"The steamy region", by Julie Crenn, Art Press, January-May 2018, Translated by C. Penwarden
This new show by Cécile Beau is a veritable experience, at once physical, aural, spatial and psychic. An experience that begins outside the Maison des Arts, where the artist responds to the architecture of the art center and the distinctive symmetry of its upper and lower floors.
Beau has imagined the cohabitation of two spaces, one real and the other fictive, linked physical by the staircase and mentally by imagination and metaphor. She has set a kind of ceramic sound tunnel into the wall (Erosion, 2015). Come close and you hear a kind of growling noise, which is a recording of the air blowing through. Metaphorically, the work and the staircase are like wormholes, passages between different space-times.
Entering the building, we see star maps done in cyanotype. These tell us about the impacts of meteorites, the coordinates of which are defined in terms of astral themes. Further on, an enigmatic creature emerges from the ceiling made up of long wooden elements that evoke roots or insect legs. At the end of the first crossing, glass cubes full of dark liquid enclose plants and minerals. The latter are exposed to electromagnetic frequencies emitted by stars, On the upper floor we enter another universe. Again, a map welcomes the visitor and covers a wall. This one plots the anarchic movement of stars. Facing us is Siouva (2017), a tree stump with long roots/legs coming out of it and seeming to dig into the floor.
This plant/animal hybrid seems able to move between realities, between different space-times. On the floor, a volcanic stone covered with moss emits a strange purring sound-the recording of an earthquake mixed with the growl of a panther: mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms unite. Beau includes every aspect of life in this show. Even planet Earth itself is seen as only part of a much larger entity, the cosmos, of which we are the fragile inhabitants, incapable of conceiving its extent, let alone understanding its mysteries.
"Lithique", by Julien Bécourt, may 2017
“It is not about affirming, at least not in a simple way, that the stars influence us, that they govern our lives, but rather accepting this and adding that we also influence the stars, for the Earth itself is but one star among many, and everything that lives on it (and inside it) is of an astral nature. There is nothing but sky, everywhere, and the Earth is a portion of it, a partial state of aggregation.”(Emmanuele Coccia, La Vie des plantes, Une métaphysique du mélange, Bibliothèque Rivages, 2016)
“I speak of stones that have always lain outdoors, or that sleep in their lodge and the darkness of lodes . . . They date from the planet’s beginnings, sometimes having come from another star. They then bear the twisting of space upon them like a scar from their terrible fall. They are from before humanity; and humans, when they arrived, did not mark them with their art or industry. Humans did not manufacture them, crafting them for some trivial, luxurious or historic use. They carry on nothing but their own memory.” (Roger Caillois, Pierres, 1966)
“If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”(Luke Skywalker to C3PO, Star Wars, 1977)
Everything in Cécile Beau’s work revolves around the idea of revelation, in all the senses of the word. Not only unveiling – the act of making it possible to see or hear phenomena that escape our immediate perception – but also epiphany and illumination. For Cécile Beau does not approach reality such as it appears to us, but such as it is in itself, in the beating heart of the matter, through its sedimentary strata and sublayers – a fragmented, inorganic and exogenous reality. Created with a sense of economy similar to that of Arte Povera, but with a sensitivity heightened by a perception extending beyond the bounds of the world and the self, her installations are most often composed of very simple materials and anti-spectacular set-ups. They invariably address topics such as encoding and decoding, alchemical formulas and quantum physics, cosmology and archaeology. Accretions and sediments, dark matter and cosmic background noise are extracted from a physical reality at the threshold of discernment. With astrophysics as its running theme, the exhibition – whose title is a nod to prehistory – strives to explore the transitory state of mineral elements, from their cosmic origin (meteorites) to their transformation into geological sediment (rocks, stones, pebbles, sand and dust) before they are appropriated by humans as a raw material. Refusing to choose between metaphysical vertigo, poetic allegory and scientific rationality, Cécile Beau presents us with a form of phenomenological science fiction.
In the Prussian-blue cyanotypes of the first work (Meteors Ascendances), recalling ancient parchments, the artist developed an astral theme corresponding to the exact dates and times that meteorites hit the Earth between 1640 and 2016. Might these rocks from outer space carry within them a genotype of some sort? Like an oracle from the Quattrocento, it stages a cartography of the sky as a primordial tool of knowledge in the tradition of Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Hipparchus, Kepler, Copernicus, Nostradamus and Tycho Brahé, as well as the Persian, Iranian and Egyptian branches of astronomy in the golden age of Arab-Muslim civilisation. With its use of UV light, cyanotype technology again substantiates the tacit links between the graphic mode of representing the world and the sun’s rays.
