No two Paris Mois de la Photo are the same. Some are impoverished or conventional ; others offer the public an opportunity to discover excellent work. The 2012 photo month was of the latter kind. For example, I was much struck by the radicalism of the work of three artists who have reached full artistic maturity, Patrick Tosani and Lynne Cohen, whose praises I have sung here before, and Corinne Mercadier, who has magisterially refreshed an iconography that sometimes was too poetically pretty.
WHISPERS OF SOLITUDE The end of the production of Polaroid SX70 film gave Mercadier the opportunity – after some doubt and despair – to impart a new power to her work, as attested by the digital images in the two series Black Screen and Solo. One could be considered as the double of the other, and the other its inconscious. Since the beginning Mercadier has used little sketchbooks to draw and paint with gouache. Blotches that become landscapes and then the womb of the photographic work to come. In these series light plays the same role as in theater. It is light – deep darkness and luminescent, radiant white – that conditions and stages reality. So much so that these photos resemble negatives, as if by means of digitalization this artist had paradoxically gone back to the « mother image », the very womb of photography. In Black Screen, she returns to her obsessions : the Renaissance perspective box, doors, simple, rough everyday objects (buckets, plates, boards); and always the construction of a black space that blocks any possible opening, any possible breathing, and yet obviously false, « an artifice that makes the image a little colder ». Reminiscences of glassplate photography are also implied. In each of these pictures solitude whispers ; a question about the shape that one should give to his life. While everything in Black Screen was founded as is, everything is constructed and meticulously staged in Solo, a series that is founded on a triptych called « La Piste » as a suddenly stopped action or flight. A white line runs through the entire space, crossing the black sleeve of a woman poised to start a foot race. The line endows the scene with materiality, but it also separates « the livable from the too mysterious ». In most of the scenes there is an actress with an hieratic air, a prophetess, Madonna or Diana the Hunter proudly defending her place against flying objects. For as a conductor of her work, Mercadier directs off-camera assistants to throw balls, sticks and tires in a kind of an homage to Etienne-Jules Marey’s experiments in capturing motion and to Chris Marker’s « La Jetée ». In these pictures taken in a salt marsh or at an abandonned landing strip, people and objects bathe in the golden hues of twilight. There is a powerful magnetism between objects and people, « dream catchers, lightning rods of the instant », while the frozen movement suggests a complex relation to dance. A woman is magically surrounded by four balls thrown at random until chance become destiny, and a seated, motionless man (a watchman?) is reminiscent of the sittin toreador shackeled in the bullring in Goya’s engraving Temeridad de Martincho? The austerity and structured, almost architectural quality of these photos is what makes it possible for them to « give shape to the unthinkable », this distance, this infinity. Our place in the world. Standing atop a ladder from which she directs her actors and object throwers, Mercadier seeks to construct circumstances that bring about meaning through the relations between places, light, objects and figures, to create « something that can give us justification » ? For the artist, photography, which she calls her « treasure », became a space for achieving what she wants to do with her life. Like a raw diamond that is cut, given shape and light, and becomes dazzling.
One must have long scrutinized within oneself to see what she sees, and catch the moment's acute flight like a fever. A little girl in a forest runs in front of a kind of organdy dress raised by the wind. Darkness, like oblivion, cuts a corner of the image. We look at it, and we remember. At a wild pace, childhood submerged. "Once and no more" This time is ours too. No doubt Corinne Mercadier, 58, a professor of visual arts in a Parisian college, artist trained at the University of Aix-en-Provence, she feared to lose this poetry so singular when came to miss the film Polaroid SX 70 The digital has emerged despite itself. " I had no choice. Images were in me. They had to exist, "said Corinne, her voice soft and clear. Three years of research have passed, filled with doubts and fears. "First of all, I could only draw. Each drawing is a possible, a dream. Carnets blackened with sketches and sketches, notes and quotations from the allied poets - Nerval, Rilke, Kafka -, warnings too - "Watch out for the physical presence of the elements! The symbolic is not plastic in itself, "notes Corinne. So many twists and turns that allowed him to find his identity, to get closer to his visions and to give them body. "As an autodidact, I learned to transcribe the material of my drawings with digital tools. I knew what I was looking for which allowed me not to drown myself in an extremely powerful technology. In the pastel tones of the Polaroids, which were captures of a first photo made in Leica, in which Corinne sought to "lose the maximum of definition to create the mystery", have substituted for desaturated and darkened colors and a definition flawless precision. The intimacy of the first landscapes has been replaced by rigorous and cold spaces, "less intimate, more universal". However, the images of the series Black Screen and Solo, which inaugurate this new digital age, are nonetheless strange. More so, maybe. For, in the crudity of their definition and the obscurity of their color, they deliver a burden of truth as much as unreality that can only stir up trouble. It is this disturbing atmosphere, where the night radiates, which creates a gap with the real. "How come poetry goes through so much precision? Corinne said, herself surprised. The answer is in the light, no doubt. A light that is also silence and absence. "I developed the light of these photographs by drawing and writing. I have a painter's attitude to photography. I can return to an image six months if necessary. However, I never do collage or digital editing. Every photograph is a scene that has taken place. From one image to another, the same haunting resurfaces. Solitude - desert landscapes and enigmatic silhouettes. Abstraction - empty spaces, flying objects that are "like drawings in space". Geometry - precise imprints of shadows, black backdrop ... "It's the night that goes on. And even if it's not the night, we do not know if it's the day, "says Corinne Mercadier who continues the exploration of the space inside, in the direction of what Michaux called" the distant interior " . For what is it except a mental journey into the unknown, or, more certainly, into the unsuspected? "I fight against immensity, infinity, anonymity and yet it is the subject of my work. It's captivating because it's a fear mixed with desire. " The images of Corinne Mercadier deliver something immutable and strangely human by the test of destitution and randomness. His work is another fable of origins.
