Claude Lemand. During his travels through France and the five continents, the eye of Claude Mollard sees and captures faces in the elements of Nature and in the most diverse environments, beings that his photographic gaze reveals to existence. These beings of origins, which he calls "Origenes", stimulate his reflection and produce his parallel discourse - philosophical, moral and humanist -, described as "imaginary anthropology" by Edgar Morin.
Christine Buci-Glucksmann. Faces before Gods, the Origenes.
The paradox of Claude Mollard’s pictures lies in the fact that the birth of a face can be seen as the basis of the mineral or vegetal cosmos and reaches the limits of human beings. The pictures are taken from up close to the object, as face to face which refers to the first portraits of humanity like Sumerian or Egyptian art. A face does not define itself only by its natural expressiveness. It can deform, twist or multiply itself. It can represent inexpressiveness, horror or many other looks. At the end, it is only a kind of “abstract machine”, represented by two holes for the eyes and the features of the face, which are the nose and the mouth. It can be deformed until it becomes a non-face. As Artaud said in 1947, “The Human head has not found its face.”
It is precisely this face, with its hybrid animal nature, its ghosts, and its crystals that Claude Mollard explores with Origenes. Primitive faces rising from volcanos, screaming faces of little monsters, worrying masks in a hurry which have aged over time, spirits of places and stones, all these faces are travel-experiences, from Brazil to the Reunion Island, from Stromboli to Greece to Morocco, from Cevennes to Bourgogne, these faces tell the story of a photographic expression which is able to transform shapelessness into a real formed cosmos. Michel Foucault dreamt of a new science, called heterotopy, a science, peculiar to alternative places which are inscribed in our reality. Such are also Origenes: the others, as a bestiary and the beginning of human adventure. These pictures portray the fable of origins which are marked by two important events: the birth of human beings and art. As such, all these singular faces hail us, worries us and make us think about the odyssey of all these faces before Gods. Indeed, this may be the examination of our own inside ghosts, extracted from the non-human elements of the universe.
Indeed, the link of the mineral, as well as the vegetable is from an ancient “artistic” approach. Traces of these abstract or figurative writings date back to prehistoric times, but we can also find such links nowadays in modern contemporary art, such as the in situ installations of Nils Udo, Penone or Krajsberg. In the mourning of minerals, there is also a “writing of stones” as put by Roger Caillois: “in stone, on the contrary, the image, each image, is stable, as if the mineral’s thickness preserved the cloud, the flame or the waterfall of each moment of the metamorphosis”. Stones from the landscapes of Florence’s ruin marble, stones from China, the stone of dreams, or the figurative and painted stones, stones represent all together a true fascination stretching back to Antiquity. Stones can be found in many aspects of art and nature: from the love of rare objects, to those of prestigious collections, or stone galleries, to cabinets of curiosities, and mineral treaties (Aristobulus, Albert le Grand). I still remember this marketplace selling stones in Kyoto, where some Japanese would spend hours choosing from a stone-world microcosm, which were, most of the time, asymmetric and jagged, alluding to sacred mountains as in the Zen gardens. Stones are like copies, rooted for eternity, from a pre-human beauty, where everything may appear as in a blurry mirror.
However, it is not this “natural fantasy” already printed in stones which fascinates Claude Mollard. It is their ability to mock and transform a whole imaginary and a phantasmagoria of faces shown from the frontal pose and human look of the photographer in the inhuman, the mineral or the vegetal. As if faces were treated as relics in the literal sense of vestigium - a footprint, a trace and a mark –leaving it in an immemorial nature. Thanks to their multiple uniqueness, it draws an authentic Cosmogenesis of shapes, both in grammar and anthropology. Visus, videre: what is seen, in a face to face, where the void of the look always suggests beyond the visible, its appearance and its symbolic sign. However, the face also has a resemblance with the mask as shown by the Greek word prosopon which means both face and mask. This face forward look creates a peculiar intensity, the one of immobility which lies in the inorganic life, one already grasped by beauty or death, such as the first portraits of humanity: Aïn Ghazal statue (8th millenary BC) and La Dame au Polos de Mari (2400). They are staring at us from the other side of the grave. Looking right in front has always been dangerous. The Greek Meduse stupefied and Jewish and Muslims prohibited the “face” of God. However, here, the face to face examines the immanence of all the world’s materials, rediscovering the cosmogonic myths of Humanity. A face forward frontal pose bends faces because of a ubiquitous cosmic power. Power of compression, aggregation, torsion and proliferation, the power of vegetal line grasped into the lianas and spirals of land forces of the volcanoes; power creates shapes and examines the link between the two seemingly contradictory aesthetics. The first one is a figurative minimalism, the fixed and jagged faces, and the other one is explicitly baroque, the curve and substances of an infinite folded texture.
