"Nightmares are having fun!", by Christian Tangre
Chloé Poizat is an artist and illustrator. Born in 1970 in Saint-Cloud, she currently lives and works in Paris.
As an artist, Chloé Poizat explores a strange world in which, in unlikely landscapes, familiar ghosts, monsters, lost ordinary people reembodied in hybrids, gigantic animals, faces grinning with a ridiculous metamorphosis, bodies torn by the absurd magic of nightmare, appear and disappear. The drawing, precise and technically impressive, here serves an unbridled imagination, a little factory of fictions both ironic and disturbing.
Chloé Poizat enjoys images, the ones that make us enter unknown worlds and transform us, in the span of a daydream, into an anxious or bold explorer, according to the mood of the moment. Thus she often uses collage, borrowing fragments of old engravings or photographs in order to paradoxically open windows on unknown territories, the ones that take us a thousand miles away from our technological and consumerist reality. Stripped of the usual accessories and behaviors, the unwilling explorer faces with surprise the evidence of his loneliness and the absurdity of his condition but also a range of possibilities and of funny hybridizations to experiment. Perhaps this immersion into dreaming and into another strange body will allow him to reveal his inner hidden poet?
Paintings, collages, ink drawings, large or small formats, Chloé Poizat organizes her exploration by series she gathers in compositions that offer just as many ways or windows to enter her labyrinthine, cruel and dreamy world.
"Outremondes", by Nathalie Desmet, January 2014
''All go to one place. All are from dust, and all return to dust'' (Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 20, English Standard Version). Chloé Poizat seems to deny this unavoidable order of things by giving shape to remnants, ghosts, spectres, to this evanescent and translucent world which inhabits our archaic imagination. Drawing, with all the graphic possibilities it offers, is her medium of predilection. However, it is strongly reductive to think that Chloé Poizat’s practice is limited to drawing. Indeed, for more than twenty years now, she has created her own archives of printed images. Every one of her drawings found their origins in this huge personal iconographic collection. Her collection gives a great importance to illustrated books from the end of the 19th century, a key moment of the spread of photography which would give to images a new dimension. The new multiplication of images, allowed by the photographic printing machine that appeared since the middle of the century, generated a massive production of images coming from distant regions. If the profusion of images is being accused of leading towards a loss of the aura of some objects as the images are spread in mass, it also gives birth to a new imaginary. Chloé Poizat is then necessarily interested in the iconological potential of this collection. What does the assemblage of an image with another is going to tell about a period of time or of the world in which we live, in which we used to live? This collection enables her to produce an archaeology of image and drawing. The arkhè, at the root of the term archive is, in Greek, as Jacques Derrida used to recall, both the beginning and the command. Drawing appears as a way of making visible what is not immediately apparent in this archive.
By using this iconographic file of mass-produced spiritist photographs of the late 19th century and early 20th or images of B- or Z-series of the 1940s - 1970s, Chloé Poizat analyses the structuring elements of our imagination. Her work testifies to a certain taste for mental images related to archaic phobias: fear of the dark, of the unknown, fear of being hunt down, fear of some natural elements, anxieties of dismantling,loss, abandonment or of being eaten up. Most of Chloé Poizat’s works awaken in us those anxieties that everyone had to live.
From the outset, photography has been suspected of impairing body integrity. We used to think that by being photographed, we would lose its constitutive essence. Honoré de Balzac imagined, for example, that all bodies were composed of superimposed layers, like an onion, that each photograph taken removed. He thought that the repetition of photographic exhibitions would lead to their loss. The loss of one of these spectres, one the auratic layers, and therefore its essence as a human being, was a widespread fear.
The belief in this imperceptible substance, invisible to the naked eye, and which photography could capture, became the subject of a widespread photographic practice from the end of the 19th century, consisting in revealing these auratic or spectral manifestations. After exposure sessions conduced by mediums, spectra or whitish forms exhaled through the nose or the mouth of the photographed subjects could appear. In several projects, Chloé Poizat is inspired by these spiritist photographs. A part of the series Spirites (2011-2013) reinterprets them in a 10 x 15 cm format, a format that is essentially identical to that of the photographs of that time, which gives to the drawing unusual strength and function: that of revealing, at its turn, those spectral shapes that only photography was able to make a century earlier.