Set up in the centre of the room, the installation Albedo 0,60 is a large circular cement-mixing tray, a bottomless crater on whose surface a layer of immaculate white ice has formed. It is completely unaffected by the temperature around it. Generated by a cooling circuit, this glacial ice-cap alludes to the alchemical transmutation and the liquid-to-solid transformation process via condensation and crystallisation. This “geochronical” sculpture plays with the notions of both time and weather, but also hints at the extreme climate conditions encountered in outer space and the unpopulated areas of our planet’s far north. But its effects are not lost upon the artist; a certain tongue-in-cheek facet offsets the system’s austerity.
Applying low-tech, low-cost subterfuge to depict this cosmic gigantism that remains out of the reach of humans, Beau uses construction site materials, creating a direct connection to masonry, the most down-to-earth work that there is. Accrétion, in the second space, is accompanied by a poem by Bertrand Rigaux and composed of a black cement mixer filled with monochromatic mineral elements – charcoal, volcanic rock and black sand – that clatter against each other inside the drum’s metallic walls. This industrial tool’s rotation and inadvertent buzzing echo the heliocentric system and the formation of dark matter, but in a rudimentary and prosaic way that alludes to the work of a mason, mischievously compared here to the work of a demiurge. Half-spheres with a veined texture and earthy relief recalling the surfaces of distant stars hang on the wall on an off-axis horizontal line, reconfiguring this cosmogony within the gallery itself. It is also a way to rehabilitate the artist’s original task, which consists of revealing unknown worlds and questioning the nature of reality.In addition to their fascinating aura, which shakes up the ontological matrix, Cécile Beau’s delicate and subtle works create a veritable topography of the terrestrial biotope and the elements – mineral, gaseous and vegetable – that make up its substance, following a thought process informed by science and poetry, philosophy and the occult. In playing with the geological and thermal nature of matter, going beyond our “earthly” perception of time and space, the artist invites us to think differently about the world and opens up new horizons for understanding reality. She reveals that we are much more “foreign” to our environment than we may have thought, and tirelessly strives to decipher its mysteries.
This text was originally written in french.
"Strangeness Factory", by Émile Soulier translated by Cole Swensen
Composed of sounds, images, and objects in varied and close relations, Cecile Beau's installations are driven by the play of contradictory vanishing points. Here, the visible and the invisible mix. The pure and the impure intersect. Perception's radars are dazed, dazzled by enigmatic and timeless murmurs. These are forests, rivers, horizons, and hazes that breathe as in the earliest hours of the day. These are factories, machines, mechanisms, illusions, and extracts, all testifying to a quasi-clinical interest in things. The blade of her scalpel slices open sensorial perspectives beneath a steady light and with a depth of field that is hallucinatory to say the least.
And with a certain modesty, but not without a touch of malice, she seems to be trying to conceal her toolbox-full, one imagines, of digital and electronic devices. She buries these instruments under tree roots and beach pebbles, in cloud vapor, and dresses them up in organic and inorganic matter that has been distilled, diverted, decontextualized. The organic materials soon take on an air of mystery within the empty spaces that welcome them. Their austerity becomes necessary. Her work is stripped of human presence, saturated with air, water, and mineral, until only the viewer's body remains truly discernible, now elevated to the rank of protagonist, invited to get lost among a network of felted and muffled stimuli. The real world can be detected-but just barely-through weave of sound samples. The sounds themselves are perfectly ordinary, but the process of amplification, dissimulation, spatialization, and infiltration completely transforms them.
Unlike many contemporary installations, there's no question here of playing with different ways to immerse or envelope the viewer. The visual and acoustic phenomena, once worked over by Cecile Beau, remain distanced, like the beings in a microscopic biotope that we've never even dreamed of. The perceptive tool follows them like an autofocus, making ever-finer distinctions, scrutinizing the inaudible. The eyes open. The eardrums relax. Cecile Beau takes a variety of approaches in gathering her materials, including collecting, recording, and splicing. She scours reality for her supply of fragments, which she then selects, positions, connects, and juxtaposes until she achieves the strange hybrids that she offers to her viewers. The resulting spaces sparkle with the emptiness they contain. The sounds call out across the silence that enfolds them. Unreal, almost mutant, her atmospheres function as containers, trapping the investigating consciousness. Here time and space collide, as in film, in which fluid sequences are brusquely solidified and precipitated into materiality.
Cecile Beau's works appear less as spectacles created by internal theatricality and decorative effects than as experience, defined as a personal putting-to-the-test of a thing, a material, a structure, or a phenomenon. Each new series, each new project sets off in a different direction from its antecedents, yet nonetheless remains connected to them by a kind of resonance. In a certain way, they all enjoy a privileged relationship with contemplation, revealed in the rhythm that they communicate to those who confront them. Though this contemplation takes on incredibly various forms and instances, it almost always requires the patience and the availability of the body, which sets up an oscillation between inside and outside. The rustling confusion of ideas, memories, and desires hurtles up against presence and the sensory apparati of objects and phenomena. The senses open and close. Memory whispers unprecedented impressions. The intellect hums as words link up with gestures. The viewer's amnesia begins swaying like a backwash, or a tide that, in pulling back, finally lets one glimpse enigmatic traces.
