What Nelly Monnier offers is rare. She should be told. She samples, she paints, she combines, contextualising all that she does. Let’s situate Parpaing/Chagrin. Let’s Wikipedia it. It has to do with counterforts, metal anchoring points that support walls, brightly coloured council block façades when you pass through fairly jolly and prosperous regions, but for three days only. Zoom, select, copy, detach, paint, draw at least the question, for it is language. The light was temperate, then humid. After that the weather was very nice.
By analogy, Nelly Monnier paints details sampled from the landscape, details that form signs. For the most part, they come from the decorative outskirts of medium-sized towns and villages in France. It is a repertoire, it is maintained, it is accurate. There are dates, passages, real places. It is not a newspaper, but photos, statements that become. You sense French punctum in it, linked undoubtedly to childhood. The punctum of the toponym, touch, illusion and duty. For the present presents. And sometimes, like a charm, it falls to painters to adjust and harmonise the shades of the format and subjects – even if they have scoliosis – and the idea of mud too. Like in javelin or discus throwing, some need only take it in hand, accelerate their pace, run, intensify, then let it go.
But in this mini-universe, we will call it (in painting too) a fatigue-induced fracture. It is a sports injury, an incomplete pain that arises. What is its purpose? For it’s not a tearing. If there is a lesion, it is because there was a structure, and no minor one, such is its ambition: the appellation, names, words and things, painting, landscape... and their state associated with very large, factual and historic kinds of languor. No longer even deadly as we might have liked to think, but of stress. Like animals in a farm, pasture and zoo: Émile Aillaud at La Grande-Borne; the son in a painting, crocodiles and lions.
What is the fatigue? Where is the fracture? Friction, France – a country with nothing pictorial but its name, but also painting, both rid of course of any reactionary prolegomena and categorised more as a light library of games, a possible theme park with an encyclopaedic aspect (but without an index, luckily). As suspected, it affects only the endurance athlete who has chosen a hard concrete or synthetic surface for a training ground. Stressed reality is the reality of irrational precision – which involves the blurriness of accumulated detail. For was it raining, that day? Is the disunity of places and time unresolved? With what strangeness does this kiosk in a meadow touch me? And with which paving stones and public fountain without a basin (but designed that way)? Is there still a café in this town? What time might it open? (binding material, but not of a bond). And don’t they offer little convenience services there now, like at the post office?
Unless the fatigue is only in our gaze and preconceptions from the first appearance of these common places that over-signify, which she cuts out, skilfully, avoiding any uncoolness, which she neutralises as if it were a dot. For the essential thing is this articulation that can fail.
Painting, not out of metaphysical primacy, but because it is the first babbling of art that we uncover and contact. Collection and investigation, tours and detours, the prospect and aspect as the Ancients used to say, whose elegance lies in semi-erasing the configuration.
From landscape to passage – of France, by metonymy –, she practices a general stippling from the beginning (which is not a copy/paste), composed of digression, and which constitutes a sort of annotation, an unreality of principle here or there, a diverse and multiple anchoring point for the gaze. Whence her ease in going straight to language, which she also produces friezes of (for Nelly Monnier writes). She accompanies just about every one of her exhibitions (and therefore these questions) with a booklet (which luckily provides no answer, since it is pure literature).
I would compare this spirit of travel to the peregrinations of that other heroine, Victoire from the old novel Un An by Jean Echenoz (1997), from the Paris region to the Landes and on to the Basque Country, reducing her to a homeless person; but the irony is that Nelly Monnier extends this off-centre board game to the roads of France. To begin, she needs to roll two sixes. This lets her get to work. Without even needing to cheat (a photo proves it). Stopping somewhere, looking and noticing. A delicate strangeness, an artificial lighting. Art like an accidental rock. Like a fine fissure, but on bone.