Pauline Hisbacq and I have been friends for ten years. Our photographic correspondence has begun at the time of our installation ‘Cadavre exquis’ at “Le Bal” in Autoumn 2019, during the Rolling Paper festival. Each one of us being on a different photographic path, we both create images out of time, fascinated and nourished by other images that we cherish. I’m delighted that, through this interview with Pauline, I’m able to talk about her beautiful book Amour Adolescente (chants d’amour) – Adolescent Love (love songs) published by par Editions Le Rayon Vert.
1/This series is about love. In Amour Adolescente (chants d’amour) the repetition of the word makes me recall the greatness of this feeling but also the adolescence. Could you talk about this ideal displayed in your work?
Yes, there is love and there is desire as recurring trajectories in my works.
In Adolescent Love (love songs), there is this very particular moment where the mourning, the loss of love, the deep pain of love, are blended to the rebirth of desire, to the vitalized libido, to the reproduced desire for the new bodies. This is death and life at the same time. There’s no more love, it leaves its place to a vital momentum, taking its source within the ashes.
By using the question of adolescence in the title of this series, I had the objective to enhance the unprecedented dimension of this universal feeling. The first love, the adolescent pattern are concepts that can be experienced late in one’s life. And it may not last for long. I wanted to express the innocence and the romanticism of this feeling. It wasn’t like I gave it a certain time or date, it was rather an affirmation of its naïve, entire dimension.
In a general way, love is what interests me the most in life.
2/In this late publication you get away from the party of a band (The beats) or from a night trip (Holden) in order to tell us the relation between two bodies, two human beings.This song is like a discrete declaration for the loved one. Could you tell me how did the transition from a group to a couple took place in your work? How was this passage of love and its intimacy interpreted by the others who were present in the room?
I think I always work with feelings that concern me in that moment. For a long time, relations with the group, with the party scene were annoying desires for me. I needed to explore this photographically to understand where I was situating myself intimately with or next to others.
Then there’s been a massive rupture in my life. I had to make a clean sweep of most of my sentimental attachments. I also protected myself in a new environment. I needed to work on this in images. This leaded to two concurrent projects: The Adolescent fire and Love (love songs).
In Amour Adolescente, it’s not finally a love declaration but a declaration of a rupture. It’s like turning away from the loved one. Although it’s really about desire and libido, this is an essentially solitary project. It’s about trying to recall in images, in a choral and deconstructed way, the disunity, the wave in the soul and the body on fire. The couple doesn’t recall this. This is also a work on memory, on mirror images (a column is a fallus) and on images that evocate desire. The desire is really a matter of landscape. It’s a world, a projection which draws itself, with its geographical and rhythmic characteristics (I’m not talking about politics or sociology!). This is a visual recall. This is what I tried to compose in Amour Adolescente (chants d’amour). Every image is an interpretation, the symbol or the memory of something.
3/In Amour Adolescente we find all the patterns you like (the decorative, the flowers, the marble, the skin abrasion…), fertile also for the other series in progress or the ones that are yet to come. Are these songs the inventory of attractions for you? The moods we go through when we are in love? Can you talk about this?
It’s true that you can find all the patterns that I like in my work. The term “inventory” is a bit distant but yes, maybe this is a very personal inventory of my attractions. But every pattern happened to me, I didn’t search for them There was a kind of wandering or flirting in the way that I have found and interpreted these images in this project.
4/Do the attraction and its intensity belong purely to the adolescence?
I hope not!
5/Is it your attraction for these bodies or the attraction they have in themselves?
I think the word adolescent in the title causes a confusion. I don’t talk about adolescence in this work. I use this word to give an epiphanic character to the images.
The adolescence is in fact a moment of life that fascinates me, because I think that it’s a big moment before the fall in the maturity. The adolescents still live day to day. Their “innocence” attracts me a lot. I really like looking at them, because of the beauty of their faces and their behaviours “to become”. I also love the fact that they have their own world. Before or after the adolescence, you are excluded.