This text was originally written in french.
"A Diorama from the Age of Northern Song" , by Aurélien Mole, translated by Cole Swensen
To open a piece of writing by referring to the latest advances in virtual reality or augmented reality is to underscore the imminent obsolescence of the very medium in use. However, from Zeuxis to Avatar, people have been trying to perfect the illusion of reality through methods not dissimilar to recent advances in technology. Thanks to the invention of stereo-optics, which exploited the properties of binocular vision early on, 3D representation is as old as photography, yet the sources of virtual reality generated by computers go back even further, to the dioramas that flourished during the 19th century. These popular attractions established a central point of view on a panoramic painting of a spectacular scene. They were clearly one of the forerunners of cinema, which, since its origin, dreamed of uniting sound and image-in short, of concentrating as much and as many sensations as possible at a single point.
Though Cécile Beau's work is largely based in sound, it nonetheless retains certain visual qualities that recall the diorama. Like the spectator of those earlier theaters of painting, anyone who wants to experience Biale must cross a darkened corridor before coming out into a vividly lit space. Four panoramic photographs of winter landscapes are hung in the corners of the modernist white cube. At first glance, the arrangement looks scopic because the positioning of the elements lets the glance glide freely, without encountering any obstacles: the room's verticals dissolve into curves, and the images are so pale that it's hard to distinguish their edges from the white walls, ceiling, and floor. However, as in a blizzard, in which the landscape is revealed in intermittent fragments to the traveler crossing it, details begin to appear gradually as the viewer's eyes adapt to the intense luminosity. Images float up as though from the bottom of a developing bath, while the sound emanating from the photographs alters the viewer's perception of their surface details.
Though a diorama works by immersing the spectator, it is nonetheless rigorously organized around a perspective determined by a single point of view, which means that the transition from the illusionistic space of the painting to the real space of the spectator is achieved through real objects, at times elongated through painted perspective. Akmuo literally shows a rectangular section of a dried-up riverbed, but it also evokes hybrid, dioramic objects. Sound textures suggesting the underground passage of water emanate from visual pieces that themselves plunge beneath the acoustic perspective's form. In this way, the physical presence of objects is deployed across an auditory plane.
The principle of point of view also plays a role in the piece entitled (c=1/√ρχ), which at first looks like a science-fiction city in a nocturnal landscape. Luminous objects-the glass instruments of a chemistry lab fitted together to create a sound-distillery-are submerged in darkness. At the entrance to the installation, a loud-speaker diffuses various sounds coming from the outside. Traveling at a speed of 340,29 meters per second, they are immediately captured by a microphone and amplified. The installation makes a poetic association between the transparency of glass and the invisibility of sound in order to create an audible architecture. As is often the case in Beau's work, sound intensifies sight as it crosses the surface of the objects she creates. However, in this work, the transparency of the material makes the viewer aware of a displacement within. The horn, the still, and the coil act as echo chambers producing unique distortions of the sounds that cross them and suggesting the forms' interiors by the changes they produce in sound.
The principle of analogy is at the heart of Vallen : a black, slightly concave quadrilateral that harbors a pool of water at its center. The water's surface is lightly agitated by concentric waves created by a loud-speaker beneath the liquid that emits the sound of a drop of water. Before digital technology, recording used analogical systems based on principles of equivalence: the stronger the sound, the deeper the furrow a stylus would inscribe on the surface of a membrane, such as the tin of the first Edison rolls. Vallen transcribes a sound into a form, as what appears on the liquid surface is the evidence of an invisible drop, and its contours are intimately linked to the sound that produced it.
Like the painters of the dioramas, who engaged in endless research to make their scenes more accurate and more striking, Cécile Beau makes the link between documentation and a certain kind of spectacle. She collects her sounds in a documentary phase that requires visiting various locations and making specific choices about recording devices and equipment. But unlike the installations of an artist such as Robert Smithson, Cécile Beau's don't look back to make a link with any space beyond that of the exhibition. Beau meticulously works over the recordings, following certain expressive principles, in order to reconstruct a deconstructed event. Like the Chinese paintings of the 10th and 11th centuries that tried to create a complete universe parallel to the exterior world, Cécile Beau's pieces are constituted of microcosms and macrocosms, the former holding themselves at a distance, and the latter enveloping the spectator. If this work had to be summed up in a single image, a paradoxical image-and such a distillation would take a bit time-it would be that of a diorama whose entire circular surface was covered by one of Fan Kuan's lyrical landscapes.
