"WITH ‘SQUELETTRES’", by Clémentine Mercier, Libération, May 2020
Usually, Chloé Poizat draws very beautiful rags, ruins, caves and animals with big eyes. She also creates sculptures and installations with pieces of dead wood. During the lockdown, the artist finally had time to go on video, filming her works and books from her studio which she mixes with her self-composed souhdtrack. These very short video "fragments" (less than a minute long) entitled Abysses, "Squelettres" and resurgences are small narratives, open to improvisation, senseless, with big hallucinated pupils. Chloé Poizat has an uncommon gift: making the apocalyptic funny, simultaneously sepulchral and psychedelic. Her gallerist, Rosario Caltabiano, has suggested that she hold a show on his website (Living Room n°5) with these tragicomic mini-trips.
This article was originally written in french.
Interview with Chloé Poizat, Point Contemporain magazine #16, March-April-May 2020
Each presentation of Chloé Poizat's work is an invitation to explore new metamorphic territories, drawn lands, sometimes dark, sometimes laughing, inhabited by a bestiary, anthropomorphic forms, which possess a secret link with the living. Perhaps it is necessary, in order to dialogue with her works, to open one's conscience to this imaginary of primitive origins which is common to us all. The artist incites us to a form of liberation by connecting us to Nature and to our own nature. She takes us into the hallucinogenic and fairy-tale world of the spirits. A marvel inhabiting forests, rocks, and landscapes that, when scrutinised carefully, contain a part of mystery. Chloé Poizat pieces together memories, readings and wanderings, and composes her own visions by assembling, combining in her different series inks, pastel or charcoal, drypoint drawings but also paintings, sculptures, collages and sound.
Does your work find its origins in literature ?
My artistic universe, even if I have no literary background, can be approached from this point of view. I read a lot and am nourished by a literary spirit, without illustrating a particular story. The only author I could refer to is Marcel Schwob, a French writer, storyteller and poet, whose work I discovered quite belatedly. I am sensitive to his very visual writing.
« Reading triggers visions in me, arouses desires of work which are already inscribed in my universe but which do not necessarily arise without apparent reason. I am not in the description of what I read or in conscious writing, but rather in an epiphany. »
Real or fictitious visions, which you assenble in installations composed of drawings, paintings, sculptures...
It's true that I don't like to show my work piece by piece or drawing by drawing. I see it as a totality. In installations such as at the Lion Noir festival (2018), at the Plateforme gallery in Paris (2018) or more recently at the PARÉIDOLIE international drawing fair in Marseille (2019), I combine works from different series in order to present universes in which the viewer can find unity and coherence. This spatiality is fundamental even though I pursue my series independently of each other. All of my work constitutes a collection from which I draw at the time of each exhibition. I'm always embarrassed when I have to present a single piece because I can't really tell something. I need people to enter into a story even if it is not necessarily visible and may ultimately prove to be protean. Each exhibition potentially opens up a multiplicity of stories. A presentation in the form of an assemblage that I would like to renew each time in the future because it corresponds exactly to the way I see my work.
A presentation whose architecture is thought like that of a novel or a fairy tale?
I don't construct a narrative as is the case in literature. The story is simply born out of work, very spontaneously, with even a letting go that is very important to me. I search for it and, so to speak, provoke it in order to be myself as much as possible, with the potential to bring up memories and readings from the unconscious. Often, I set up this universe starting from a painting, a drawing that calls for another, then another, until it fills the space. Sometimes I compose several sets before deciding to choose one or the other. The construction is natural, not fixed, the connections being made between more or less recent works because I know my collection of works very precisely. I like to work without thinking about the exhibition, not knowing in advance which elements will take place or how they will be articulated, because thinking about the composition beforehand would freeze my work and would come back to fixing the springs that set the imagination in motion and in the end would take away its power to create an emotion in the viewer.
A creative freedom that also expresses itself when you draw?
Exactly. I like to sense the drawing’s progressive birth, a little like an exploration, opening a path in the imaginary without knowing what awaits me. In order to provoke these surges of images, I change my technique or mode of action in order to install a kind of discomfort that allows me to try to bring out new forms.
