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Story of the eye


To others, the universe seems honest. It seems honest to honest people because they have castrated eyes,
“Story of the Eye” Georges Bataille 1928

The discovery of Patrick Aalk’s photography, especially his “Eye” shots, has awakened in me the blurred memory of my REM sleep, these rapid eye movements from my trance-like sleepwalk, blinking in saccade in futile attempts to capture time in total unconsciousness. Aalk’s moving images of eyes were unexpectedly revealed to me from behind layers of bubble wrap, at a precise moment when I was meditating on the rapport between time and space that is central to the cinematography of Michelangelo Antonioni. We open wide our eyes when we are born, in French we say “on voit le jour” – we see the day. When we die, our eyes are shut, either by ourselves or someone else does it for us. In between, our eyes have consumed billions of images, only a fraction of them are stored in our memory. In a parallel to the process of photography: to take a photo, we open the diaphragm and let “life” in, we let the light impress the negative, then we release the shutter and the picture is “captured”: a time capsule for eternity, actually, like they say in cinema, a “freeze-frame shot”. There is no more movement, no more sound and fury.

In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes wrote: “When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not “emerge”, do not “leave”: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.”The anesthetist Patrick Aalk stands in the middle of the hunting ground, and finger on the trigger like many other hunter-photographers, opening and shutting the lens of his camera, the only difference here is that Aalk shoots as he breathes. The bougé that he creates, the “blur” as he calls it, is a manifestation of his breath-in (opening) and breath-out (shutting) with the camera posed on the rise and fall of his chest. My pulse accelerated when I saw from the bougé the reincarnation of a Man Ray’s photograph in a pair of “Cyclops” twins posing cheek-to-cheek. Aalk’s solarized blur is indeed the memory of our first vision in life when we opened our eyes right after birth, as we searched hungrily for the “red circles” in the immensity of a white milky universe to which we would hook up our gluttonous lips.

Aalk, blade in hand, cut out more bubble wrap to unveil his compulsive accumulation of horizontal landscapes where the moving lines in dazzling stardust form the traces of his nomadic journey from his Piedmontese / Swedish bloodlines to his former life as a Subterranean Paris adventurer to his current archeological exploration of human condition in China. Reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s layer-paintings, Aalk’s photographs both in black & white and colors are brimming with his own shifting emotions. To quote the master: “If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom.” These canvassed spaces composed of moving lines make sense when they cross the vertical frames of his obsessive series of eyes wide-open and eyes wide-shut. The crucifix they form together represents the attempt to create the equation of time and space of our existence, the equilibrium that we have never attained between the Father Figure and the Mother Figure. In the end, as a metaphor, the eye becomes the recording device of our story of pleasure and pain, and the lines tell our moments of ecstasy and despair, our experience of Eros and Thanatos. In the manner of Odilon Redon’s “Strange Balloon Mounting towards Infinity”, the eye is forever attracted to the light that dazzles and blinds it.

“Time runs and flows, and only our death succeeds in catching up with it. Photography is a blade which, in eternity, impales the dazzling moment.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Patrick Aalk
Through July 10th, 2015
ARTCN Gallery
No.423, Guangfu Lu
(near Suzhou Creek)

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