“My New Year’s Eve Toast : to all the devils, lusts, passions, greeds, envies, loves, hates, strange desires, enemies ghostly and real, the army of memories, with which I do battle – may they never give me peace.” (Patricia Highsmith, Nouvel An, 1947). For her third personal exhibition at Art: Concept, Martine Aballéa presents two new series of photographs mixing landscapes with texts, nature and ghostly worlds. They tell love and crime stories that stand out from luxuriant natural backgrounds or from negative prints of images. At first, nothing exceptional or irrational seems to be going on.
A few almost banal places are depicted; forest clearings, undergrowths, the façade of a house… then a sentence, in its simplicity and uniqueness, comes to identify and stigmatize the location, transforming it into a place of transgression or of refuge. Quickly it all swings into action: One sentence has been enough to drag us into a fiction that encourages us to step through the looking glass and enter a place where real life never leads us, and somehow become someone else.
Being someone else is Martine Aballéa’s secret pleasure, a weapon that allows her to reshuffle the cards of joy, loneliness or sorrow. Such is the ultimate purpose of her game: To play tricks on the disenchantment and on the depression of life before it annihilates her, cheating on reality before it betrays her. The idea of being someone else, to be able to break the rules of the game without consequences, is often found in Martine Aballéa’s work. During the 1980s she began working on fiction texts, such as the “Romans Partiels”* series in 1982, “Epave du désir”** in 1995 and the “Nouveaux amours / Nouveaux crimes”*** series in 1997.
In all these works she carefully develops the narrative link and tells us her very mysterious stories. The latest one is the story of a woman, a woman who represents many other women. Aballéa’s fiction often shelters characters that want to break free from something or someone on a social or on an affective level. In this new photographic series, she represents women who, for a reason or another, have gone all the way, as if the solution to avoid really turning into a psychopath was to invent a malevolent doppelganger for oneself and thus incarnate a woman- killer who represents the universality of relationship-breakdown and what it can entail. The causes are multiple, and Martine Aballéa draws up a non-exhaustive list, to which you can add your own causes. The exhibition almost becomes a sort of illustrated dictionary of love, representing all the comforting and dangerous facets inspired by the feeling.
These images remind us of the plots of certain crime novels, such as the ones written by Raymond Chandler or Patricia Highsmith, where bucolic and nature-saturated universes are interspersed with places bathed in cold light such as the settings of the “Ghost Lovers“ series. All these places have been the theatre of painful happenings. Like her series of photographs, Martine Aballéa is a dual person. She can be both luminous and dark. When asked questions that she finds too intimate she becomes a secretive, fragile, restless and suspicious person, curling up into a ball and withdrawing somewhere far from the conversation. But when she starts talking about literature, love or her work, she straightens up, her eyes brighten and her smile returns. She can turn the Museum of Modern Art into an ephemeral hotel, and invent an endless house as homage to Sarah Winchester, peopling it with some of her own ghosts. In her photographs she stage-manages notions of ambivalence, doubt, violence or protectiveness just by subtly playing with light and shadows.
Martine Aballéa is a primeval forest that is about to be completely drowned by vegetation. She is the white of negative prints or an invading colour; a mixture of cats, humans, books and sentences, something at once romantic and mystical. Even though her subject is tragedy its treatment remains poetic, offering the sharp sensations of an emotional hypersensitivity coupled with merciless irony and controlled cynicism in a very subtle fictional blend. In the images that are presented at the gallery, a murder has already occurred. The event is a symbol rather than something that has really happened. A man and a woman have played the main roles, the man isn’t there anymore, and the vegetation has quietly reclaimed its rights, erasing all traces of dread and leaving a ghost. As for the woman, she seems to have gone away, elsewhere.
Born in 1950 in New york, Martine Aballéa lives and works in Paris. Her work has been shown, among others, by the following institutions: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Musée National d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris; Centre Pompidou Beaubourg, Paris; FNAC, Paris; FRAC Basse Normandie; Bibliothèque National de Paris, Cabinet des Estampes. Expositions (sélection) : La Maison sans fin au CRAC Languedoc en 2012, Musée de l’Abbaye Ste Croix, Les Sables d’Olonne en 2010, Fun House at the Centre National de la Photographie à Paris in 2002, Hôtel Passager, ARC, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1999.
Selected by Ingrid Melano