She had to give up her Polaroid. But the exploration of the digital has revealed unsuspected parts of her mental landscape. Her latest series irradiates. Since the beginning, Corinne Mercadier (born in 1955) practices photography as an adventure. One would be tempted to say as a drift, letting oneself be guided by what is most singular in her. Student in history of art in Aix-en-Provence, she began by taking a pool, always the same, for two years with a Polaroid SX-70. The cliches serve as models for her drawings, but, little by little, she succumbs to the charm of these little squares revealing magically under his eyes. A Polaroid embellishes the real, simplifies it, draws the image towards abstraction, introspection. The artist starts with landscapes, then composes her first fictions with her daughter, her mother, photographying them with a Leica camera before rephotographing the cliché with his SX-70 to derealize the scene. This process perfectly reflects her emotions, her fears, her anxieties. Over the years and her various works (1999 to 2012), exposed to the Arsenal of Metz, we find enigmatic characters, sometimes back, turned towards a black horizon. The scenes take place outdoors in undecided places, framed frontally like a theater stage. The objects are animated with a life of their own. Books, clothes fly, ribbons or fabric structures twist in space without seeming incongruous. Her large rectangular prints in pale colors, or in black and white, seem mysteriously to dissipate before our eyes. This graduate in Fine Arts studies manages to describe the functioning of her mental universe, the fear of loss and also the need to project herself into the future with the hope of better mastering it. With the end of production of Polaroid films in 2008, Corinne Mercadier thinks she will stop the photography. She then explores the possibilities of digital, obtains the same effects, and other unsuspected - like those of irradiating objects in its latest series, "Black Screen". Her best discovery was undoubtedly to realize that it was not the chemistry of the Polaroid that gave magnetism to his photos but her imagination.
About the show "Paysages", at Isabelle Bongard Gallery.
Discovered during the Mois de la photo 1986, the work of Corinne Mercadier is constructed with discretion and the rigor of a speculative process; I mean by that that she does not seek so much to produce spectacular aesthetic objects, as to mark out the stages of a meditation on things and on what is in between them (the void). And yet, there is neither abstraction nor reduction of the visible in his photographs. On the contrary, the “views” are perfectly readable, almost familiar (they are enlarged Polaroids). At the same time, there floats in them an indefinable strangeness, the feeling that time has stood still or that the world is seen for an indeterminate cause, from an angle that upsets even the very density of things. Fragments of architecture and landscapes are not taken with a descriptive intention, they represent the successive states of a thought on time and space.
In the first works, this reflection took the road of construction. Corinne Mercadier reproduced on glass plates details of Giotto's frescoes found in painting books (for example, the house of the Annunciation in Saint Anne). These plaques were then installed in a small building - a sort of castelet - and photographed. This appropriation of painting was not about the quote, but the analysis of painting: how a light and a scenic device (perspective in its oldest form) transform something immaterial into active energy. Analyze the components of painting: Corinne Mercadier is therefore a painter, even though she has given up using fragments of old paintings.
Today, she works in a way "on the motif", in a familiar place, always with the Polaroid, now enlarged by the process of direct copying. But painting is more present than ever, through the work on light, the redefinition of spaces and masses that takes place through color, and above all through the effort to capture something of what separates and structures at the same time the field of the visible, the void between apparent things. We think of James Welling's recent work on the sea, but where Welling is more interested in surfaces, their variations in texture and color, Corinne Mercadier questions volumes and structures. No doubt any contemporary attempt at painting is doomed to be only partial - disillusioned, distant. Corinne Mercadier reactivates an aspect that is nevertheless one of those which still touches us the most - not the representation of something, nor the gesture that is measured against this task, but the ability to let a myriad of memories and thoughts come to the surface.