By Malek Abbou
Translated by John Doherty
In Semaine 17.08, Analogues, maison d'édition pour l'art contemporain, 2008
A slight doubt, a way to create mayhem beneath eyelids, and make ice cubes crack more loudly in the Martini. A doubt more philosophical than ordinary, since the time we figured out that what takes form in art is always an image of the body. A doubt that precipitates its limits, to the point where nothing is left that it doesn't transform into a dizzying question.
No way, in effect, to elude interrogation in the face of these drawings that defy anecdote, split open our blocs of learned truths and break the rules, taking on immediate reality only as a potential to let go of it, to unmask its underpinnings in favour of an innovative refounding.
These images challenge the eye, suggesting that the artist has a strategy of lesser mastery, one of destabilising consciousness so as to favour an exercise in freewheeling genesis, an emergent gesture of hinterworlds.
Along with this comes a geography of situations and raw affects - an undefinable planet that assumes the surface lightness of an aphorism or a legend, when it's not a sign of definitive derision. It emerges on the whiteness of the paper as a here and elsewhere, something like the tip of an iceberg in a becalmed sea. But its wordless stories are no avowal of silence. They walk in mourning, scorch bellies, whisper under the skin, unveil bodies that are uneasy, emptied of substance. Bodies in which there is nobody; scarcely even me. And if not disfigured, then reduced to the thinness of silhouettes, as obsessive fixations of want that bespeak the impossibility of becoming. Or have they sought to die, and not sufficiently wished it?
Lhopital's formal language? Physical and metaphysical, in that he tears apart the mechanical consciousness of reality. It will be less a question of representing man than of his glared-at presence, less and less there. My body where is its head? this perforated abortion asks me. And it tells me: my head is of another. And this other, precisely, vaguely gnomic, recounts: decidedly I have too much head. All, in their terrible manner, are beings of absence to self, testimonies of betrayed humanity, cast into oblivion.
I observe the humid tragedy of Bouées, méduses, mégots, capotes ("Buoys, jellyfish, fagends, condoms"), and then the series Mousseline ("Muslin"), with its looks of a sheer incredulity, irresolute or taciturn, that feels pain in the entire universe. Not really sure that the world will make it through to the dawn, these rumours of orphan souls, supine in their stupor.
Truth to tell, everything turns elsewhere, in the midst of limbos, disenchanted seasons. With them the interdiction is lifted, in the name of which life and death are to be distinguished.
Life and death together are objects of the same presumption. They fabricate twinnings of appearance. And if vertiginous suctions aggravate anaemic deliria, if blood-dripping chandeliers shed light on tomb-like matrices, it's all the place of a panicked planet, wild and innocent, in emergence where dreams and nightmares dwell, a hairsbreadth from silence, like a Satie variation raised up against a background of powdery snow.
"Too much" is the measure in Lhopital's interregnum world; and it may be noted how a thing, there, is easily another thing at the same time as itself. Because this place of amoebae, living from not living, is also one of lightning transpositions, previously unknown vibrations in which trajectories deviate, then dart forth again; an eloquent dance of unshackled permutations, a structural dynamic with subtle slidings of form and daring equilibria.
The movements of acceleration in No neck monsters; their movements of divergence or transition; their shifts, their collapses, their uneasy modulations, their unexpected inflections; their playful states of suspension that preclude any firm footing have something of the power of the watercolour spheres in Schblop, whose kinetic melodies play on intervals, the deeper to sound the vacuum, to quarter space, to give it formal turbulences, emptyings, implosions and overprintings. All of these games recompose the idea of limits, to the point of making spectres quail, as in a coitus of hydrocephalics, as in a hellish reverberation of forms attracting and thwarting one another, creating voids between themselves, or superimposing, yet never coinciding.
It's a savage principle of "rendering raw" that traces Lhopital's path, impelling this champion of switched identities to multiply the risks so that the unreality of self and world can be heard. With mordancy wedded to an innate sense of evasion, he shows that a laughing face, a face congested with laughter, is always a threat of secession. As a small white-coated chimpanzee learns to its cost. It no doubt wanted to drive its wit home twice, if not thrice, before falling in a heap on the floor.
