Since Musée Réattu founded its photography department in 1965, as a museum of fine arts it has continually engaged in recognising photography as a major art form in its own right on a par with painting and sculpture. What these mediums have in common are a creator, who transcends the technique, and the status of the image, raised to the rank of work of art.
All photographers in the museum collection or those that have featured in exhibitions have contributed to this activist approach. The museum has supported and welcomed many artists whose visual research suited this museum, the former house of the late 18th century painter, Jacques Réattu, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome.
A major part of the collection is therefore dedicated to these so-called plastic artists who use the medium of photography in unusual forms, exploring the mystery surrounding the emergence of images. There are for example Pierre Cordier’s chemigrams, Nancy Wilson-Pajic’s cyanotypes, Yves Trémorin’s electronograms and Katerina Jebb’s scans.
Annabel Aoun Blanco’s work nestles between the approach of a ‘traditional’ photographer and a visual artist making images appear without a camera.
In fact Annabel Aoun Blanco’s ‘tool’ is a camera with all its technical specifications (lens, focus, focal depth, aperture stop, exposure, lighting) devoted as much to the appearance as the disappearance of images. But where research into the almost miraculous appearance of images involves setting aside the camera, Annabel Aoun Blanco embraces it and on the contrary liberates, frees herself from its constraints.
This material approach to constructing images (photography or videos) derives from seeking a ‘passage’ between memory and forgetfulness, appearance and disappearance, life and death, for which she associates a device, gesture and material. Through this she is drawn to explore both photography and video, combining them in a back-and-forth, a round trip, looped dynamic.
Works by the photographer/video artist Annabel Aoun Blanco have found their rightful place in the Musée Réattu, as much through their visual art dimension, as through the emotional response that they trigger, their inclusion in the history of art and this artistic questioning of the spatio-temporal features of the mediums and their boundaries.
The exhibition makes it possible to grasp this work as a whole by presenting photographs and videos facing each other. It captures the entire dimension of the artist’s research as well as the ability of each work to exist in itself, independently but closely connected to the history of the museum and its collections. Only on rare occasions will works developed outside the framework become part of the building so naturally or even supernaturally. The first work that visitors come across is Éloigne moi de toi (take me away from you) the title of which is rather inviting. Souffle draws visitors into the Grande Salle ‘des Troncs’. The artwork Toupie is on the stand, at the intersection of the Order of Malta’s Grand Priory. The series Le Mandylion, desvoilés and desvoilés II appear in the Chapel of Saint-Jean reconnecting it with its essential spiritual dimension. Le Cri is located in the vestry.
This is the first institutional exhibition for Annabel Aoun Blanco who chose Musée Réattu as much as the museum chose her, this project is part of a temporary exhibitions policy closely linked to efforts to expand and enrich the collections. It is as much a starting point as an end point, a round trip…
Recollection of a certain image…
Pondering Annabel Aoun Blanco’s work by Robert Pujade
At first sight, Annabel Aoun Blanco’s work fits unwillingly within the portrait genre in which one is tempted to place her when looking at the photographs or videos she produces. One observes the advent of shapes of faces as blurry as footprints or as pale as castings, awe-inspiring in their expressions and enticing by the very enigma they conceal, as if they were here to illustrate Pascal’s famous thought: A portrait conveys absence and presence, pleasure and displeasure.Hence, the models utilized to make the portraits seem more imaginary than real. They function as masks and depending on the processing implemented before the shooting, they convoke in turn spectres, mummies, or ghosts. Or sometimes they even become real faces freed of their personality, as in the Avatars series.
The portraits are not here to display an identity. In fact, their “raison d’être” would rather be the highlighting of the faces they reveal, their sole purpose being to reflect the complexity of portraiture and its relation to memory. Annabel Aoun Blanco’s interest lies essentially in remembrance that is the way images of still or animated portraits recall the inconstant and fragile representation, which in fact is the purpose of remembering. This is why live portraits appear at the very beginning of her work, and afterwards make way to direct imprints, to masks, to subjects what are already images. The whole plastic device implemented by the artist is orientated towards memory phenomenology, with photography or video bringing in variable visibility forms, the fleeting impressions felt during the remembrance process. One can also note two appearance and disappearance modalities of these fleeting images.