The hieratic of Origenes with their stripped lines and empty eyes, internalised for eternity, reminds us of Giacometti’s statue. Others, such as palm tree or mangrove tree leaves, roll themselves in an infinite multiplicity where nature takes control over human art. There also are crystalline Origenes, more baroques ones, which multiply themselves to an infinite number, getting lost in their own reflection and their own light until forming the virtual. The age old lava and ground leaves design elusive faces stratified by layers of colours and void, among a constantly light anamorphosis. Between the curving lines and the already curved ones, the photographer gives birth to night ghosts, which are yet formed by the day’s sunlight. An Epiphany of faces in the strictest sense of the term.
This population of Origenes demonstrates the wild state of art. It emerges from a primordial “chaosmose”, in a true ontological petrification, which forces us to think back the origins of the living and the birth of art. It travels in time, from astral time immemorial to the short-lives of flower-faces, which scramble the borders of the organic and inorganic, with an opposite looks to “nature’s portraits” but yet frequently mentioning the portraits of art.
Translated from French by Marianne Coadou.
Claude Mollard. They scream, they laugh, they cry …
I identify, in the suffering nature, traces of terrified faces due to the violence that men do to them: burning wood, pollute water, the wastes of consumerism. Nonetheless, these can also reveal the wonders of nature by the screams of joy, which embody the beauty of the human faces. Between screams of suffering and joy, the contrast is amazing.
I discovered Origene for the first time in an antique marble quarry on the island of Paros, in the Cyclades, where the first sculptors modeled the stone into a man’s face, unless I discovered them for the first time on the flanks of the Stromboli volcano, emerging from a union of fire and sea on the Eoliennes islands, or maybe it was among the ruins of Pompeii, or in Brazil’s exuberant nature. Since then, I see them everywhere. They scream, they laugh, they mock, and they have feelings like humans. “Everything is alive, everything has a soul”, Victor Hugo was not far from thinking that God was hiding nature’s nooks and crannies. Men, monsters or gods arrived on earth long before us. Men, monsters or gods, indeed, they are not very wise.
Translated from French by Marianne Coadou.
Genesis of a quest.
Claude Mollard tracks the relics of existence by their human shape. He is looking for what appears in the mineral, the vegetable as the architectural and aesthetical requirement; that is to say, the shadow or the mask of an appearance. This appearance generally takes the shape of a face, a face of the anthropomorphic being, somewhere between exactness and indecisiveness, between distinct lines and visual fantasy. From Brazil to France, from Italy to Morocco, these faces multiply and sometimes taking the shape of ghosts, spectrum or masks… The photographer is only guided by his creative mind, breathing the soul; he approaches his “subjects”, as being short-sighted. He centres and reframes in order to reproduce the first moment of a meeting, a discovery that just happened. There is no retinal effect. What the photography is giving is not always what the eye can capture, but only the effect of a short moment, on an anamnesis, a recollection.
Origenes! Origins! Imaginary aborigines! These people are so close from us but reshaped by memory of stones, plants, walls and other elements still subjected to time. These imaginary people do not obey to any mimesis, not even photographic art. The lens captures more of a short-lived appearance than an independent reality.
Why has this obsession just been imposed as an aesthetic and ontological principle? What is the meaning of this relentlessness I have with the origin, especially for someone who always works in constructing future? Memory (an ambiguous term and sometimes embarrassing) is part of the constructivist course of Mollard. But which memory are we talking about in these pictures when we search a hidden figure in a natural environment, duplicate themselves (in the Heideggerian sense of the revelation of being and in the professional photographic sense)? Should we not rather talk of being centered in temporality, an active being in a realistic vision? Does Mollard’s look transform the singular face to face reality of things into beings, into a kind of divine vision? If we follow the same path, could we find the same faces? Certainly not. If Mollard lets himself loose by giving a figure and defacing these spaces, rocks, trees, walls…, it is because he invents them for us. Even he would not be able to find them again. These things have no existence. They are only a spectrum created by the shadow of the camera obscura. They are the constant shadow of a vision.
Translated from French by Marianne Coadou.