An imagination that draws its source from deep mechanisms, linked to the cult of nature, of spirits?
I am very interested in natural sciences as well as human sciences, anthropology, ethnology. In each city I visit, I visit the natural history museum. I am sensitive to the compositions in the showcases, to the arrangement of archaeological fragments, stones, insects, various debris, which sometimes form faces. A fundamental mechanism by which one tries to recognise anthropomorphic parts in mineral or organic forms even when there are none, which is very present in my work. In the drawings of the Sfumati series (2018), several faces can sometimes be guessed, as in the Trognes pastels (2014) where the vegetal forms form a gallery of full-length portraits with modernist accents. In the Portable Landscapes (2011), it is a kind of Odradeks in the form of animal figures that I bring out in the same way as they appear to me on my walks in nature. Visions that are as ghostly as in the Great Rocks (2012).
Is this a way for you to probe these territories of the spirits whose images inhabit your work and your unconscious?
In several of my works, I use writing or automatic drawing. The Sfumati refer to those moments between dog and wolf where, when the mist falls on the forest, our environment becomes disturbing. This process of automatic drawing corresponds to moments when I get lost, when shapes disappear until I sporadically regain control of them. The notion of disappearance runs through all my work. My drawings are related to illusion, to this passage from the conscious to the unconscious. Throughout my childhood, I was bathed in this relationship with the invisible world of the spirits. Some members of my family practiced fortune-telling and had access to visions of the beyond. For me, it is a possible path in the perception of things. Obviously, all this still has an influence on my life and has changed the way I look at the world and at myself. I summon these elements sometimes in a direct way, sometimes in a humorous way as in the Spirites series where we see figures secreting ectoplasms. I am amused by this grand clownish side of the Spirites photographs staged in the 19th century. It's a universe that titillates me and to which I feel close. In this game of identification, I place very expressive eyes on mounds of body shapes in the Cairns series (2014-2016) or I animate anthropomorphic forms in the charcoal charcoals of the series Dans la nuit (2018-2019).
A process which is also a way to avoid giving too dark a dimension to your universe...
I am attracted to the night because in the dark we see and imagine, as when we are children, fantastic things and beings. My universe is very connected with the world of childhood during which every day I spent time around the ponds and in the forest. I still have this relationship with nature as it really is but also with the look of a child who imagines it populated by a wonderful and terrifying bestiary at the same time. Reminiscences of perceptions of childhood that nourish my works without however being restitutions of memories. The humorous tone that I give to my drawings is not always very obvious, but I introduce a touch of grotesqueness so as not to be too serious with these subjects. If my universe is quite dark, it also has a "ghost train" side.
How do you qualify these forms then? Are they fantastic, fantastical, nightmarish?
I think the term "horrific-merciful" is more accurate, in reference to Marcel Schowb. This universe can be frightening, but we can also laugh at our own fear. If it has a dark side, it is neither negative nor evil, it is like the spirits that inhabit the forest or that we can imagine at night. With these masks, these faces that I draw, I give body to this universe. I need a character to penetrate it, like a shaman who takes you by the hand to take you to another side of reality. A passage that can certainly be frightening, but also drifting in humorous forms, with a stuffed domestic dog covered in greenery, characters full of heartedness. With this character as a guide, each according to his or her sensitivity takes an unpredictable path. For some, it leads to a rather joyful terrain, while for others it can be frightening, to the point of provoking withdrawal. I cannot deny this darkness because it brings together the visible and the invisible, connects worlds, allows very different things to live together. For me beauty does not detach itself from a certain form of violence.
« I have an animist relationship with the elements of nature and I am interested in all forms of spirituality. »
This article was originally written in french.
"Nightmares are having fun!", by Christian Tangre
Chloé Poizat is an artist and illustrator. Born in 1970 in Saint-Cloud, she currently lives and works in Paris.
As an artist, Chloé Poizat explores a strange world in which, in unlikely landscapes, familiar ghosts, monsters, lost ordinary people reembodied in hybrids, gigantic animals, faces grinning with a ridiculous metamorphosis, bodies torn by the absurd magic of nightmare, appear and disappear. The drawing, precise and technically impressive, here serves an unbridled imagination, a little factory of fictions both ironic and disturbing.
