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CÉCILE BEAU

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Strangeness Factory

Composed of sounds, images, and objects in varied and close relations, Cecile Beau's installations are driven by the play of contradictory vanishing points. Here, the visible and the invisible mix. The pure and the impure intersect. Perception's radars are dazed, dazzled by enigmatic and timeless murmurs. These are forests, rivers, horizons, and hazes that breathe as in the earliest hours of the day. These are factories, machines, mechanisms, illusions, and extracts, all testifying to a quasi-clinical interest in things. The blade of her scalpel slices open sensorial perspectives beneath a steady light and with a depth of field that is hallucinatory to say the least. 

And with a certain modesty, but not without a touch of malice, she seems to be trying to conceal her toolbox-full, one imagines, of digital and electronic devices. She buries these instruments under tree roots and beach pebbles, in cloud vapor, and dresses them up in organic and inorganic matter that has been distilled, diverted, decontextualized. The organic materials soon take on an air of mystery within the empty spaces that welcome them. Their austerity becomes necessary. Her work is stripped of human presence, saturated with air, water, and mineral, until only the viewer's body remains truly discernible, now elevated to the rank of protagonist, invited to get lost among a network of felted and muffled stimuli. The real world can be detected-but just barely-through weave of sound samples. The sounds themselves are perfectly ordinary, but the process of amplification, dissimulation, spatialization, and infiltration completely transforms them.

Unlike many contemporary installations, there's no question here of playing with different ways to immerse or envelope the viewer. The visual and acoustic phenomena, once worked over by Cecile Beau, remain distanced, like the beings in a microscopic biotope that we've never even dreamed of. The perceptive tool follows them like an autofocus, making ever-finer distinctions, scrutinizing the inaudible. The eyes open. The eardrums relax. Cecile Beau takes a variety of approaches in gathering her materials, including collecting, recording, and splicing. She scours reality for her supply of fragments, which she then selects, positions, connects, and juxtaposes until she achieves the strange hybrids that she offers to her viewers. The resulting spaces sparkle with the emptiness they contain. The sounds call out across the silence that enfolds them. Unreal, almost mutant, her atmospheres function as containers, trapping the investigating consciousness. Here time and space collide, as in film, in which fluid sequences are brusquely solidified and precipitated into materiality.

Cecile Beau's works appear less as spectacles created by internal theatricality and decorative effects than as experience, defined as a personal putting-to-the-test of a thing, a material, a structure, or a phenomenon. Each new series, each new project sets off in a different direction from its antecedents, yet nonetheless remains connected to them by a kind of resonance. In a certain way, they all enjoy a privileged relationship with contemplation, revealed in the rhythm that they communicate to those who confront them. Though this contemplation takes on incredibly various forms and instances, it almost always requires the patience and the availability of the body, which sets up an oscillation between inside and outside. The rustling confusion of ideas, memories, and desires hurtles up against presence and the sensory apparati of objects and phenomena. The senses open and close. Memory whispers unprecedented impressions. The intellect hums as words link up with gestures. The viewer's amnesia begins swaying like a backwash, or a tide that, in pulling back, finally lets one glimpse enigmatic traces. 

Emile Soulier, translated by Cole Swensen 


Cécile Beau's artistic approach is bound to the perception and experience of a territory. On the edge of reality and fiction, her works disrupt the sense organs that usually allow us to analyze elements and set us among our environment.

The installation called Biale successively confuses our hearing and sight to put our sense mechanisms to the test. The soft murmur humming from Biale invites viewers to enter the very space of the work. The deafening whiteness of the inner space seems to vibrate the still indistinct sound and momentarily saturates our sight and hearing, before we may slowly recover them. Then, in the still shaky eyes of viewers, appears a series of photos of snowy landscapes, whose horizon finally represents a true panorama.

This device produces a mental geography originating an unreal situation of space and time. Taken in Poland, these photos capture a territory and the interaction inside it between atmospheric, geographic, human and cultural elements. But far from setting the viewers out of context, Cécile Beau proposes them to enter this new place of connivance, made of small yet numerous manipulations and changes of sounds and images, to create a space of poor fiction.

