René & Jean

France / 2011

Laureate of Le Bal /
SFR Jeunes Talents

Analog color photographies,
postal archives, texts

Text 1 : FR / ENG
Text 2 : FR / ENG

Small arrangements with art

Most of us put together photo albums that ensure a transmission over the generations by pinning down humble souvenirs of encounters, festive moments, travel, landscapes, so many markers of a sort of imaginary museum whose function it is to create a fiction or even a legend within the family.

Lolita Bourdet’s family novel is dominated by the renewed relationship with her two grandfathers, associated, in her childhood memories, to sensations that have become magnified over time: the heat of a hot brick wrapped up in newspaper and slid between the icy sheets to warm one’s feet, the softness of a gentle feather duvet under the weight of which she is conscious of her frail body sinking. Sensations of tenderness mingled with mystery, the notion of family secrets, that are not taboo, but rather subjects that one is in the habit of leaving unevoked and that thus fade...

Lolita Bourdet’s photo album is that of a photographer. In order to give a sense of her affection for her grandfathers, so embodied that their physical presence is superfluous, she rather chooses to plunge us into their worlds. And if their actual presence is evaded, their aura takes possession of the surroundings and humanizes them, endowing them with philosophical and aesthetic virtues.  
The native soils of the Creuse and the Morbihan regions where René and Jean took hermit-like refuge, are, for Lolita Bourdet, somewhat the equivalent of the Garet farm for Raymond Depardon. Like him, she feels the inner necessity of initiating a memorial work, gathering together over the seasons her elders’ aphorisms on sadness, isolation, interiorization, delicately capturing traces of the mysterious treasure hunts that they set up merely for the beauty of the gesture, that they alone can decipher, and that awaken in us a sort of tribal, primitive and universal conscience.

In René’s home the patterns of the wallpaper, the library stuffed with books, the rumpled sheets, the lid of a milk churn placed on a mossy stone, the effigy of Lenin alongside a religious trinket, so many representations of the memory of the people, an old-wives’ saying on parasitic illnesses, all of these things work by association, piercing his intimacy and involvement yet always maintaining a tactful modesty.
Jean for his part has a « thirst for happiness », even if he « has great strength of character to endure the evenings and the solitude ». In the home of this man who wants to do good by nature, hugging trees, the vegetal sculptures and floral compositions are legion, an accumulation of junk reigns, the knick-knacks cannot be neglected, and an illumination or a simple disc of red plastic hung on the branch of a tree suffice to transform everything. 

With the impression that thanks to these wild old men and their incessant re-appropriation of fragments from nature, of everyday objects or dime-store trinkets, staged like sacred objects, ex-votos or relics, man is reconnected to his roots, reconciled with his biotope, as if art and life had re-found the relationship they were meant to have. For these free spirits,  these encyclopedists of the infinitely everyday, are the heirs to Marcel Duchamp.

Indeed, on returning to the sources of her filiation, Lolita Bourdet retraces the thread of the history of art! For it is clear that her grandfathers, who spread their surroundings with their artistic and poetic experiences, have been influenced by the dadaists who, playing like children, used all possible available materials and shapes with which to create!

One thinks of the Catalanian surrealist Miró who, in one of his famous paintings, The farm, evoked his relationship to the earth, to the thousands of washed-up objects that he gathered together, attributing them with symbolic meanings before using them in diverse sculptures. One thinks of the psychic resonance of insignificant objects as staged, later on, by the German Joseph Beuys, who enlargened the notion of art to the whole of reality and that of artist to all people, creating, by means of organic materials, what he called « social sculptures ». One thinks of the Fluxus group, whose members, in the 1970s, sought to accumulate, compress, imprint, sew, dye, link together, weave, creating with perishable materials ephemeral and poetic events in which the intimate comes face to face with social and political life.

René and Jean are of the same generation as Noël Dolla, Bernard Pagès, Arman, César, Ben who questioned the conventions of painting, of sculpture, and who, in the midst of the triumph of the consumer society, seized upon the proliferation of standardized objects to de-materialize them, poeticizing them either by their accumulation, or by isolating them in order to rid them of their usual value. René and Jean are clearly situated in this artistic context. They are also not dissimilar in a way to another current, Land Art, which created artistic experiencesin situ, in the midst of nature, by the means of branches, creepers, or stones, leaving the weather to fashion the autobiographical psychological landscape that it had begun.

Their place within the art of their time does not escape Lolita Bourdet, who with her lens recognizes that the Calder-like mobiles, improbable ready-mades, word-plays, shamanic and existential assemblages of her grandfathers indeed have the status of art-works. She senses that, however humbly, these last are militating in their corner for a new artistic order. For René and Jean make use of rather than exploit nature. And under their airs of innocent exquisite corpses, their « fragment-collages » take their distance with the globalized economy and the art market, proving to be more political and radical than it might at first appear.

Thus the young photographer, adept of Walker Evans, William Eggleston and Diane Arbus, in order to create this very particular work transforms herself into an archeologist of images. She proceeds by gathering samples. She launches herself into portraits of objects, but living objects, humanized, capable of turning nature into landscapes. She seeks a sort of  impregnation. In order to do this, she acquired an analog camera of medium format. And how right she was! The grain and the soft and tender rendering of the 6x6, its highly particular texture, are faithful to the very physical relationship she has with these images, created by holding the camera close to her body, on her belly even.  

Magali Jauffret