6/The images that you create or collect appear to me as they have the power of reassuring, soothing. Do you think that the nostalgia is a way of protection against our violent and grey world? Is this your way of building a space in which you feel good? Protected?
Yes, the images that I collect or I create do have the primary function of charming and soothing me.There is something very domestic in the way that I work. They are always internalised images. It’s good to imagine that these series are my shelter. I love this idea!
The nostalgia, I don’t know. I think that it’s the color through which I see things. My love for photography has started with family photography. The works that I adore are family photos: Shades of time of Annelies Strba, Ruth on the phone of Nigel Shafran, and they are rather melancholic. My tool is what was used very ordinarily by the families when I was a child (a silver, compact point and shoot).
7/Adolescence is a recurring theme in your previous works. Marked by Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) in “To our loves” by Maurine Pialat, you stuck a lot to a young lonely girl figure, exuberant and adventurous. I feel today that this subject slips into the concept of family. The nest of the images that you’ve built so far (The fire, Love Songs…), does it in a way shows your family as a succession through the stages of life? And do you wish indirectly to include this new notion in your work?
Certainly. I noticed not long ago that my work challenged the idea of cycle, of passage.
I photographed my daughter a lot ever since she was born. Maternity is a new dimension which has given new perspectives to my photographic desires, a new landscape drawing itself.
It’s been a while since I take photos of young mothers with their babies or toddlers. It connected, for sure.
8/Do you think about Nina’s adolescence in this perspective? Would you like to record it? Do you think that this period would be the moment of presenting another adolescence, as her mother?
I don’t imagine Nina as an adolescent yet. I take a lot of photos of her, since she’s born. I wish to keep track of her evaluation. For the moment, I’m interested in childhood.
Yes, I really want to record her phases. This is an old and long term project. I would like to record short talks filmed with her, periodically (maybe once a year?), ask her questions about her life, her desires, the meaning of her life, ecc… She’s beginning to talk so I will definitely start doing it!
9/In your ongoing researches you look around and read about “l’amour courtois”. How do you consider this form of love versus your description of the adolescence? Is gentle love something that belongs to the adulthood?
I started my researches on gentle love at the same time that the composition of Amour Adolescente (chants d’amour) started too. This was a way of poetising this moment of rupture that I was actually living, in order to transform it into a photographic “work”. I’ve especially read theoretical texts about gentle love, as background music or imaginary landscape.
In gentle love, the desire and the art of seducing are far more important than the consumption of love. The journey towards the other is much more beautiful than its resolution in the unity of the bodies. It’s relaxant. It’s an aesthetic and moral gesture. I love its disuse and its “autonomy”. The gentle lover is at his climax even if the person he loves doesn’t ask for it. The solitude is not its opposite. It’s interesting In this sense gentle love is adolescent! When I was an adolescent, I really preferred the silent love period in which we’d done films about the person who attracted us, rather than the couple. In gentle love there is no couple, because the woman is already married.
The patterns of gentle love are also a source of inspiration for me: the medieval, the decorative, the floral, the hair as feminine attributes…
10/In your series we find a relation to History namely of Art (Ancient, Middle Ages, Renaissance). When you photograph bodies, do you wish to include them in this History of figures/forms? Do you think that these gestures and inherited bodies are universal and thus, they exist in each one of us. How do you reveal them?
It’s an unconscious journey. My work is nourished with the history of art without being intentional and pretentious. I work in a sculpture museum, I regularly take photos of the sculptures within this frame. This infuses naturally my artistic work. On the other hand I don’t see here a universality. This is a personal taste.
I also think that this is a sort of method. It’s easier for me to work with sculptured bodies than human bodies. I feel more free, less shy. Going through the sculpture allows me to make my marks to look at human bodies afterwards.
Interview by Marie Queau
Translation by Zeyno Beşikçi
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.
