Claude Mollard

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.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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