Dessin Fantôme (2001 – 2013), a series of drawings playing on the semi-opacity of the paper breaks down the appearance of spectra. The transparency of the paper makes it possible to superimpose two images, one being seen as the possible emanation of the other. The drawing on the first sheet creates another image by superposition. Each drawing being complementary to the other, it also reveals the absence contained in any image when it is alone, decontextualized. The series also points out the double language of images. Such as Gaston Bachelard affirmed in L’Air et les songes : “Undoubtedly, in its prodigious life, the imaginary puts images, but it always presents itself as a beyond the images, it is always a little more than its images” It is clearly on the border between images and imagination that Chloé Poizat takes us. Drawing is a perfect tool for those who want to better understand the misdemeanour of imagination. La Table Dicte (2013) refers to the tables used during spiritualism sessions, usually connected to a spirit – still called a guide - from the out world, dictating words in verse or prose. Here, the spectral forms appear on the table, engraved in the wood, as if the guide was at the origin of the drawing. Throughout the 19th century, it was not uncommon for the literary and artistic sphere to be fascinated by this “fluidomania”, Victor Hugo was, for example, during his stay in Jersey and Guernsey from 1851. The minds of great cartoonists sometimes came to guide the apprentice mediums, such as Leonardo da Vinci guide the art brut painter Augustin Lesage. Chloé Poizat, however, is closer to Raphaël Lonné, who was in a state of trance during sessions of spiritualism, could create automatic drawings representing half-animal half-vegetal figures.
What interests Chloé Poizat is not to communicate with the hereafter but to find the gestures that led these mediums, a kind of seismographic recording of the spectral activities, of their resonance, but also of everything that the unconscious can record. Her false mediumistic drawings are abstract drawings which shapes that emerge are wave effects. A kind of automatic writing that incorporates the precepts of Augustin Lesage’s “guides”: “Do not try to find out what you are doing”. Even though this work is born of an interest for spiritist images, it is not disconnected from the familial history of the artist. There is, in Chloé Poizat’s family, a medium aunt. Le Napperon (2013), is also the occasion to mix several family stories. On this real doily, given by her family-in-law, is set in the centre one of her medium guides as she imagines them, with humour and a touch of irony: a guide whose head is decked out with slug horns. This produces hotchpotch of images, indecisive, shapeless, swarming, visible on the table, and that only the imaginary can implement.
There is every reason to believe that ghosts, remnants or spectres have for Chloé Poizat, the same analytical function that images of the nymphs had for Aby Warburg. Georges Didi-Huberman saw it as “the experience of an image capable of everything; its beauty was capable of becoming a horror. […]; its offering of fruits able to turn into a cut head; its beautiful hair in the wind capable of being torn out of despair”. (Georges didi-Huberman, L’image survivante. Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg, 2002).
The images used by Chloé Poizat are the images of a culture, produced by a period of time. They are also, despite the apparent irony she uses to distort them, surviving images, witnesses of a history and of a very situated memory.
In the visual register, the representation of the outer world is relatively permanent over the centuries: evanescent figures, transparencies, superimpositions, … From this corpus of contemporary images of the beginning of photography, what is surviving today?
In Série Z, a set of 196 drawings, Chloe Poizat is inspired by the low-budget cinema series B in which zombies, ghosts and undead have the share. George A. Romero’s La Nuit des morts-vivants (1968), Jacques Rourneur's Vaudou (1943), and Bob Clark's Le Mort-Vivant (1974) are inexhaustible sources of inspiration.
The character of Série Z, whose face is made of a multitude of small pinned masks, is a fragile character whose body is made of the same shaky drawing as the mediumistic drawings. The living dead, a being that does not exist and that returns here in multiple forms, fascinates. The small pins are reminiscent of voodoo rites, but are also an opportunity for Chloé Poizat to show her taste for montage and assembly. The B series are no longer terrifying as the DIY is apparent.