Chloé Poizat enjoys images, the ones that make us enter unknown worlds and transform us, in the span of a daydream, into an anxious or bold explorer, according to the mood of the moment. Thus she often uses collage, borrowing fragments of old engravings or photographs in order to paradoxically open windows on unknown territories, the ones that take us a thousand miles away from our technological and consumerist reality. Stripped of the usual accessories and behaviors, the unwilling explorer faces with surprise the evidence of his loneliness and the absurdity of his condition but also a range of possibilities and of funny hybridizations to experiment. Perhaps this immersion into dreaming and into another strange body will allow him to reveal his inner hidden poet?
Paintings, collages, ink drawings, large or small formats, Chloé Poizat organizes her exploration by series she gathers in compositions that offer just as many ways or windows to enter her labyrinthine, cruel and dreamy world.
This text was originally written in french.
"Outremondes", by Nathalie Desmet, January 2014
''All go to one place. All are from dust, and all return to dust'' (Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 20, English Standard Version). Chloé Poizat seems to deny this unavoidable order of things by giving shape to remnants, ghosts, spectres, to this evanescent and translucent world which inhabits our archaic imagination. Drawing, with all the graphic possibilities it offers, is her medium of predilection. However, it is strongly reductive to think that Chloé Poizat’s practice is limited to drawing. Indeed, for more than twenty years now, she has created her own archives of printed images. Every one of her drawings found their origins in this huge personal iconographic collection. Her collection gives a great importance to illustrated books from the end of the 19th century, a key moment of the spread of photography which would give to images a new dimension. The new multiplication of images, allowed by the photographic printing machine that appeared since the middle of the century, generated a massive production of images coming from distant regions. If the profusion of images is being accused of leading towards a loss of the aura of some objects as the images are spread in mass, it also gives birth to a new imaginary. Chloé Poizat is then necessarily interested in the iconological potential of this collection. What does the assemblage of an image with another is going to tell about a period of time or of the world in which we live, in which we used to live? This collection enables her to produce an archaeology of image and drawing. The arkhè, at the root of the term archive is, in Greek, as Jacques Derrida used to recall, both the beginning and the command. Drawing appears as a way of making visible what is not immediately apparent in this archive.
By using this iconographic file of mass-produced spiritist photographs of the late 19th century and early 20th or images of B- or Z-series of the 1940s - 1970s, Chloé Poizat analyses the structuring elements of our imagination. Her work testifies to a certain taste for mental images related to archaic phobias: fear of the dark, of the unknown, fear of being hunt down, fear of some natural elements, anxieties of dismantling,loss, abandonment or of being eaten up. Most of Chloé Poizat’s works awaken in us those anxieties that everyone had to live.
From the outset, photography has been suspected of impairing body integrity. We used to think that by being photographed, we would lose its constitutive essence. Honoré de Balzac imagined, for example, that all bodies were composed of superimposed layers, like an onion, that each photograph taken removed. He thought that the repetition of photographic exhibitions would lead to their loss. The loss of one of these spectres, one the auratic layers, and therefore its essence as a human being, was a widespread fear.
The belief in this imperceptible substance, invisible to the naked eye, and which photography could capture, became the subject of a widespread photographic practice from the end of the 19th century, consisting in revealing these auratic or spectral manifestations. After exposure sessions conduced by mediums, spectra or whitish forms exhaled through the nose or the mouth of the photographed subjects could appear. In several projects, Chloé Poizat is inspired by these spiritist photographs. A part of the series Spirites (2011-2013) reinterprets them in a 10 x 15 cm format, a format that is essentially identical to that of the photographs of that time, which gives to the drawing unusual strength and function: that of revealing, at its turn, those spectral shapes that only photography was able to make a century earlier.
