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Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing

French Bashing provides two visions of Western Europe as expressed by Michel Houellebecq. On view in the rest room at Venus is a set of photographs that variously depict train stations, tollbooths, apartment buildings, and movie theaters. Hung on darkly painted walls and individually lit with framing projectors, these images assemble a dystopian vision of France familiar from Houellebecq’s novels. Bleakly desaturated, the photographs capture the atmosphere of what Houellebecq calls “peri-urban” zones: despondent suburban areas surrounding larger cities where homes are valued according to their proximity to arteries of public transportation.

Houellebecq superimposes lines from his novels and poetry onto some of these photographs. The first image visitors encounter in the exhibition bears the sentence, “It’s time to place your bets,” a quotation from Houellebecq’s poem “The Memory of the Sea;” the right panel of a large triptych bears a phrase from Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, Submission: “I had no more reason to kill myself than most of these people did.” In concert with Sohier’s ambient soundtrack, these enigmatic and provocative bits of language contribute to an ominous feeling throughout the space. Houellebecq’s point is driven home by the image of a crumbling concrete sign of the word “Europe,” suggesting a vision of a continent on the verge of decomposition.