Jean Paul Jouary, testimony – Mathilde de l’Ecotais
(About the ‘Essential’ Exhibition, November 2011)
Penetrating the plastic universe of Mathilde de l’Ecotais causes itself cascading surprises and emotions, because large-format pieces impose themselves in several phases: non-figurative paintings that splash our eyes of all the rainbow shades, photographs of vegetal and animal details, an inner weft of unknown textures, mysterious backgrounds similar to the telescopic shows of the Universe.
Which is the good appearance? All, none. In retrospect, at first glance, we penetrate a universe of great abstract brightly-coloured paintings that we discover more closely the plant and animal elements of familiar beings, lemons, aubergines or bell peppers, crab claws, captured in their natural colours and their profound structures. The eye learns to see them differently, like flashes of light stripped by their uses and metamorphoses linked to our human needs. The human beings, as if they were suddenly perceived out of reach of human destruction. But let us get even closer: this structure reveals the stardust of remote galaxies in the middle of crab meat and squid or lemon zest. An idea of the infinitely big in the hidden folds of extreme littleness. Stars, clusters of light, fractures of the space that we guess in between fragments of eggshells, or strange flow of yellow or red matter that Mathilde de l’Ecotais draws on egg yolk or cabbage. Everything speaks of a softness, a velvetness, an immaterial transparency of natural life. The aubergine is thus reduced to this coloured essence that Matisse had sublimated in his time on canvas.
However, everything is twice captured in steel. On one side, sensitive plates – oh how sensitive! – made of matt steel that give to these photographic paintings this lightness, this distance and this freedom that we did not know octopuses and radishes had. On the other, profiles of bright steel, folded in cutting angles, on the surface of which the same images change their texture, by imprisoning life in cold technical constructions. The eye comes and goes between the levels of appearance of these two steel profiles that weld two manners of apprehending natural simplicity. How come in French we speak of ‘dead nature’ to designate plastic works that in German we call ‘silent nature’ and in English ‘still life’? Nothing is dead here, everything is fixed in steel, but at the end of a creative process that makes life’s essential vibrations tangible. Nothing is dead, everything is trapped. The three octopuses represent three manners of displaying it. Octopus 1, the brightest of all, is dressed in light and moves under our eyes, as Nicolas de Staël used to say that he saw the Palaeolithic bison of Altamira. But it is trapped in a net of black filaments of waste oil as ink. Octopus 2 seems to dance in its own colours, octopus 3 fades away under a lethal blackish pollution. Everything on a background of a universe without stars. The golden, shiny fish also suggest their past splendour in their morbid overcrowding. There is some sort of joy towards and, despite all, against the engulfing of life by the metal.
Mathilde de l’Ecotais renders this immaterial visible: in the basement of the gallery, a video renders it even more palpable without the need to explain it through words. A composition of small fish fixed in steel is projected on a metal structure, through a small transparent pool in which a few small fish rush about, alive and kicking. Coins fall one after the other and disturb water surface until they occupy the essential of the background. Life can only be perceived on this gloomy background of monetary invasion. A 1-dollar banknote falls as well, like a signature. This to-and-fro movement of life and death, of creativity that specifies the living and pincers holding it unfold in front of us in two small videos projected on two white plates. In the first one, a caddy pusher desperately errs in a labyrinth, in the second one a small fish flops, hits the edge of a plate, followed by two hands armed with knife and fork. A sort of tragically comic nature o the exhibition that we discover on the surface.
Let us go back to the big photographic canvases. Just as the impressionists used to thank photography for having forced them to be painters, in other words, to create appearances beyond the illusion of reproducing it, modern painters have too been able to force photographers to become painters. Photographic technique will always remain, due to optical reasons, in the geometrical space of perspective built by the painters of Italian Renaissance. Indeed, the first masters of the so-called ‘Humanist’ photography have proven their great classical culture, by giving photography its status of art in its own right. But no creation is possible in the illusion of a capture of reality as such, reduced to the geometry of visual perception. The reality of art is a creation of the spirit, a constant reinvention of our relationship with reality. There is nothing more subjective than what we absurdly call ‘objective’. This is exactly what Mathilde de l’Ecotais expresses, by capturing on these steel plates the flat space of each image. And image creates the idea, only the idea, of depth, whereas the metal structures make our eyes burst. There is, of course, no ‘message’ inside, but thoughts that melt into feeling.
Therefore, by entering this plastic universe of Mathilde de l’Ecotais, we penetrate, in fact, her extreme aesthetic sensitivity that makes us forget her technical virtuosity, entirely placed at the service of emotion.