Dessin Fantôme (2001 – 2013), a series of drawings playing on the semi-opacity of the paper breaks down the appearance of spectra. The transparency of the paper makes it possible to superimpose two images, one being seen as the possible emanation of the other. The drawing on the first sheet creates another image by superposition. Each drawing being complementary to the other, it also reveals the absence contained in any image when it is alone, decontextualized. The series also points out the double language of images. Such as Gaston Bachelard affirmed in L’Air et les songes : “Undoubtedly, in its prodigious life, the imaginary puts images, but it always presents itself as a beyond the images, it is always a little more than its images” It is clearly on the border between images and imagination that Chloé Poizat takes us. Drawing is a perfect tool for those who want to better understand the misdemeanour of imagination. La Table Dicte (2013) refers to the tables used during spiritualism sessions, usually connected to a spirit – still called a guide - from the out world, dictating words in verse or prose. Here, the spectral forms appear on the table, engraved in the wood, as if the guide was at the origin of the drawing. Throughout the 19th century, it was not uncommon for the literary and artistic sphere to be fascinated by this “fluidomania”, Victor Hugo was, for example, during his stay in Jersey and Guernsey from 1851. The minds of great cartoonists sometimes came to guide the apprentice mediums, such as Leonardo da Vinci guide the art brut painter Augustin Lesage. Chloé Poizat, however, is closer to Raphaël Lonné, who was in a state of trance during sessions of spiritualism, could create automatic drawings representing half-animal half-vegetal figures.
What interests Chloé Poizat is not to communicate with the hereafter but to find the gestures that led these mediums, a kind of seismographic recording of the spectral activities, of their resonance, but also of everything that the unconscious can record. Her false mediumistic drawings are abstract drawings which shapes that emerge are wave effects. A kind of automatic writing that incorporates the precepts of Augustin Lesage’s “guides”: “Do not try to find out what you are doing”. Even though this work is born of an interest for spiritist images, it is not disconnected from the familial history of the artist. There is, in Chloé Poizat’s family, a medium aunt. Le Napperon (2013), is also the occasion to mix several family stories. On this real doily, given by her family-in-law, is set in the centre one of her medium guides as she imagines them, with humour and a touch of irony: a guide whose head is decked out with slug horns. This produces hotchpotch of images, indecisive, shapeless, swarming, visible on the table, and that only the imaginary can implement.
There is every reason to believe that ghosts, remnants or spectres have for Chloé Poizat, the same analytical function that images of the nymphs had for Aby Warburg. Georges Didi-Huberman saw it as “the experience of an image capable of everything; its beauty was capable of becoming a horror. […]; its offering of fruits able to turn into a cut head; its beautiful hair in the wind capable of being torn out of despair”. (Georges didi-Huberman, L’image survivante. Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg, 2002).
The images used by Chloé Poizat are the images of a culture, produced by a period of time. They are also, despite the apparent irony she uses to distort them, surviving images, witnesses of a history and of a very situated memory.
In the visual register, the representation of the outer world is relatively permanent over the centuries: evanescent figures, transparencies, superimpositions, … From this corpus of contemporary images of the beginning of photography, what is surviving today?
In Série Z, a set of 196 drawings, Chloe Poizat is inspired by the low-budget cinema series B in which zombies, ghosts and undead have the share. George A. Romero’s La Nuit des morts-vivants (1968), Jacques Rourneur's Vaudou (1943), and Bob Clark's Le Mort-Vivant (1974) are inexhaustible sources of inspiration.
The character of Série Z, whose face is made of a multitude of small pinned masks, is a fragile character whose body is made of the same shaky drawing as the mediumistic drawings. The living dead, a being that does not exist and that returns here in multiple forms, fascinates. The small pins are reminiscent of voodoo rites, but are also an opportunity for Chloé Poizat to show her taste for montage and assembly. The B series are no longer terrifying as the DIY is apparent.
Les Paysages Portatifs (2011) are partly inspired by Enrique Vila-Matas’s Abrégé d’Histoire de la littérature portative. In this compendium, the Shandys grouped into a secret society, have the will to reduce their works of art to transport them easily. Chloé Poizat – delivering, by the way, a commentary on the derived products of mass tourism – makes the landscape a handheld object. To appropriate the world and bring it with you, or, if you prefer, to choose the motionless journey: a paltry move which does not lack absurdity. Within the pictorial tradition, before the birth of photography, miniatures enabled to know a face by distance. The travel enabled by the portable landscape is a modern journey that allows being in a landscape while looking at another one. In these landscapes that sometimes correspond to identifiable places, like the island surrounded by poplar trees in Ermenonville where Jean-Jacques Rousseau was buried or other places drawn by Hubert Robert, appear monstrous faces, kind of tutelary figures whom we do not know if they want good or bad, as in Paysages Accidentés.
