In line with the neo-taxidermic work of Joël-Peter Witkin, Annette Messager, Damien Hirst, Jan Fabre, and Maurizio Cattelan, the exhibition Bestiaire, herbiers et autres bestioles [Bestiary, herbarium, and other creatures] joins the work of Jonathan Abbou and Elizabeth Prouvost. Themed around transformation, there is a parallel that questions an animalistic concept whose embalmment revives our desire for eternity.
Though Jonathan Abbou’s cabinet of curiosities draws upon “staged” taxidermy started in the 19th century, here it has an erotic extension, calling on the Naiades, shifting and eroticizing the meaning. These elaborate sketches that mix human and beast, living and inert, fur and naked skin, owe the creation of timeless illusion to the photographic medium. Captured on the same film, then frozen together in the print, life and death are inextricably linked in fixed movement. After Poseidon lover of Medusa, after Leda seduced by Zeus and transformed into a swan, Abbou, blurring the categories, tries out his own esoteric legends.
The revelation of this doubly focused show takes form in the approach of Elizabeth Prouvost, whose artistic choice, inversely, is to emphasize detail, an essential subject of art. With an eye for movement, characteristic of the photographer, she does the opposite of Abbou’s mythologies, focusing on capturing the timeless truths in the living-dead eye of the model. Unlike a safari photo, the illusion of movement resides in the “lively” use of the lens. While Abbou composes in baroque and fantastical isolation, Prouvost opts for an introspective minimalism that verges on hallucinatory.
Wide, clear shots against close, blurred shots. With these two complementary prisms shown as a “diptych”, it is no longer a relationship to reality but to the representation of this reality. By reproducing a simulacrum of life, duplicating a stuffed representation, photography perpetuates death imitating life on film. From reality to myth, there is only a flash of difference. But between resemblance and reality, what do we believe in the presented images? This young muse, is she made of marble? The owl, will it take flight? The eye of the beast, is it really glass? It seems so alive. Will it turn and look at us? From the depths of a mirror, any look expresses a mute signification. Gone wild under prehistoric skies, its reflection seems like lightning ready to sweep down on our mammalian certitudes.
From living to imitation, from human to animal, Bestiaire, herbiers et autres bestioles resonates like a commemoration of an ancestral condition, this embedded eternity that ends, some days, some nights, by recovering the surface of what we continue to ignore of ourselves.
Jonathan John Abbou & Élizabeth Prouvost, Bestiaire, herbiers et autres bestioles
From April 12 through 16, 2018
23 rue des filles du Calvaire