Reflexion Points About the Artistic Work

Recollection of a certain image…

Pondering Annabel Aoun Blanco’s work

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 face shapes blurry as footprints or 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 displeasure1. 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 that already are 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 moi de toi and Descadres, 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
Passe, fantôme blanc, sur le long fleuve noir2

For more than a thousand years, sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river2.

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. The image entitled dézoome 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 and III, an identical event takes place under the action of intermittent lightings.

The two mediums used in each series actually evolve in parallel as well as 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 at the core of the back and forth between the appearance and the 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 the aspects of ravage and decay. 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 (REVIENS–REVIENS XXVIII (come back), Eloigne moi de toi (move away from me), DETENDS-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.

Robert Pujade

traduction © Lionel Fintoni

1 Pascal, Pensée 678, Ed Brunschvicg.

2 Arthur Rimbaud, La Mort d’Ophélie.