Forces of nature

Quite by accident French artist Christine Laquet and I met at a talk which took place about one month ago.  Like most accidental meetings, there was something of a mysterious fate at play.  At least in my case, there was my intuition telling me that I should get to know her better than just exchanging a few words in a friendly conversation over wine and cheese at the reception that followed the talk we both attended.  For the next few weeks, I didn't see a trace of Christine nor did I remember to get her contact information that evening. 

Then later during the week of all those art fairs, something else happened while I took a particular fancy to looking at works that consisted of trees and branches that were half-way withered or abandoned.  At one of the booths, to my initial annoyance someone's head nudged into my field of vision as I attempted to get to the details of one particular image.  Quickly as the head turned toward me, it was Christine and I instantly recognized her.  From there, we exchanged information and I promised to do a studio visit in the near future. 

This little chance meeting transpired a lot more of our common interests and somehow our ways of seeing reciprocated.   Much to my delight, I discovered her works to be elegant as well as intelligent.  Currently participating in a residency at the Flux Factory, Christine's studio was half filled with books by anthropologists and philosophers from Philippe Descola to Claude Lévi-Strauss and other ones on the subject of chimpanzees (these were just the few I recognized since all of them were printed in her native French language).  Then the other half of her studio was filled with her current studies and experiments for more recent projects that included images of KingKong, historic documentations of people that lived with chimpanzees and guerrillas, as well as a few objects and drawings that she has been experimenting, such as drawings with the use of Japanese ink on transparent sheets of fabric.  It was quite fascinating to listen to her as she demonstrated her own technique of testing the ink's resilience to the fabric by rubbing and projecting light through it. 


By another chance meeting, Christine met Robert Steijn, a performer and a dancer from Holland who is based in Vienna.  At the moment they met, they both instantly felt an affinity toward each other and decided to collaborate.  The latest collaboration was done as a part of Christine's solo exhibition called Une brève histoire de tout (A brief history of everything) that took place in 2012.  The performance was a dance-like enactment of a ritual between a hunter and his prey named You should never forget the jungle. It was about 40 minutes long and in which the two performers utilized props such as a hunting knife, a piece of animal fur, a hunting horn and a drawing on fabric by Christine that served as a backdrop for the scene. 

The narrative of the piece along with the atmosphere of a ritual performed with apprehensive tension captured the audience.  With a sharp knife suspending in the mid air, the artist tempted her own limits of fear and anxiety to the foreboding harm.  In this piece, both performers pushed boundaries and tested their own limits.  Amid the silences, sharp cries and physical convulsions of the performers mimicked a struggle between a hunter and an animal that was about to be sacrificed.  The performance was like an allegorical love story between the animal and the hunter, as the relationship between the hunter and the animal slowly transformed into a kind of mutual compassion and guardianship. 




The above two images were taken from a series called Ways of Seeing (the wolf) / (the hind) / (the deer).  Inspired by the footage taken from the wild with a special camera that allowed her to film in the dark, Christine was able to capture the animals in their natural habitat.  What was interesting about these large drawings done with Japanese ink on sheer fabric was her experimentation with shifting the light and dark areas while working with the natural colors of the fabric.  The transparent fabric offered a translucent effect, and by leaving certain parts unpainted Christine managed to bring forth the physical presence of the animals.  As the animals emerged from a dark void, the space that did not come in contact with the ink gave a certain aura to the animals' physical presence.  In other words they seemed to be coming off of the drawing into real life.  


In 2011, Christine was invited to Korea for participation in a three-month artist residency with Gyeonggi Creation Center.  While there and yet by another magical chance meeting Christine made the acquaintance with a local shaman.  Through intimate interactions and mutual trust formed by intuition, she became fascinated with the way how the shaman perceived the world.  In reciprocation, the shaman also became very fond of Christine and wished to take her in as a daughter.  By doing so the shaman wished to transmit her vision and knowledge vicariously to the vision and body of Christine.








In this process of initiation and experimentation, Christine began to understand more about shamanism she also found a certain connection for developing her own work.  As in her own words she described her feelings as:

"… What interested me in being in contact with the shaman community is that I felt a strong 'liberated desire,' Through a para-sensorial sensibility, an artistic creation and rituals, it produces a kind of 'fourth dimension.'  What I mean by a 'liberated desire' is that it escapes the impasse of private fantasy …"*

Then she went on to say that:

"… What counts is not the authoritarian unification, but rather a sort of infinite spreading.  Shamanism points to the attribution of life, autonomy, power, objects, 'other-than-human persons', where the majority of social relationship is reduced to the magical matrix of things."*

The latter three images from above were of drawings and scribbles produced from a performance called Fortune Telling Performance with the shaman.  It emerged as if a map of the fortune-teller's mind and described of the visceral impact she felt upon the physical presence of her inquirer.  It showed the fluidity of fortune-telling to be that of a non-linear story-telling.  Much like our memories, in the way that the present, past and future have all been fused into one continuous entity.  



In the book published to accompany her residency and the works produced while at Gyeonggi Creation Center, Christine quoted from Ways of Seeing a book by John Berger**.  In which John Berger started our by saying:

"Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. …" **


But he also pointed out that the use of language was limited in its ability to accurately and fully explain all visual phenomenon that we encounter.  Since words only conveyed the interpretation of what was seen and not the actual thing itself, therefore he also said that:

"… we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled." **

Inspired by his text, Christine explored the ambiguity between the visually perceived and the true physical existence of the subject in question.  In these last images above, she took photographs of a horse lying on the grass but turned on its back as seen in the first image.  When looking at the images, one would feel a little disoriented while the figure / ground relationship seemed to be reserved.  In such that the horse could be seen as if in the midst of a run or lying on its back.  This way, the gravity of the image also seemed shifted and turned upside down.  In the second image, the horse's back almost looked as if a back of a human being.  Its curved spine and its illuminating fur conveyed an almost human-like sensuality.  For these works it indicated that it was based on this ambiguity in our visual perception that we tried to find our footings in the world, and thus Christine took this a little further into exploring the psychological aspect of our interpretation of certain conventional visual cues.





Meanwhile, to further her research on what distinguishes human from an animal, or the transformation from one to the other, Christine has begun a new series of work for which she explores the nature of beasts.  Her focus has been on the beastly-nature within us humans as well as the fictional beasts that we conjure up by projecting cultural images and assigning stereotypical attributions to the "unknown creatures"- of those that we do not yet fully understand.    In this last image shows a work in progress, they are of pictures and clippings that Christine found and collected in order to arrive at a new method of conveying the delicate and fine line of which in most conventional cases would help to define a human being from an animal or a wild beast.  In these works, she is not only trying to explore the differences in our visual perceptions of what is wild versus what is civilized, but also she hopes to find commonalities between us humans and the wild beasts.

Christine will do a performance in a show curated by Mille Højerslev Nielsen on April 18th, click here for more information.  In addition, her solo exhibition at the Flux Factory will take place in early June.  I am excited to see what she will share as the product of her laborious search and experimentation.  By then, I hope to have learned more about the unpredictable forces of nature and that lies outside of my human consciousness.

*I See The Sea and The Sea Sees Me by Christine Laquet, a publication by Mediabus with the support from Gyeonggi Creation Center in 2011

**Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC television series of John Berger; a book made by John Berger, Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, Michael Dibb, Richard Hollis.  Published by the British Broadcasting Corporation and by Penguin Books Limited in 1972

All image courtesy the artist

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