W.B. Yeats: The winding stair
I stared at the first image of this series for a significant amount of time. I felt the need to talk to my own reflection after I stopped looking at it. The awareness of aging, the wisdom that comes with the body breaking down, the tears that were never shed, the divine moment hidden in future wrinkles, the stretched skin and the fissures; mirror after mirror, the image that you think is going to tell you who you truly are as you approach the reflective surface, stays silent. This very intense and personal visual chronicle by Rory King dissects the feeling of longing for something that is never fully shown; ambiguous and faceless figures escape from consumption.
A recurrent symbol appears in this body of work: The Sun.
It appears as an ink mark on the chest of the artist in various self-portraits and as the yearning for unbounded freedom relaxes, it sparkles on a stretch of water in the guise of Kairos, the Immortal Now, paying a romantic tribute to Masao Yamamoto.
Confronting myself with the simulacrum of our infinite source of energy, I think of it as a father who holds the name of his children like a net in his hands. This thought immediately brought me to “Solar Inferno and the Earthbound abyss” by Reza Negarestani. In this text, the philosopher brings up the idea that all organisms in the biosphere are subjected to a ‘Heliocentric Slavery’, since the dying star narrows the speculative opportunities of radical exteriority. What the Sun, our exorbitant source of energy, creates, remains within the confines of its own limits. In the solar system, ideas and possibilities of how to live are reduced to solutions to confront the problem of consumption; the plurality of life is enforced at the expense of monism in death. What we call death is then just one of the possible narratives of the abyss, the terrestrial face of something that has unbound potential.
Under the spell of Rory King’s self-portraits, I wrote as if I were him: “I feel like I died many times, but the Sun tells me I get to die just once”.
The closing piece of this series shows a shadow that seems to whisper: “Which way out shall I take?”. Identity dissolves into the abyss and the shadow seems to find the face it had before the world was made.
Words by Cecilia Nobili
In 1992 The World’s Scientists Warning to Humanity was signed by Henry W. Kendall and other 1.700 leading scientists. The document begins with these words:”Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course”. 25 years later, in November 2017, 15.364 scientists signed The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. The call does not seem to have been answered. Accepting that what our species did to the biosphere might look like what is described in eschatological writings, would mean embracing our absolute vanity and dealing with our responsibilities, a thing that does not seem to be achievable before destruction.
Put the signs of negligence and violence before our eyes, we will not move. Let us live surrounded by dying creatures and rubble, you might listen to some of us raising our voices, but the revolution will not come. The solution seems to lie beyond death itself, in the non-worldly as a possibility of the forthcoming end of the world. Every single fact concerning mortal beings is arbitrary, artificial and generates from a notion of violence and an exosomatic process slipped through the fingers of whom is supposed to be in control. Marie Queau’s work, especially the series Odds and ends, made me think about ways to regain agency. Examining her production and reading her interviews and publications bombarded me with flashes, immersing me in the realm of things that exist but are not manifested. The spirit of the atomic bomb relives in Gojira, a plane crash breaths in and out of its wreckage-skeleton through the words of Paul Virilio, Philip K. Dick is evoked to explain conceptual dislocation as the key element to provide possible futures, as in fiction, as outside of it. Bernard Stiegler, in a recent article on morality within the technosphere, addresses the fact that the only antidote to the inherent entropy of holon (the whole) is restoring noetic activity. The pharmakon is thinking, experiencing the local difference between microcosm and macrocosm, between a sand grain and the desert. Odds and ends embodies that difference, the distance that reveals what can be understood. I heard some of Marie Queau’s pictures talking; some, conversing with one another without noticing me, some others screaming at me to wake up. In Le Royaume, her ongoing project where we see photographs taken during a french sporting event called Le Mud Day, we are forced to deal with the stillness of myth and how its weight both haunts us and shelters us. Given a platform onto which it is possible to project the ghosts of the past, the contours of a humanity that is capable of defining itself only through what it removes start to appear. Adopting a more documentary approach, in this series, Marie Queau shows us again something that we would not normally look for if we were to follow our default setting, the same setting responsible for the revolution not happening.
Words by Cecilia Nobili