Isabelle Cornaro at the South London Gallery

Isabelle Cornaro at the South London Gallery is so beautiful it makes you wanna die. Beautiful not in an exclusively positive sense, in fact disconcerting, seductive, deceptive, but oh my god, so pleasing.

Paysage avec Poussin is a series of installations based on landscapes by the French 17th century artist Nicolas Poussin. Paysage means landscape, and in some way the installation does resemble a landscape. At once 2 and 3 dimensional, almost like a theatre stage set, you walk in between the plinths and walls on which the objects are placed. Seeing the set from the side or behind, each view is so calculated, the longer you spend in the space, the weaker your knees become. The exhibited objects — marble antiques, velvety fabric — are so carefully chosen from a pool of thousands, your attraction to them becomes fetishistic. In the process of fetishising the object we remove it from its social context, negate its agency; our attachment becomes immoral. Imagine the feeling of the velvet, its mossy Victorian green so exquisitely perfect you can barely stand it. The whole thing is so entirely perfect, so prudish, it is perverse. Ice-cold well-dressed volcano: sex under a delicate but impenetrable veil. The two videos in the upper galleries exacerbate this tension. Little brown flint stones and bank notes, just go so well together it’s obvious. Tableaus of weird Portobello Rd crap that you just love for no reason other than that they’re perfect. Vintage, tasteful, perhaps there is an element of aura, definitely of rarity. The camera lenses and the plate of glass, the stones and the figurines; they are so lovely, I want more, I want them all the time, but also, I don’t. It is the appeal of Snap Chat: the appeal of limitation, exclusivity, or the waves that only just cover the dick, the completely perfunctory sheer scrap that ensures Aphrodite’s in keeping with decorum. Overwhelmed with the infinite scroll of the everyday and allthetime, Cornaro’s tight selection is both titillating and an immense relief. The videos are remarkably short. I watch them on loop, go back into the installation, move my head close to the marble obelisks. My trousers at my ankles, desire in my eyes, Cornaro catches me fetishising her objects. In returning her gaze I am forced to question what it is that makes them so beautiful; what do they want and why do I love them?


Isabelle Cornaro: Paysage avec Poussin is at the South London Gallery from 24 Jan until 5 April 2014.