archive, works as a kind of anthropologist or historian—one who instinctively traces, as he puts it, “the relational histories of things” as they gain and lose value, and the significant role these things play as silent but expressive witnesses to the stories of our lives.
Learn more about Lucien Durey’s work here: www.luciendurey.com