Text for the solo show ‘Domestic Bliss’
Galerie Allen, Paris, May 16 - June 14, 2014
To celebrate Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann’s first solo exhibition at Galerie Allen the printed invitation acts as both artist edition and experimental communication. Invited and briefed by the artist, two writers were commissioned to produce texts that consider the multiple entry points in discovering Badaut Haussmann’s work. Her use of literary reference and the collaboration with these two writers proposes both fiction and traditional essay acts as a means of accessing the work.
Always underlying in her work, decoration has now become central for Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann. Between gesture — the act of arranging a space — and objects, decoration produces a living space. It is, therefore, considered as an intimate and quotidian affair linked to the pursuit of happiness, the quest for domestic well-being. Each object is chosen, selected, the logical affirmation of an individuality. In this way, the interior forms a hollowed out portrait of its occupant. Each work in the exhibition thus echoes a partial, fragmented biography. Fatally absent, it is nevertheless several individuals, some real, some fictional, that temporarily inhabit the gallery space. The exhibition interrogates this staging of domestic bliss, each of the objects evoking a story that remains locked up, like so many mute (auto)biographies.
Lining the walls of the gallery, images from the Maisons françaises, une collection series affirm their strange uniqueness. Drawn from a larger selection, they originate from a collection of the decoration magazine Maison Française, dating from 1971 to 1989, kept by the artist’s grandmother. From them, the artist has extracted adverts that she treated in a specific way. After converting them to black and white, she removes any trace of text or symbol that reveals their commercial purpose. While the formats vary, the printed area is the same for each of the images in the series. Using subtraction and, therefore, reversing the process of production for advertising images, Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann offers a smoothing and an equalisation of all the selected images. Sometimes still readable when they are presented as a single object, they are more complex when the information load is greater. In those in which the meaning was governed by the commercial necessity of the advert (selling a model object, as much as a model life), in getting rid of the brand and the slogan, the images have nothing to sell except themselves and their rapprochement in the exhibition space offers an unsuspected potential narrative. Another revelatory process is at work in the two fabric printing templates presented by the artist. Two wooden planks for printing on cloth, one bearing a chevron pattern, the other leaves, are reproduced in resin. The object that generates numerous impressions is now seen frozen in its uniqueness. The tool destined to produce the pattern becomes the observed object. Paradoxically, by putting it out of use, by depriving it of its primary role, the artist reveals its intrinsic beauty. From pattern we thus pass to sculpture.
Looking at something that one cannot see: the idea is still more pregnant when faced with the imposing smoked mirror installed at the entrance. An ornament par excellence, the mirror has a role that is as narcissistic (offering a reflection of the self) as it is architectural (enlarging space): the object is forgotten in favour of its properties. Without losing its natural qualities, it is the materiality that the artist makes reappear here. The mirror is seen for itself, hung on the wall like a monochrome painting, its bronze tint and its three-part structure — like a triptych — accentuates this analogy. Recently taken down, the object belonged to a man who had lived alone for forty years in the same apartment. Fixed directly to the wall, it is less a mirror being exhibited, than a reproduction of intimate space, the work strictly repeating the hanging conditions of the object in this apartment — elevated several centimetres from the floor in the corner of a room. A silent witness, the mirror saw a whole existence parade through itself, without being able to fix it, or to keep any trace. The object that allows reflection, the device so important in the construction of identity, becomes a portrait of the absent, as much a surface for the projection of the imaginary (along with the images in Maisons Françaises, Une Collection) as a vanity whose only use is the staging of the ceaseless passage of time.
Another vanity sits on the floor. An impressive tortoise shell covered in gold leaf seems frozen in motion. It is the memory of Des Esseintes the character from À Rebours (Against Nature) that emerges. Published in 1884, the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans follows the furnishing, room by room, object by object, and almost layer after layer, of the house of a solitary recluse (another one!), the obsessive and decadent construction of a personal space. Des Esseintes’ tortoise is not a valuable object in itself. It completes the dining room, animates and softens the vivid colours of an Oriental carpet. Too dark, he covers the shell in gold before setting it with stones in the pattern of a Japanese bouquet. The animal, which doesn’t resist this shock treatment, seems at once the mise en abyme of the interior, the reflection of the dissatisfaction and pride of the character, and a symbol of failure. Portraying as much Des Esseintes as its former owner, the tortoise is present in an intermediary state. The artist patiently tinted it gold before repairing the head and legs with oil paint. Between an art restorer and an embalmer, Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann takes care of this object, which forms, in fact, the crux of the real and fictitious biographies and diverse times.
In this attraction to decoration, it is less about ornamenting, about adorning an interior, than about covering and discovering. It is no longer the effect produced, but the object itself that calls out, to which a visibility is given. Beyond its biographical dimension, as each object in the exhibition already possesses a long history, its repeated use also has the effect of a genuine liberation: extracting the object from its commercial purpose, from the abasement of being useful. Through the articulation of personal stories, these objects lead us to the disciplines they cover (literature, design, photography) to redefine the intimate space as artistic space. It is thus a process of remediation that’s taking place in the work of Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann, in both its dimension of repair and that of refashioning one medium into another”(1). That the portrait of absentees runs into a process of the liberation of their objects is not by chance. Evoking their intimate space, the construction of an identity, the exhibition is also a means of letting them escape: we separate to continue to live.
(1) Cf Jay David Bolter & Richard Grusin, Remediation, Understanding New Media, MIT Press, 2000.