For Chloé Poizat, these faces are kinds of Odradek, a creature that is hard to grasp, of an “extraordinary mobility and truly elusive” according to the words of its creator Franz Kafka. Here, they embody, all at once, the spirit of a place or the unconscious memory of the people who live there.
The series Grands Rochers (2012) gives a more important part to mineral elements of the landscape and forms an extension of the series Paysages Portatifs. In both series, the artist is inspired by illusion landscapes and landscape gardens created especially during the 18th century: architectural elements designed for punctuating the gardens and giving the illusion of being in a real landscape. Her choice lies on the follies said as being natural: grottos or artificial rocks. Out of any real natural environment, these follies have to create moments of surprise in the gardens. The collage of these artificial elements, the assembly of disparate elements in Chloé Poizat’s drawings comes from the same illusionist process. The choice of these follies in Grands Rochers, combined with the large size of the drawings also puts them in the tradition of the Sublime. The follies had their finest hours during the Romantic period, when they were a pretext for replacing Men in their environment and reproducing an aesthetic of the Sublime on a miniature scale. Rebuild the “pleasant feeling of horror”, that Joseph Addison felt when he saw the Alps. The Romantics particularly appreciated the mix between the grotesque and the Sublime. At a closer look, the rocks drawn by Chloé Poizat are filled with discreet animals, characters who just want to emerge, as in the grotesque antique ornaments.
The grotesque takes a double meaning here, decorative but also comical, through the characters that suddenly appear from these follies: terrifying because evanescent or ghost-like, but decked out with a big nose or an exaggerated smile. Empty and unaffected gaze, these characters which inhabit these landscapes, Odradek of places, can also become the symbol of a break up between man and nature. In Vacance anthropique (2009), man can hardly get his space back in the natural space. Chloé Poizat chooses virgin, empty images from Ernest Granger’s Nouvelle Géographie Universelle published in 1922, images taken before the development of mass tourism. On these images, she transfers characters that seem to have nothing to do with the landscapes in which they find themselves; their red colour contrasts with the black and white backdrop of the landscapes. Each one adorned with a fluorescent orange instrument – a colour that is hardly reproducible – telephone, axe, soda bottle, as this man sitting in a jungle with a wheel in his hands, but the traces of civilisation, of modernity, have disappeared. These men and these women, inappropriate, ghosts of contemporary tourists, have sometimes literally lost their heads; they show signs of psychosis as this zombie woman holding a leg in her hand. This critic of tourism is staged in La Poursuite du Lointain (2009-2013) in which a character with a rabbit-head appears in touristic photographs. The order of things is reversed: the rabbit seems to be well accustomed to urban environments, while the man seeks to possess the landscape until he wants to carry it with him.
Along with drawing, one of the favourite practices of Chloé Poizat is the assemblage of images and words. As a faithful reader of Georges Pérec, she also enjoys lists. For example, she creates notebooks of words she collects through her readings. Since 2010, every words she loves, that touch her, are collected. A challenging exercise that provides her with a new material to recompose. She redraws these words and uses them to create stories or organise a series of drawings, as in Soigner ses mots (2010), or FFFT (2011-2013). These words can preside over a composition as in the title Formules secrètes (2013) consisting of two words she noted while reading William Burroughs’ Festin nu. Some words can be taken from a composition and associated with other drawings. None of these elements are made for a particular composition, they pre-exist. These assemblages made of drawings, words, printed images transferred on paper, or collages can be recombined endlessly depending on her personal picture library. They can also be done with four hands, as it is the case in Nos Pièces Montées, made since 2011 with Gianpaolo Pagni. The proposed associations give rise to stories, fictions. If these assemblages make it possible to better understand the origin and the permanence of the images, they serve above all to tell stories, to plunge ourselves into a world of illusions.
This text was originally written in french.