Elsa Mazeau : From the invention of the past

The first project is to raise from the ashes a new building, a new building, a refoundation of a school – a college, its boarding school, a renewed place of life where the generations meet – this is the first project. This new building, which seeks to enable the institution to revamp itself, also aims to offer itself in its ultra-modernity, a pixelated building, a virtual world at the heart of knowledge and recognition strategies. To achieve this self-realization, full of utopian promises, that of building a better world on the scale of a school, this project is accompanied by an implementation – an artistic program called Ipotêtu.
This is the context in which Elsa Mazeau intervened in the direction of students but also of people from the environment close to the school. An intervention that was accompanied by a cooperation with an archaeologist, Laurence Cornet. Elsa Mazeau’s artistic proposal creates an articulation to this global project of the complex, by proposing gestures to the teenagers and the various participants to allow them a grasp that is also turned towards a “self-realization”. The artist’s idea was to first allow young people to approach archaeological and scientific work, by sharing knowledge and gestures transmitted by archaeologist Laurence Cornet, and then to offer them the opportunity to replay them through artistic practice. These three axes of work give rise to different works: Performing the facade; Stratifications; and Poetics and memory of the carrot. Three actions, three practices, three achievements.

In this vast project, Elsa Mazeau acts as a stimulus, making memories jump up and down, bodies bounce, and crystallizing a memory that is already evaporating. Stratification, coring, but also tensioned wire that makes the possible and impossible uses of the place resonate, she suggests visual explorations of different kinds.
Tipping gestures on “mattresses”, the support cushioning, softness against line rigidity, in Perform the facade. These are images charged with all possible risks, and all potential… There, the artist’s technical choices recall photomontage, and more particularly, Los Sueños de Grete Stern, and in particular, Sueño de peligro, (1949), where a young woman climbs a rock-shell, and where a wave hits the rock and licks the lines of her body. In Elsa Mazeau’s proposal, the montage offers the connection of a building – with strong geometric lines – with the fragility, tonicity and imbalances of the bodies. This linking of lines and beings acts as a “friction” and shapes a conflict situation. The effects of contrast and dissension between the straight lines, the geometric shapes of the facades and the movements of the bodies, their relations to the void, to the unexpected, charge the photographic image with a dynamic that the soundtracks made by Olivier Toulemonde are accompanying, underlining their exploratory character. The differences in the gestures of the adolescents photographed indicate the multiplicity of positions – from apparent and misleading stability to movements of imbalance that announce the fall and accident, as well as attitudes of fighting and resistance. Elsa Mazeau installs the dynamics of bodies and futures into their instability – the experience is shared but the approaches are steeped in the singularity of beings. Thus, the life experience is embodied in a metaphor played by the contrast of the adolescent body against the rigours of the building.

The twists of the support, a pink and porous foam, unite and test the relationship between the structure, which signals the institution, and the body, which is being explored and discovered in this confrontation. The foam seems by its porosity and softness to ” smooth ” the angles of a relationship that is ” played “, we try to.

Through this work, the artist reminds us that the school is the place to experiment and test (oneself). For such an institution to be a bearer of utopia, it must offer a space to experience the fall, the accident, the danger and in parallel, the artist puts the perceiving subject in a position to replay these explorations – it is a question of pointing out the necessity of an interpretation, that is to say a seizure by the sensitive being of this environment and its rigidities to make its potential emerge. Performing the façade seems to crystallize this dual and complex relationship, taking advantage of the fictional nature of photographic images, allowing them to point out the essence of the child’s experience by forgetting the real.

In Stratifications, there are shapes shimmering; thanks to the printing medium – brass plates, which accompany the contrasts of the sedimented masses in the foreground, and buildings in the background, which become evanescent, ghostly.

The images printed on the brass plates show a universe of layers – earth, branches, leaves, small stones… – that come to shield buildings, more or less present, seen through all the heaps and plastic films. While the support, like the golden background of a Byzantine image, reflects the gaze. It creates a reflective surface, in a plastic way, the gaze bounces off the reflections and shimmers of this brass, a building material, but it is also a reflective surface, a space for thought, a projection surface. It causes “specular reflections” as to the penetrability of images. The relationships maintained between the masses at the foregrounds and the bottoms of the images, becoming spectral, there is not only sedimentation in the presented heaps, the first screen of the image, but the elements of the background, by their blurry forms, are just as impenetrable, then there is still a doubling by the quality of the support – the golden metal which “raises the look up and closes the image”.

Thus, the sedimented masses, but also the beings and buildings that are then as if they had been erased, and their support – golden mirrors, refined – extracted from their context of raw materials, which have become precious; everything contributes to questioning the possibility of capturing the image. The presence of brass plates, left virtually blank, without any impression, but bearing the fingerprints of fingers that have manipulated and touched the surface, and why not the imperceptible traces of a breath, slight deposits of mist, give rhythm and reinforce this ghostly and reflective nature to the images. This presence is that of an absence – the trace of a body manipulating images, it is also an empty space where the gaze can rest, make a stop. This formal choice brings a feeling of obstruction, glances that bounce off and do not really penetrate the images, the coming of a blur, as a whole it gives the images the dimension of a dreamlike space, like a kind of reminder, a round trip to the land of Hades, that of an impossible look. Thus, the Stratifications gives itself as an image bearing a certain impossibility of “seeing”, whereas the gesture of making strata is offered as a gesture of capturing a past: it is however perceived not as a source of clarity but rather as the doubling of an opacity.

The past is also replayed in these ice cores, other means of archaeological and climatic knowledge. Here again, the artist uses fiction to show a temporal dimension: the past symbolized by these carrots, carrying memory and poetry, indicates the artist in the choice of its title is also this elusive thing, a material that begins to melt as soon as it is extracted. A material that when confronted with public places, or aesthetized in solitary images, is evanescent, sinking, vanishing and disappearing.

The artist proposes gestures, seizing, and provokes the appearance of images that would never have been produced if they had remained exclusively in control of the camera, then she collects, selects the images, lingers on finding the printing modes, prints, questions the media. The choice of images, then making a mutation taking the image out of its usual domain, pushing it towards its limits.

On the one hand, she makes light of respect for the index, the “sacred” nature of reality taken from the “photographic myth”, she works with fuzzy logic, she also plays with the elaboration, the transformation of images, a certain capacity for sophistication, and on the other hand, she comes to print, confront, test the image to its support by a game of rapprochement, friction, brass and foam here, imprint of mattresses taken from the ceramic, or friable material elsewhere… Play with the camera to thwart the camera whether it is a photographic device or a knowledge device. The past then emerges as an invented form and still to be grasped.

Lucia Sagradini