Entitled "Ma maison me regarde et ne me connaît plus" (My house looks at me and no longer knows me), Valérie Sonnier's first exhibition at Galerie Dilecta is composed of some thirty works - drawings, paintings, photos, super 8 films - combining interiors and exteriors, created between 2006 and 2022. From the still shot, proposed as the frame of a synopsis, to the moving image, the series exhibited - "Rue Boileau", "Raray", "Badeschloss", "Montrésor", "Hauteville House" - are as so many vanities she embodies in objects but also in luxurious and outdated spaces that she populates with specters.
The title, a direct reference to La Tristesse d'Olympio, Victor Hugo's long lament in which his poetic double notes the passage of time and the effects on his body and mind, is evocative of a world marked by memento mori. The flow of time and loss are at the heart of Valérie Sonnier's approach, each work forming an imaginary bridge between a past in memory and a foreseeable future - a theme she deploys more specifically in places left to decay. Villas, hotels, castles with elegant but outdated decorations and whose past glory is always suggested by their architecture - from the neo-renaissance style of the colossal Badeschloss hotel, a former holiday resort for the elite, to the colonial style of the family home on rue Boileau - are retrospectively rediscovered by the artist. Either spontaneously - as in the case of her grandmother's house - or at the invitation of exhibition curators and after an initial visit that is often initiatory, she returns several times to these places that fascinate her to reinvest them.
Valérie Sonnier, Badeschloss, dessin n°10, 2021 © Valérie Sonnier / Courtesy Dilecta.
Moving away from the simple meditation on the human condition, Valérie Sonnier thus subtly evolves the topos of vanity into an extra-ordinary and disturbing world where, beyond the inanimate objects, it is the entire settings that seem to be endowed with a breath of air - the frames catch fire, the doors creak, the vegetation swarms in gardens where nature has regained its rights. Rather than empty and neglected spaces, the artist proposes as many "inhabited places" - a nod to the project "Inhabiting the place" in which the artist participated in the Montrésor castle in 2021 - filled with artifacts marked by the passage of time and carrying the memories of a history. Mirrors, chandeliers, fireplaces whose attributes as objects are no longer exploited, are diverted from their initial function to become fully subject and even personified, in an atmosphere close to that of fairy tales - as in the series of photographs of Hauteville House (2022).
Fantastic visions and assumed as such, Valérie Sonnier's images are so many "phantasmagorias" - moreover the title of one of her series, composed of prints on transparencies presented in old frames (2021) -, seeming to associate her work with the sphere of the spiritual, even the esoteric. A medium artist, she invokes in her works supernatural beings, ghosts that she makes visible by instants, at the bend of a stairwell or in the crack of a door. In her films, fugitive lights and halos, which she paradoxically obtains by capturing the random and furtive movement of a being in flesh and blood - her companion, covered with a white cloth - appear and disappear over the course of the shots, inviting us to a slow wandering, to a strange journey sowing doubts about what is real and what is not. These "apparitions", some familiar - when she takes the films of her grandmother representing her with her brothers -, others of illustrious characters, act as passers-by, guardians of a memory, whether it is individual or collective. Also, the artist demands for example in the drawing Raray (2015), with the appearance of an engraving, a tutelary cinematographic figure, by taking for subject the hunting hedges of a castle whose dreaminess allowed Cocteau to film there, in the 40s, Beauty and the Beast.
Valérie Sonnier, Hauteville House, le fantôme du palier, 2022 © Valérie Sonnier/ Courtesy Dilecta.
"Everything says something to someone in the infinite," she proposes as the title of her exhibition at the Maison Victor Hugo (2022), a line once again taken from the Contemplations. For her work, a theatre of internal tensions, is conceived on the borders of fiction and reality, in a poetic place where the documentary and the imaginary, but also the intimate and the collective, meet. In this sense, the figure of the ghost embodies all the ambiguity inherent in her work and allows her to blur the boundaries between material and immaterial, between presence and absence, but also between the different media to better question their nature. Her films, for example, constructed from amateur videos that she merges with her own footage and whose grain suggests a form of timelessness (Le Jardin I, l'été; Place des Vosges, Hauteville House), often take a nostalgic approach, while her paintings, although produced from images extracted from these same films, burst with raw, almost too intense colors, reminiscent of the garish, retouched tones of advertising (Le Jardin d'Hauteville House, 2022).
Valérie Sonnier, Le Jardin d’Hauteville House, 2022 © Valérie Sonnier / Courtesy Dilecta.
Like reminiscences of other uses but also of other scales, the fine red lines of his drawings, present on their supports - pages of old school notebooks or old account books - are superimposed on his own architectural lines and the dense tracery of foliage and branches, bringing his graphic practice closer to cartography. From medium to medium, each series unfolds in variations of the same motif, constituting a multitude of fragmented memories or fragments of a shattered whole. These dotted narratives offer so many a priori frameworks in which the artist encourages us to reconstitute, through a mental journey, a story but also to project our own memories. By questioning the notion of memory at work in the images, Valérie Sonnier proposes to apprehend these ghostly places not only for their context or their aesthetic aspect, but to consider them as the traces of a moment, of an ephemerality that the artistic process crystallizes. In all her work, therefore, there is a persistent desire to express, in an in-between that always calls upon perception as much as the imagination, the "survival" not of the image but through the image, to fix the passenger and participate in its transmission.
Chris Marie Tyan
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« Ma maison me regarde et ne me connaît pas »
from March 17 to April 22, 2023