Lhopital's art is an art without correction. An art of limpidity and chaos, stormy and generous like a wine matured by a spirit of play and an elevated sense of the irreparable levity whose resources, attractive in delicacy and ferocity, patience and burnings, as much as in power of diversion, take on the appearance of offences and incitements to crime, as viewed by the new Police of a forced return to Beauty and Craftsmanship.
A slight doubt, as we said. And in the end the question remains, all the way through to the eyes of these animal sculptures that are cutting up the night into slices of milk: where, then, are the living?
By Malek Abbou
Translated by John Doherty
In Dream-Drame, Editions Fage, 2007
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« Now that the mirror is broken, it is time for the shards to start reflecting. »
Ingmar Bergman, Hour of the Wolf
« I don't think you have to seek in order to find. »
Compulsive mania ? Internal decongestion ? Painful distortions of a deviant imagination ? A spirit of enraged regression? No. Just a huge appetite for forms, born out of what Henri Michaux called «the adventure of being alive». In this sense, Christian Lhopital's drawings are endlessly astounding, stunning, fascinating. The unstable magnetic field in which they proliferate, replicate, oscillate or vibrate like tuning forks leaves neither the eye nor the tongue unstimulated.
Our contemporaries have generally regarded drawing as entertainment for the hoi polloi, or at best a bizarre form of courage. Lhopital has practised it faithfully since 1976. Back then, ballpoint pens and pad in hand, he was delving (if unwittingly) into something like Sigmar Polke's formal derelictions.
But unlike Polke, Lhopital has not needed rat poison or hair remover to feed his discipline. The toxic aspect of his material comes from throwing perception into a panic as it tries to get its bearings in this space on paper with its indistinct horizons and three-tier structure.
Three levels, three stopping points for the eye. This scalar hierarchy gets us straight to the heart of the matter. I spontaneously associate it with the Greek funerary vases that were made in Miletus, Chios and Rhodes five centuries before the modern era, with their epic compositions arranged in superimposed registers.
In Lhopital's case, however, «Graecism» would be tantamount to «error»1. The ruler and compass, the diagonals and golden sections of the Attic clarity whose aim was to present the world in perspective have no place in his work. His arrangements of planes bear little relation to the ancient precedent, though it has to be said that his graphic conceptions, with their power of circulation, emancipation and interference, force the eye into mobility and the retina into a search for a route through labile scenes representing no identifiable location. Nowhere in Lhopital's series does one see the sameness of a regular rhythm that could found a recognisable location...
... What is the status of the Lhopitalian image ? His line sometimes takes on the qualities of an opium dream, and it makes sense to talk about his work in the context of violent inner experiences that awaken something in the depths of the psyche.
Are they imaginary images or unimaginable images, these representations that do not seem capable of materialisation ? For Lhopital, drawing is also a specular enterprise that comes across as a reality transfer of the most direct kind.
In his field of vision, form suddenly becomes feeling, and he propagates his images into it. A group of teenagers in a railway station reminds him of a Caravaggio ; an unusual pose redefines a child trying to keep a pushchair in place in a bus ; and all of a sudden, a photo-optical mind-machine starts up. In an inexhaustible flux of transit points, Lhopital pins down reality in the raw movement of life, derisory or eloquent, that bursts out and then blends into free associations between subject matter and eye.
Lhopital's fantasy images are induced. They come to us from unmediated visual experience, inviting us not to go delirious, but to perceive. And it may well be that a number of them are in circulation within the social body. Some of his monsters do not have zippers in their backs, which proves that they are all too real, that they are lurking somewhere in the world's optical subconscious, and that the distinction we steadfastly maintain between the real and the imaginary does not always suffice to render them invisible.
Lhopital thus attracts to himself images that duplicate (or do not duplicate) the sensorial appearances from which they have been wrenched. Condensed onto the point of a needle, they invoke the commotion that will bring them looming up, mutant, onto the sheet of paper. And as mutants, they derive from a type of experience in which the notions of «inner» and «outer» have given way to a much more all-enveloping perception of reality. They have their own mode of operation, in their formal and symbolic relationships.