In her book Our Emotional Makeup, Vinciane Despret wrote: “To build the landscapes in which other versions of knowledge may have been elaborated in the encounter with new versions of emotion, I’m going to invite you to a journey. Or, more precisely, to a disorientation.1”
This is perhaps the most fitting way to approach this two-chapter exhibition. Imagined as a disorientation through a polyphony of practices, emotions and sensations, “en partant de là et trois jours en arrière” [leaving there and three days ago] brings together a group of artists — Quentin Broquet, Jeanne Chopy, Assia Ermolova, Eugénie Faurie, Armineh Negahdari and Émilie Richelet — who, from the outset, have one thing in common: a shared studio space. However, this journey quickly reveals links between the different practices as we witness a palette of perceptions and feelings — from anger to fear, from nostalgia to joy — that weld, assemble, draw, capture, sew and shape a softly distorted landscape.
Chapter 1: en partant de là…
Quentin Broquet, Assia Ermolova, Armineh Negahdari
Some might mistakenly confuse the “there” referred to in the title with the studio the artists have shared over the course of the year. But this “there” should rather be understood as a multiple “there”, an ambivalent place that avoids its placeness. Coming from diverse horizons, the artists featured in this first chapter reveal their own “there”. This distorted landscape is vaguely outlined in space through fragments of cities, inhabited by unsettling figures, while a dominant motif is revealed: emptiness.
This emptiness is all encompassing, in its fullness, like a deafening silence: Assia Ermolova’s work is proof of this. The skeleton of a rocket stands in the space, embodying a veritable power play: the form here is not borrowed directly from that of the spacecraft, but rather from Soviet playgrounds, where children climb on structures that mimic military forms. Entitled Silence, this sculpture pinpoints the absurdity of a reality in which symbols of power are omnipresent and overwhelming, even in childhood. Yet desperate humor is always present in Assia Ermolova’s work: a tongue pressed against the metal structure evokes a childhood fear of the artist who grew up in Russia – that of licking cold metal. The structure then reveals itself as the site of an ambiguous sensation oscillating between playfulness and anxiety. A group of pigs watch over the scene, reminiscent of icons or portraits of authority figures, as if to say: it’s better to hold your tongue.
Silence and emptiness are simultaneously containers and contained in Quentin Broquet’s work. In the series Archéologisme presented here, fragments of an unspecified urban space are presented like relics, evoking how affect and memory are intrinsically linked to place. In an approach akin to that of an archaeologist, the artist brings neglected places back to life. The status of his boxes becomes ambiguous: hung on the wall, they take on the pictorial quality of a portrait in their composition, but once placed on a pedestal, the image of the coffin is unavoidable. Grief and nostalgia, however, have not simply reached their end; as their receptacles are constructed from transport materials, they are carried away, set in motion. The disorientation continues.
And while Assia Ermolova’s and Quentin Broquet’s works seem to create emotional landscapes – vast as they are – the elusive characters in Armineh Negahdari’s drawings penetrate these spaces. Dominant lines interrupted by scribbles suggest a stammering of the every day. Eating, caressing, whispering, then spitting, vomiting, stinging, throwing, touching one’s ass, all before doing a full split. Armineh’s line is resolutely affective, as it seems to have blossomed from a boiling “there”, from a feverish energy, before evaporating into a devouring emptiness.
This chapter, with its elusive title, reveals a jolting sense of disorientation. “Cities, like dreams, are made up of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules absurd, their perspectives deceptive; and every thing hides another2” as Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities, the book from which our title is taken. Let’s replace ‘the cities’ here with the ‘theres’ from which we depart, those that maintain a loose, yet visceral, grip.
1 Vinciane Despret, Ces émotions qui nous fabriquent, Paris, Points, 2022.
2 Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, Boston, Mariner Books, 1978.