Les Paysages Portatifs (2011) are partly inspired by Enrique Vila-Matas’s Abrégé d’Histoire de la littérature portative. In this compendium, the Shandys grouped into a secret society, have the will to reduce their works of art to transport them easily. Chloé Poizat – delivering, by the way, a commentary on the derived products of mass tourism – makes the landscape a handheld object. To appropriate the world and bring it with you, or, if you prefer, to choose the motionless journey: a paltry move which does not lack absurdity. Within the pictorial tradition, before the birth of photography, miniatures enabled to know a face by distance. The travel enabled by the portable landscape is a modern journey that allows being in a landscape while looking at another one. In these landscapes that sometimes correspond to identifiable places, like the island surrounded by poplar trees in Ermenonville where Jean-Jacques Rousseau was buried or other places drawn by Hubert Robert, appear monstrous faces, kind of tutelary figures whom we do not know if they want good or bad, as in Paysages Accidentés.
For Chloé Poizat, these faces are kinds of Odradek, a creature that is hard to grasp, of an “extraordinary mobility and truly elusive” according to the words of its creator Franz Kafka. Here, they embody, all at once, the spirit of a place or the unconscious memory of the people who live there.
The series Grands Rochers (2012) gives a more important part to mineral elements of the landscape and forms an extension of the series Paysages Portatifs. In both series, the artist is inspired by illusion landscapes and landscape gardens created especially during the 18th century: architectural elements designed for punctuating the gardens and giving the illusion of being in a real landscape. Her choice lies on the follies said as being natural: grottos or artificial rocks. Out of any real natural environment, these follies have to create moments of surprise in the gardens. The collage of these artificial elements, the assembly of disparate elements in Chloé Poizat’s drawings comes from the same illusionist process. The choice of these follies in Grands Rochers, combined with the large size of the drawings also puts them in the tradition of the Sublime. The follies had their finest hours during the Romantic period, when they were a pretext for replacing Men in their environment and reproducing an aesthetic of the Sublime on a miniature scale. Rebuild the “pleasant feeling of horror”, that Joseph Addison felt when he saw the Alps. The Romantics particularly appreciated the mix between the grotesque and the Sublime. At a closer look, the rocks drawn by Chloé Poizat are filled with discreet animals, characters who just want to emerge, as in the grotesque antique ornaments.
The grotesque takes a double meaning here, decorative but also comical, through the characters that suddenly appear from these follies: terrifying because evanescent or ghost-like, but decked out with a big nose or an exaggerated smile. Empty and unaffected gaze, these characters which inhabit these landscapes, Odradek of places, can also become the symbol of a break up between man and nature. In Vacance anthropique (2009), man can hardly get his space back in the natural space. Chloé Poizat chooses virgin, empty images from Ernest Granger’s Nouvelle Géographie Universelle published in 1922, images taken before the development of mass tourism. On these images, she transfers characters that seem to have nothing to do with the landscapes in which they find themselves; their red colour contrasts with the black and white backdrop of the landscapes. Each one adorned with a fluorescent orange instrument – a colour that is hardly reproducible – telephone, axe, soda bottle, as this man sitting in a jungle with a wheel in his hands, but the traces of civilisation, of modernity, have disappeared. These men and these women, inappropriate, ghosts of contemporary tourists, have sometimes literally lost their heads; they show signs of psychosis as this zombie woman holding a leg in her hand. This critic of tourism is staged in La Poursuite du Lointain (2009-2013) in which a character with a rabbit-head appears in touristic photographs. The order of things is reversed: the rabbit seems to be well accustomed to urban environments, while the man seeks to possess the landscape until he wants to carry it with him.
Along with drawing, one of the favourite practices of Chloé Poizat is the assemblage of images and words. As a faithful reader of Georges Pérec, she also enjoys lists. For example, she creates notebooks of words she collects through her readings. Since 2010, every words she loves, that touch her, are collected. A challenging exercise that provides her with a new material to recompose. She redraws these words and uses them to create stories or organise a series of drawings, as in Soigner ses mots (2010), or FFFT (2011-2013). These words can preside over a composition as in the title Formules secrètes (2013) consisting of two words she noted while reading William Burroughs’ Festin nu. Some words can be taken from a composition and associated with other drawings. None of these elements are made for a particular composition, they pre-exist. These assemblages made of drawings, words, printed images transferred on paper, or collages can be recombined endlessly depending on her personal picture library. They can also be done with four hands, as it is the case in Nos Pièces Montées, made since 2011 with Gianpaolo Pagni. The proposed associations give rise to stories, fictions. If these assemblages make it possible to better understand the origin and the permanence of the images, they serve above all to tell stories, to plunge ourselves into a world of illusions.