Anne Brégeaut : seeing differently

 

As I look through the photographs of Anne Brégeaut’s work on my computer, I notice repeating themes (such as love, loneliness, forgetting, and loss) and repeating motifs (such as houses, fires, holes, and flowers). My attention is gradually caught by the way in which she creates distinct times and spaces within a given stretch or depth, by how she forces these elements to coexist, and by what she manages to convey through these improbable arrangements. I'm struck by one drawing in particular: a mountainous desert landscape with several figures scattered in the middle distance. Some have no bodies; others, no heads. They are represented by their clothes, and seem to be disappearing. Distributed throughout the space, these figures will never meet. The point of view is omniscient, either from above or divine. This 2012 drawing is titled Le pays des souvenirs (The Country of Memory). To me it evokes a scene from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 movie Zabriskie Point, in which two naked young people embrace in the desert, and, as the camera moves away, other bodies and other embraces also appear. It's a scene that, in turn, evokes something of the dawn of humanity, or perhaps a utopia marked by the emancipatory ambitions of the 1960s. Anne Brégeaut’s drawing shares with Antonioni’s film a fascination with a type of space onto which anything can be projected precisely because it isn’t limited to a specific time or civilization.

 

With Mon nom (My Name) (2007), a series of 23 drawings, Anne Brégeaut digs deeper into the depth of detail, letting it devour the entire sheet of paper, annihilating all available space and—unlike The Country of Memory—preventing the viewer from clearly seeing the formal contours and thus seizing the represented object with the gaze. My Name is a group of fragments that work like facets, suggesting the possibility of a coherent whole. My Name refuses fixed identity and pays homage to the American Beat writer Richard Brautigan through its title and its evocation of the text.

 

I guess you are kind of curious as to who I am, but I am one of those who do not have a regular name. My name depends on you. Just call me whatever is in your mind.
If you are thinking about something that happened a long time ago: Somebody asked you a question and you did not know the answer.
That is my name.[1]

 

Anne Brégeaut’s work continues to question identity through a proliferation of figures and spaces. The human figure becomes de-realized; a wealth of tiny characters are dispersed across the drawings; specific organs representing vital functions (the heart, the lungs, the brain) are separated from the body and—as metaphors or allegories—acquire additional meanings. We see the body through a hybrid of painting and sculpture: a wooden chair is adorned with shoes made of black plasticine (Le costume, 2012); a red nose is added to a strangely shaped multi-colored wooden board (Clown, 2014); the silhouette of a couple is cut out of a plank and becomes the stand for a painting (Wo, wo, wo, 2014 and Yeah, yeah, yeah, 2014); two pairs of shoes—a man’s and a woman’s—made of polychrome plasticine straddle each other (Pas de danse (Dance Step), 2014). In this strange and chaotic humanity, the image of the artist appears as a negative, as an emptiness: 40 Something (2013) [does "poussieres" here mean "and a little bit"? We use the expression 40 something to mean someone in her 40s] celebrates an imprecise birthday; a human silhouette is cut out of the center of the ‘canvas’ (which is actually a wooden board), thus creating a portrait from absence.

 

Many of Anne Brégeaut's work feature holes of different shapes. Some of these holes are literally present, creating an empty space in the ‘canvas,’ but she also paints holes in acrylic, constructing a full space into which the eyes and the body can plunge (Black Hole, 2012; Entre Chien et Loup, 2014). Memory lapses, ‘holes’ in the unconscious, keyholes, or the white rabbit's hole into which Alice fell--holes are grey areas, another indication of the artist's direct approach to the essentially dispersed and fragmentary nature of all narrative. Holes refer to what is lacking, what will always be lacking, what can never be definitively One but will always fundamentally depend upon the relation to the Other: this is one of the ways that Brégeaut expresses her interest in psychoanalysis and in Jacques Lacan, in particular. The literary dimension of psychoanalysis, as shown byMichel de Certeau, is made manifest in Anne Brégeaut’s work with utter simplicity and no theoretical pretentiousness; it's evoked by shifts from day to night (The Blue Hour, 2012) and from sleep to waking (a sculpture of a child's bed hollowed out at its center was part of her 2009 show ‘J’étais sur le point de m’endormir’ (I Was Just About to Fall Asleep)). It's also evoked by material loss (‘Des choses perdues’ (Lost Things), 2013), human loss (‘Ma vie serait vide sans toi’ (My Life Would Be Empty Without You), 2013), and the quasi-rational fears that haunt children's stories ('La maison dans les bois' (The House in the Woods), 2013).