The fragmentation and levelling of the scales of perception, that can also be found in her photomontages called Xiezhen ("painting from life"), are not aimed at objectivizing territories altered by human activity. On the contrary, they are an experience created by the challenging of our own references. An attempt to define culture as a long-lasting revelation, beyond any narrative means. 

Leslie Compan


A Diorama from the Age of Northern Song [1]

To open a piece of writing by referring to the latest advances in virtual reality or augmented reality is to underscore the imminent obsolescence of the very medium in use. However, from Zeuxis to Avatar, people have been trying to perfect the illusion of reality through methods not dissimilar to recent advances in technology. Thanks to the invention of stereo-optics, which exploited the properties of binocular vision early on, 3D representation is as old as photography, yet the sources of virtual reality generated by computers go back even further, to the dioramas that flourished during the 19th century. These popular attractions established a central point of view on a panoramic painting of a spectacular scene. They were clearly one of the forerunners of cinema, which, since its origin, dreamed of uniting sound and image-in short, of concentrating as much and as many sensations as possible at a single point.

Though Cécile Beau's work is largely based in sound, it nonetheless retains certain visual qualities that recall the diorama. Like the spectator of those earlier theaters of painting, anyone who wants to experience Biale must cross a darkened corridor before coming out into a vividly lit space. Four panoramic photographs of winter landscapes are hung in the corners of the modernist white cube. At first glance, the arrangement looks scopic because the positioning of the elements lets the glance glide freely, without encountering any obstacles: the room's verticals dissolve into curves, and the images are so pale that it's hard to distinguish their edges from the white walls, ceiling, and floor. However, as in a blizzard, in which the landscape is revealed in intermittent fragments to the traveler crossing it, details begin to appear gradually as the viewer's eyes adapt to the intense luminosity. Images float up as though from the bottom of a developing bath, while the sound emanating from the photographs alters the viewer's perception of their surface details. 

Though a diorama works by immersing the spectator, it is nonetheless rigorously organized around a perspective determined by a single point of view, which means that the transition from the illusionistic space of the painting to the real space of the spectator is achieved through real objects, at times elongated through painted perspective. Akmuo literally shows a rectangular section of a dried-up riverbed, but it also evokes hybrid, dioramic objects. Sound textures suggesting the underground passage of water emanate from visual pieces that themselves plunge beneath the acoustic perspective's form. In this way, the physical presence of objects is deployed across an auditory plane.

The principle of point of view also plays a role in the piece entitled (c=1/√ρχ), which at first looks like a science-fiction city in a nocturnal landscape. Luminous objects-the glass instruments of a chemistry lab fitted together to create a sound-distillery-are submerged in darkness. At the entrance to the installation, a loud-speaker diffuses various sounds coming from the outside. Traveling at a speed of 340,29 meters per second, they are immediately captured by a microphone and amplified. The installation makes a poetic association between the transparency of glass and the invisibility of sound in order to create an audible architecture. As is often the case in Beau's work, sound intensifies sight as it crosses the surface of the objects she creates. However, in this work, the transparency of the material makes the viewer aware of a displacement within. The horn, the still, and the coil act as echo chambers producing unique distortions of the sounds that cross them and suggesting the forms' interiors by the changes they produce in sound. 

The principle of analogy is at the heart of Vallen : a black, slightly concave quadrilateral that harbors a pool of water at its center. The water's surface is lightly agitated by concentric waves created by a loud-speaker beneath the liquid that emits the sound of a drop of water. Before digital technology, recording used analogical systems based on principles of equivalence: the stronger the sound, the deeper the furrow a stylus would inscribe on the surface of a membrane, such as the tin of the first Edison rolls. Vallen transcribes a sound into a form, as what appears on the liquid surface is the evidence of an invisible drop, and its contours are intimately linked to the sound that produced it. 

