Portrait with narcissus

2006


The Hague, Galerie Ramakers


Olfactive video installation, in collaboration with the perfume designer Alexis Dadier for 2 video-projectors, 2 sofas and different objects.
2 video loops 17’ and 30’, 1 perfume.






Portrait with narcissus is dedicated to the character of Frances Stevens, played by Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Two sofas positioned virtually opposite one another within the exhibition space are arranged so as to act as the surface onto which two video montages are projected. The first displays a repeated projection, whose frequency and rhythm constantly changes, of a screenshot from Hitchcock’s film in which Frances is seen asleep on a sofa in a hotel room. The other video, projected onto the second sofa, shows Laurent Fiévet in a similar pose.

The exhibit unveils a collection of clues to indicate the pictorial references worked into the still from To Catch a Thief. Placed on one of the two sofas is a copy of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, its cover adorned with a detail from Watteau’s Jupiter and Antiope which might well have served as inspiration for the film-maker’s composition of the scene. A cloth narcissus flower serving as a bookmark provides a more subtle allusion to the other reference attributed to the scene, that of Poussin’s Echo and Narcissus.

Together, these clues instigate an analytical process that comments on Jupiter’s attitude within Watteau’s composition, unravelling the sheet swathed around the body of the nymph, Antiope, with whom Frances is identified in the still. As well as the literal unveiling, this portrait’s very creation is itself a form of unveiling. It sets off a kind of striptease which centres less strongly on the undressing of the character than it does on the unravelling of the image in which it is represented.

In the still from To Catch a Thief, the raising of a curtain creates a draft of air that rushes through an open window, guiding the viewer’s gaze into the depths of the image and simultaneously defining the hidden nature within that very exploration. The successive unveiling of the visual strata within the scene is thus initiated in Hitchcock’s own work before being relayed and re-enacted by the piece.

The mythological figures of Narcissus and Echo represented in Poussin’s composition refocus the viewer on the process of reflection instigated by the twofold references that weave together the scene figured in the portrait. The playful mirroring effect produced by the positioning of the two sofas then serves to forcefully express the scene’s movement. Again prolonging the idea of the echo by confronting the viewer with a brand new image layer derived from the arrangement used in To Catch a Thief, the video showing Laurent Fiévet introduces a sense of the very narcissism that self-representation entails.

This exhibit also constitutes the first time the artist has so directly inscribed his own image into one of his pieces. In addition to this supplementary stratum, within the striptease logic established at the heart of the piece, a further unveiling transpires in the form of an undressing body, whose naked form occasionally appears, and whose sex returns us to the figure of Poussin as a young man. Masculine/Feminine; Veiling/Unveiling.

A silent dialogue thus ensues between Frances and the image of the artist, sometimes represented asleep as the character from To Catch a Thief, sometimes with his eyes open and looking towards the opposite sofa. From here, the confrontation at hand not only results from the mirroring effect created by identifying Laurent Fiévet with Frances, Antiope or Narcisse: it also swaps over, equally forcefully casting the video’s creator as Jupiter, Echo and Robbie the cat, the role played by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief.

This second level of identification helps to bring out the image’s olfactory dimension, introduced by a two-fold movement of analysis and self-projection into the realm of fiction. While the title of Süskind’s work hints at it, its discrete materialisation is found in the cloth narcissus slid between its pages, whose petals have been moistened with a fragrance specially created for the piece.

Thus the book becomes, in its own way, a metaphor for the scene’s image, its structure recreating the stratification effects instituted by the various generations of images called upon (Poussin, Watteau, then Hitchcock). As is emphasised all the more by how narcissus emerges, it is in this overlaying of strata that the scene’s perfume reveals its full potency and the richness of the palette from which it draws.

Free as they are to sit or lounge on the sofas, spectators can prolong the process of creation by interjecting their own image within the scenario and combining it with those of the video projections. They will thus be free to adopt the positions of filmic actor, spectator or commentator as they understand them.

This sense had already been conveyed by a similar positioning used in the Constellations project from Continuations of Hitchcock which offered representations of Madeleine in Vertigo. Employing the pose of a film character and the pair of sofas within the exhibit are also further elements serving to lead us back to this prior project by the artist. However, the transition from the former project to the latter has effected an about-face which changes the dialogue produced between spectator and film spectacle.

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