Anne Brégeaut’s work is haunted by the Other – or the other. Because she prefers exploring alterity to declaring an identity, her works constantly tackle the question of love relationships humorously and lightly, through the banal situations of everyday life. Anne Brégeaut uses this theme to examine in complex ways the distance inherent to any relationship. In her installation ‘Entre nous’ (Between Us) (2014), a chair is cut in two by an orthogonal plane patterned in pungent colors that recall a kitchen table cloth; without pathos, it stages a domestic tragedy. In paintings such as ‘Ne me mens pas’ (Don't Lie to Me) (2008), ‘Nos habitudes’ (Our Habits) (2008) or ‘Pour toujours’ (Forever) (2013), Anne Brégeaut manages to confine her characters – the last instances of a form of realist figuration – to derealizing spaces with repeating patterns. It's the obsessive quality of these patterns that conveys the characters' emotions. Brégeaut layers the elements, managing to make them co-exist on very thin surfaces, and counting on both the viewer's ability to see through these camouflage games and on his or her unfettered imagination to produce meaningful connections among the various elements.

 

Daily life is the inexhaustible source of her themes. Using her vision as a mode of analysis, she reveals the daily problems and sufferings of this 'grayish' life through hybrid images that ‘try to go beyond the real.’[2] She borrows various objects – a cup (‘La dispute’, 2006), a vase (‘Le petit vase vert’, 2013), a chair (‘The costume’, 2012), etc. – and allows painting and drawing to contaminate real space by moving out of the traditional frame of the canvas and spreading to the wall. Anne Brégeaut wants to create works that function as vanishing points, infusing everyday life with the fictions of art, rendering life porous to the inventions of imagination, dream, and artistic and literary practice. The spaces that shape human behavior are largely represented in Anne Brégeaut’s work by various houses and pieces of furniture, yet she also creates another type of space that suggests the possibility, or even the necessity, of disorientation.

This space, the ‘never-never country,’ which is the title of a 2010 painting, as well as of her 2013 solo show[3], is a ‘Neverland’ that refers to popular culture, through Peter Pan and Michael Jackson’s famous ranch, but also to the philosophical and literary high culture of Thomas More’s Utopia. However, as is often the case in Anne Brégeaut’s work, the ‘never-never country’ underscores a crucial ambiguity, that of the danger of getting trapped in your own imagination and the difficulty of facing aspects of real life. She seems to be looking toward the different horizon of the American West, equally full of ambiguous dreams, which she evokes in the desert mountain of ‘Pays des souvenirs’ (Country of Memory) and the Venetian gondola taken from the life-size decor of Las Vegas (‘Le mirage’, 2013). Some places are named specifically: through a mise en abyme, both ‘Hollywood’ (2014) and ‘Beverly Hills’ (2012) stage a part of the history of cinema and television, thus pointing to the crucial role that fiction plays in the elaboration of our representations. These spaces also map the well-known imaginary of an American Dream.

 

In spite of her sparse use of material (wood, acrylic paint, gouache, plasticine, a few scattered objects), Anne Brégeaut constantly invents new uses for the spaces she is dealing with, and with an irreverent approach to scale and traditional hierarchical relationships. The viewer is invited to pay attention not just to objects, but to the spaces between them. Space is, in many ways, at the heart of Anne Brégeaut’s work, and through it, she raises questions of wandering, traveling, and personal trajectory. The motif of the labyrinth recurs in her work; it appeared as an installation in her 2009 show ‘j’étais sur le point de m’endormir,’ and as a drawing or a mural in ‘La mauvaise direction’ (The Wrong Way), 2012 and 2013. ‘La mauvaise direction’ is indeed concerned with losing one’s bearings, with the impossibility of finding one’s way, figuratively as well as literally, and with it Anne Brégeaut realizes a desire to shed light on ‘the fragility of things and of our gaze,’[4] an ambition both modest and urgent these days.

 

 

Vanessa Desclaux, January 2015

 

 

 

[1] Extract from Richard Brautigan’s novel In Watermelon Sugar.

 

[2] Conversation avec l’artiste, “Dans la tête d’Anne Brégeaut”, Conférence organisée par Géraldine Raynal, Eleni Riga et Fatima Sy, le 05 décembre 2013 à la Maison Rouge, Fondation Antoine de Galbert

 

[3] Le pays du jamais jamais, Maison des arts, Malakoff, 2013

 

[4] Conversation with the artist, “Dans la tête d’Anne Brégeaut”, a seminar organised par Géraldine Raynal, Eleni Riga and Fatima Sy, on dec 05, 2013 at la Maison Rouge, Antoine de Galbert Foundation.