Like the painters of the dioramas, who engaged in endless research to make their scenes more accurate and more striking, Cécile Beau makes the link between documentation and a certain kind of spectacle. She collects her sounds in a documentary phase that requires visiting various locations and making specific choices about recording devices and equipment[2]. But unlike the installations of an artist such as Robert Smithson, Cécile Beau's don't look back to make a link with any space beyond that of the exhibition. Beau meticulously works over the recordings, following certain expressive principles, in order to reconstruct a deconstructed event. Like the Chinese paintings of the 10th and 11th centuries that tried to create a complete universe parallel to the exterior world, Cécile Beau's pieces are constituted of microcosms and macrocosms, the former holding themselves at a distance, and the latter enveloping the spectator. If this work had to be summed up in a single image, a paradoxical image-and such a distillation would take a bit time-it would be that of a diorama whose entire circular surface was covered by one of Fan Kuan's lyrical landscapes[3].

Aurélien Mole, translated by Cole Swensen

Notes

[1]The Northern Song Dynasty flourished in China from 960 to 1126.
[2]The soundscape for Fields is an arrangement of sounds generated by eolians, electrical counters or hydraulic turbines captured by a microphone and a piedzo (a contact microphone).
[3]Fan Kuan, born around the middle of the 10th century, was still alive around 1025. A painter, he viewed landscape as spiritual experience as much as visual creation.


SUBSTRAT

Cécile Beau is interested in phenomena too slow or too discrete for the human time scale; those we cannot see or are barely perceptible. She takes it to overturn our ordinary perceptions. With "Substrat", she proposes a semi-subterranean fiction far from our usual references. The gallery becomes a sedimentary surface just waiting to modify. Daylight is there rarefied. Repetition of complex physical or organic phenomena, poetic reproductions of laboratory experiments or spatiotemporal fictions? 

Frangula (2014), is a root surreptitiously insinuating itself into the gallery space through the ceiling, quietly. Deprived of its stem, without any floor anchoring, barely bearing against the wall surface, it seeks a nourishing matter. Its network of lines that seem to adapt their shapes to the space, might as well be a lightning or the image of an hydrographic network, whose branched forms, are recurring in nature. Frangula may also worry when we consider the capacity of roots to raise the floor. 

Érosion (2014) is an irregular hole, a kind of dark gut formed in the wall. The installation gives to hear the whirling movements of a dust particle pushed by the wind. By modeling the path of a particle, Cécile Beau represents with sounds, the air distribution following invisible obstacles and makes of mechanical erosion, which is a difficult process to represent, a product of the imagination. The fiction is then placed in a world of another time or another dimension. 

The Thalle series (2014) shows familiar figures and yet indefinable: landscapes views from the sky, cell clusters? Thalle (thallus) refers to the vegetative system of lichens. These are the perfect expression of the mutual benefit that nature can create between mineral structure and organic structure. Feeding on dust carried by the winds they end up becoming substrates for other plants. 

Surface and depth are reversed, human time scale and geologic time scale overlap. Thus, the mineral matters that usually serve as supports for lichen become here photosensitive concrete plates which themselves are based on the gray color of the place; a hole in a wall becomes the narrow entrance of an invisible cave crossed and turned by wind or water; the surface of the mural paint becomes a sediment where a tree finds matter to form its roots. On a scale that is beyond us, the walls may become again substratum; the graduated light can be enough to give energy to the sensitive walls of the gallery so that life can develop there. 

Cécile Beau mixes temporalities which are hard to be represented for our human perception to concrete representations of phenomena in the process of slow or extremely slow transformation. Similarly, she reversed the measures and the scales. Thus, on the human scale, concrete - supporting the lichens - is a construction material, but geologically, it is an aggregation of silica, sand, and water ... a mineral. The time Cécile Beau is dealing with comes under the Greek term Aion. She translates it with analogies and permanent connections between the infinitely large and the infinitely small, the macrocosm and the microcosm. The temporality of the rock formation is overtaken by time of the exhibition. The thousands of years needed for elements to carve the stone are somehow moved to another scale, to the congruence of space-times impossible to reconcile. 

Cécile Beau reveals the intuitive knowledge of the levels of organization of the universe, of their interweaving, so the short temporality of human action is always in her work a resurgence of the long temporality of the cosmos. For her, in her quest of space-times contraction, the mineral matter ends up by turning organic. 

Nathalie Desmet