xavier veilhan by matthew ritchie

Xavier Veilhan: Sandra Gering Gallery • New York, New York

In the middle of the white room stands a caparisoned white horse with an armored white rider. The horse has one leg raised; the knight’s lance is pointed up toward the ceiling. They are looking at a white screen on the wall with a bench, also white, in front of it. The horse and rider are stock still. There is not the slightest suspicion that they are real, nor that they are some form of exhibit informing us of the virtues and peculiarities of a vanished feudal military caste. The whole ensemble, despite its military theme, is somehow vaguely benign. Perhaps this is because it is fabricated entriely from seamless white plastic. It resembles nothing so much as a giant toy, set down by the careful hand of a passing god.

Toys are society’s ambassador to children, minuature messengers from a perfectable alternate reality. They serve equally as models of the larger world and as escape routes from it. As the small, shiny, powerless models of childhood are gradually replaced by larger, equally shiny but more powerful equivalents, their limitations are slowly made congruent with reality. So smooth and sophisticated is this transition that many male children do not realize for years that the new toys are actually real objects, with life and death potential, and so off to hunt, off to war we go.

Xavier Veilhan makes the best toys in town. He has understood one of their profound lessons: they are physically neutral but socially dynamic; they serve the desires and the dreams of the giver as much as those of the user. By taking the natural inertia of the toy and amplifying it, bringing it into a scalar relationship of one to one with reality, Veilhan turns its lack into a positive momentum. Here, as in other work in which Veilhan has presented policemen and soldiers (equally anonymous under their protective insignia), he makes a case for the knight as non-portrait, symptom of a type, awaiting instructions from the user. The knight’s blankness serves as an apt metaphor for the social fantasy of a neutral military caste. It’s a “non-war”memorial. Such an unsullied warrior can only exist unused, an unstable but culturally useful fiction that the current military understnads only too well. It is from this remembered ideal of the clean warrior, the washable toy soldier who returns with white hands, not dishonored, bloody, and traumatized, that we have arrived at our notions of the pure war, the Powell Doctrine, Excalibur, Star Wars, First Strike. All of them promise the same thing, clean death, genocide at a distance. With his giant, “perfect” warrior, Veilhan demonstrates the ludicrous impossibility of this ideal and puts our insupportable fantasies of omnipotence back where they belong: in the dreams of childhood, along with the white knight, the cowboys and the aliens, safe in the toy box.

Matthew Ritchie

New York, New York

1995