First, emergence or burial: in the series entitled Danse contemporaine II, characters are immersed in a pool of milk and only their limbs or parts of their faces appear at the surface. In other, more recent series the masks are camouflaged by either too little or too much light (series: Caresses, Eloigne-toi de moi and Décadrés, for example) or hidden by various materials: ash, sand, coal powder, veils. Each time, access to the image occurs at the infinitesimal instant when the subject presence is about to erupt from or to be buried in monochromic oblivion. Those surreptitious appearances are somewhat related to the mythical representation of Ophelia’s death, a theme that has haunted the history of painting. A secondary character in Hamlet, her death told by the queen (Act IV, sc.7) marks, in its description, the fatal moment at which the princess will cease to be visible. The fascination for the boundary between life and death, between appearance and disappearance, and the presence that leaves room for the memory has provided an abundant source of inspiration for painters, which led Rimbaud to write:
Voici plus de mille ans que la triste Ophélie
For more than a thousand years, sad Ophelia
Has passed, white phantom, down the long black river.
Annabel Aoun Blanco concentrates her creative attention to this metaphorical passage from white to black, as demonstrated by the central image entitled: ∞ (infinite).
The other recurrent appearance-disappearance modality for the image-memory is a “freezed frame”, a fixation on a face almost observable which nevertheless bears the signs of its disaggregation. The effect produced by this vision differs sensibly as a function of the medium utilized.
On certain photographs, the fixation focuses on the appearing of a face that bears the marks of time. The sequence entitled Zoome proposes the burial of the same face imprint, at two different times, in coal powder: from one to the other, one can observe a progression of the devastation of the features and the sequence entitled Dezoome III zooms with a magnifying glass in the corroded surface of half the face. The image entitled Dezoome isolates the circle of the magnifying glass placed at the center of a ravaged face, immersed in darkness to signify its path towards death. The plastic elaboration of this fixation on appearances about to disappear is an interpretation, as a sort of fascination, the notion of mneme utilized by psychology to designate the organic trace that would be the material basis of a memory.
With the videos, this fixation lasts only an tiny eclipse during which the disappearance takes place almost immediately after the appearance in the perpetual movement of a cinematographic loop. In the ten-second video entitled Sneiver, only one second is dedicated to the appearance of the face. In the video entitled Reviens, the face gray shadow is enlightened a fraction of a second before its features become hidden by a wind of ash. In other videos, especially Reviens II andIII, an identical event takes place under the action of intermittent lightings.
In fact, the two mediums used in each series evolve both in parallel and in opposite directions; progressively, the photographic fixation moves towards a fixed kinetics, produced by the visible traces of the gestures of the artist, while the video tends toward the vision of a snapshot that persists. This inverse dynamic, which is gradually established, is the coming and going between appearance and disappearance which is at the center of the work.
The video loops repeat, in a compulsive manner, a ceaselessly unsatisfied wish to see what the photographic lens in fact is able to capture; but whatever is thus captured comes as ravaged and decaying aspects. The image-memory disintegrates in the irreversibility of time, just as Eurydice’s image in the desperate eyes of poor Orpheus who turned around too early to look back at Hades gate to ascertain the presence of his beloved wife. It was too early, but strangely enough far too late in this unidimensional time. The beautiful dryad turned into a memory itself dedicated to disappearance, yet recalling Orpheus lyre which has been a source of inspiration for artists and poets since Antiquity.
Mythic references impose themselves wholly when examining Annabel Aoun Blanco’s work and show amply the emotional power that runs throughout her work. First and foremost, due to her personal involvement in her choice of the titles for each image that seem to resonate as commands she would address to one who has vanished (ReviensI-XXVI (come back), Eloigne moi de toi (take me away from you), Détends-toi (relax)) or possibly as instructions she gave herself (Zoome (zoom in), Dézoome (zoom out). Then, it also stems through her understanding of the links that unite the subjects of her artistic practice to the nature of the media she utilizes: the aesthetic redefinition of the imprint and of the trace, the photographic grain which is perfectly associated with the roughness of the image-memory and the video sequences which persist endlessly in reversed time escalation. Eventually, it appears through the gentle melancholy expressed by the images through this appeal to a return of time which seems to develop the final line from Proust’s Swann’s way: The memory of a certain image is only the regret of a certain moment.
Those reflections are a small opening to the admirable and bold scope of a work reinvigorated by the efforts of the voluntary memory and the jolts of the involuntary memory, built as a novel seeking its own completion, a lifetime work.
1stday of Spring 2018.