The Northern Song Dynasty flourished in China from 960 to 1126.
The soundscape for Fields is an arrangement of sounds generated by eolians, electrical counters or hydraulic turbines captured by a microphone and a piedzo (a contact microphone).
Fan Kuan, born around the middle of the 10th century, was still alive around 1025. A painter, he viewed landscape as spiritual experience as much as visual creation.
Text by Leslie Compan
Cécile Beau's artistic approach is bound to the perception and experience of a territory. On the edge of reality and fiction, her works disrupt the sense organs that usually allow us to analyze elements and set us among our environment.
The installation called Biale successively confuses our hearing and sight to put our sense mechanisms to the test. The soft murmur humming from Biale invites viewers to enter the very space of the work. The deafening whiteness of the inner space seems to vibrate the still indistinct sound and momentarily saturates our sight and hearing, before we may slowly recover them. Then, in the still shaky eyes of viewers, appears a series of photos of snowy landscapes, whose horizon finally represents a true panorama.
This device produces a mental geography originating an unreal situation of space and time. Taken in Poland, these photos capture a territory and the interaction inside it between atmospheric, geographic, human and cultural elements. But far from setting the viewers out of context, Cécile Beau proposes them to enter this new place of connivance, made of small yet numerous manipulations and changes of sounds and images, to create a space of poor fiction.
The fragmentation and levelling of the scales of perception, that can also be found in her photomontages called Xiezhen ("painting from life"), are not aimed at objectivizing territories altered by human activity. On the contrary, they are an experience created by the challenging of our own references. An attempt to define culture as a long-lasting revelation, beyond any narrative means.
This text was originally written in french.
"SUBSTRAT", by Nathalie Desmet
Cécile Beau is interested in phenomena too slow or too discrete for the human time scale; those we cannot see or are barely perceptible. She takes it to overturn our ordinary perceptions. With "Substrat", she proposes a semi-subterranean fiction far from our usual references. The gallery becomes a sedimentary surface just waiting to modify. Daylight is there rarefied. Repetition of complex physical or organic phenomena, poetic reproductions of laboratory experiments or spatiotemporal fictions?
Frangula (2014), is a root surreptitiously insinuating itself into the gallery space through the ceiling, quietly. Deprived of its stem, without any floor anchoring, barely bearing against the wall surface, it seeks a nourishing matter. Its network of lines that seem to adapt their shapes to the space, might as well be a lightning or the image of an hydrographic network, whose branched forms, are recurring in nature. Frangula may also worry when we consider the capacity of roots to raise the floor.
Érosion (2014) is an irregular hole, a kind of dark gut formed in the wall. The installation gives to hear the whirling movements of a dust particle pushed by the wind. By modeling the path of a particle, Cécile Beau represents with sounds, the air distribution following invisible obstacles and makes of mechanical erosion, which is a difficult process to represent, a product of the imagination. The fiction is then placed in a world of another time or another dimension.
The Thalle series (2014) shows familiar figures and yet indefinable: landscapes views from the sky, cell clusters? Thalle (thallus) refers to the vegetative system of lichens. These are the perfect expression of the mutual benefit that nature can create between mineral structure and organic structure. Feeding on dust carried by the winds they end up becoming substrates for other plants.
Surface and depth are reversed, human time scale and geologic time scale overlap. Thus, the mineral matters that usually serve as supports for lichen become here photosensitive concrete plates which themselves are based on the gray color of the place; a hole in a wall becomes the narrow entrance of an invisible cave crossed and turned by wind or water; the surface of the mural paint becomes a sediment where a tree finds matter to form its roots. On a scale that is beyond us, the walls may become again substratum; the graduated light can be enough to give energy to the sensitive walls of the gallery so that life can develop there.
Cécile Beau mixes temporalities which are hard to be represented for our human perception to concrete representations of phenomena in the process of slow or extremely slow transformation. Similarly, she reversed the measures and the scales. Thus, on the human scale, concrete - supporting the lichens - is a construction material, but geologically, it is an aggregation of silica, sand, and water ... a mineral. The time Cécile Beau is dealing with comes under the Greek term Aion. She translates it with analogies and permanent connections between the infinitely large and the infinitely small, the macrocosm and the microcosm. The temporality of the rock formation is overtaken by time of the exhibition. The thousands of years needed for elements to carve the stone are somehow moved to another scale, to the congruence of space-times impossible to reconcile.
Cécile Beau reveals the intuitive knowledge of the levels of organization of the universe, of their interweaving, so the short temporality of human action is always in her work a resurgence of the long temporality of the cosmos. For her, in her quest of space-times contraction, the mineral matter ends up by turning organic.
This text was originally written in french.