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Caught in a gangue of clay, everyday objects lie in a room open to view like a theatre stage itself entirely covered in clay: a moped, a helmet and an old computer, a cart, crockery, furniture, a sofa, a washing machine, a dented suitcase, piles of cables and shoes, dead bottles and hanging clothes… 

Petrified, this condensation of our materialistic lives inevitably evokes Pompeii, buried under the lava of Vesuvius, but also, as the installation’s title indicates, a rite of purification through the earth stemming from Chinese tradition. A fantastic memento mori, this fascinating work was created from found objects and clay by French-Chinese conceptual artist Chen Zen shortly before his death in 2000. A premonitory tomb of our consumer society asphyxiated by its own excesses, of our world mired in pollution, “Hastening […] it’s self-destruction” and heading towards its “irreversible destiny “1…This “serious monochrome”, in the artist’s own words, invites us to meditate on our condition. Participating in an “archaeology of the future” (“showing people the objects of today as they will be discovered in the future”), it proceeds above all from a desire to transform and sublimate used objects called to a new life (by returning to the earth), called to be purified to “provoke a new destiny”…

Note: The last work in a series using the clay covering process begun in 1991, the Purification room has been recomposed a dozen times since its creation in 2000, notably at the Cent Quatre in Paris in 2014 and at the Hangar Pirelli in Milan in 2020.

Quotes from Entretiens de Chen Zen avec Jérôme Sans, conducted in 1992 and published in 2003 by Presses du réel / Palais de Tokyo.


To be seen in the “Chen Zen – Double exile” exhibition

Galleria Continua

87, rue du Temple, Paris III

Until January 6