« Yet already the sun, the faint breeze, the whiteness of the asphodels, the sharp blue of the sky, everything makes one fancy summer—the golden youth then covering the beach, the long hours on the sand and the sudden softness of evening.[1]. »


L'Été, a collection of texts written between 1939 and 1945, features a series of short stories that travel around the Mediterranean, from the Maghreb to Greece, all the way to Latin America, to The Sea Close By - the title of the long prose poem that closes the booklet. This summer, it's the Mediterranean, so dear to Camus, his "true homeland"[2], for which he wears the hat of guide in pages flooded with light. Conceived as a tribute to this collection, the group show presented at Dilecta follows in these footsteps, bringing together a range of works in a variety of media - including photography, drawing, oil and watercolor painting and sculpture - by some fifteen artists, in order to recreate the atmosphere specific to this work.


Sun, light wind, whiteness, raw blue, golden youth, beach, long hours, softness - the summer praised by Camus is defined by a set of characteristics offering a total, almost synesthetic experience of summer, since all sensations and perceptions are summoned. It's a true communion with colors - the whites and blues of Alice Gauthier's seas, the ochre hues of Mathilde Lestiboudois' series or the pale yellows of Ellande Jaureguiberry, for example - sounds and smells, brought to a climax under the effect of the sun, that secretes this summer landscape. Because summer is the season of blossoming, of flowering, of completion. Not an isolated phenomenon, it marks the apogee of a growth process that is itself part of an ever-renewed natural cycle - one of the many that govern all living things - and constantly oscillates between two opposing yet complementary principles: hot and cold, abundance and frugality, activity and rest, etc. Traditionally associated with the fertility and richness of the earth - think of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's depiction of a figure made entirely of fruit and vegetables - summer is embodied in a variety of figures and symbols that contribute to its polysemy: the sun, in Alicia Paz's Sol for example, the blue sky, the sea or flowers - in the drawings of Mircea Cantor, Ellande Jaureguiberry or Anne and Patrick Poirier's Palermo. But each of these symbols is to be understood as a network of clues scattered throughout the works, which need to be deciphered. Camus's asphodels, for example, are characteristic flowers of the Mediterranean basin, but they also refer to part of the realm of the dead in Greek mythology.


Since The Odyssey and The Argonautics, the Mediterranean has also had a literary connotation, suggesting an intertext drawn from the Greco-Latin tradition. David Kowalski's black-and-white diptych is inspired by the legend of Icarus, who died for flying too close to the sun; the full title of Anne and Patrick Poirier's sculpture is taken from Herman Bloch's La Mort de Virgile (Retenir? Retenir?); and Théo Mercier reappropriates the legend of the mouth of truth in his edition (L'Appel de la vérité). For some, Greco-Latin references become pretexts for developing literary topoi, while for others, the Mediterranean is exploited as a setting, an eminently solar place, a visualization as literal as it is metaphorical, an ideal and paradisiacal space often set against the artist's own reality. Think of the 19th century, when figures such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and De Staël came to these lands in search of the sun - a century that Nicolas Dhervillers in turn draws inspiration from in his pastel series, to bring light out of a powdery, velvety material. The elements that go into the composition of Mediterranean landscapes are invested and reinvested with a symbolism that allows us to distance ourselves from geographical and topographical reality.


To each his own light, to each his own Mediterranean: Camus in Algeria, of course, but also Benjamin Loyauté in Selinunte, Mircea Cantor in Rome (Villa Medici), Anne and Patrick Poirier in Palermo. An opportunity for artists to poetically redraw maps, the Mediterranean - and the territories associated with it - becomes an ever-renewed locus amoenus, a fantasized, idyllic, idealized space of security and comfort. For the principle of the locus amoenus in medieval and classical literature is to transpose moral values into the figurative. Landscapes are no longer mere descriptions of nature but are called upon to symbolize and are therefore subject to sublimation: troubled seas, misty and stormy skies become synonymous with dehumanization.


The opposition between positive and negative landscapes is a topical art-historical theme, enabling Camus to reappropriate the Mediterranean setting in the light of his theories on the modern world. By associating summer with an idealized period of jeunesse dorée (golden youth), he simultaneously places the season on the side of voluptuousness, sweetness and languor; of sensuality and the liquidity of honey (Morgane Tschiember, Honey Drop). Far from simply celebrating the pure joy of the Mediterranean sun, L'Été takes on an elegiac tone, sounding less like a call to enjoyment than a promise of hope and happiness for Camus, the exile in the greyness of Western industrialized cities. It's also a call to resilience: "Do I give in," he asks himself, "to the stingy weather, to the bare trees, to the winter of the world? [3]" Through the description of sun-drenched landscapes, it is also above all a question of exalting a nature that is the source of profound happiness for the individual, and from which the modern world has been amputated. It's also part of a line of artists for whom the Mediterranean has been the object of constant celebration as a place where nature and culture ideally merge.


In sun-starved cities, Camus invites us to "reinvent fire[4]" - like Martine Aballéa tracing her golden letters on a black-and-white landscape. If there is such a thing as Mediterranean "writing", forms and works, they are the kind that inject light into our daily lives, generating alchemy and sources of transfiguration. From Yves Klein's Peintures de Feu to Juliette Minchin's Cérogrammes, in which light is the image, Benjamin Loyauté's archaeological sites enhanced with gold, Alicia Paz's femme-soleil and Mathilde Lestiboudois's bulbs, let's embark with Camus "to retrace Ulysses's journey" and "cross a sea to encounter light[5]".


Chris Marie TYAN



[1] A. Camus, The Minotaur in “The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays”, 1955, translated by Justin O’Brien

[2] « Prométhée aux Enfers », op. cit.

[3] « Prométhée aux Enfers », op. cit.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.