by Shraddha NairJan 17, 2022
Since the first publication of the essay entitled The Dematerialization of Art by the art critics Lucy Lippard and John Chandler in the edition of Art International of the year 1968, the conceptual art determined by the absence of the tangible material overpowered the critical vocabulary of art and visual artists alike. Neither the debate around it is a recent one nor the skepticism. Against the soaring trends on the immaterial reality, the France-based multimedia artist Caroline Le Méhauté insists upon the immersive experience of her works to forge a relationship of matter, space and viewer. The "physical presence" and "material existence" are at the centre of her practice to let the viewers recognise the instinctive understanding of the multimedia works at their first encounter.
Imperative to Le Méhauté is the immersive art phenomenon which is not a one-time event, but gradually unfolds the many selves of the receivers. In an interview with STIR, Le Méhauté offers insights into the deep roots of interdependency between the humans and the environment, by citing the example of her series Negotiation, "The title Negotiation marks a lineage, a filiation between the works, all sculptures of the series are numbered in the chronological order of their creation. Each is followed by a second title giving an index, a situation. They are a manifestation of the negotiations that I made with creation, space, time, matter.” Once the work is complete, the viewer makes negotiations amongst the external reality of sculptural art and the inner selves on the lines of history or cultures. "These negotiations and exchanges can also be expressed as much as in brutality as well as in a meditative connivance, and art offers us this chance to be able to test our sensations, our perceptions, our thoughts, which also are not immutable but in perpetual transformation.”
Organic material such as peat, rock, wood is integral to the meaning-making exercise of the works. Lending a creative cast to her philosophical thought, Le Méhauté carefully recontextualises the natural material with her works to catch attention of the viewers. Le Méhauté’s mentions, "I have been working with natural materials for 20 years now. The peat I extract and put in my bag when I go for a walk in Normandie or Ireland holds a strong value for me. This earthly material could be as old as 12,000 years, sometimes 15,000 years or even more. Its dark colour demonstrates its richness." The presence of earthly material for the contemporary artist is more of a philosophical quest to decipher the eternal link between past, present and future. Nature as an embodiment of the eternal cycle of life on earth, represented through Le Méhauté’s work, once again asserts the role of humans in this circle of existence.
The material and balance of the installation work also subvert the conventional rules of defining the art of sculpture. The organic material has replaced the common choices of the material such as bronze, clay, marble synonymous with the art of making sculptures. To give an instance, the sculptural installation Negotiation 34 oversees a balance of the two distanced vertical platforms layered with peat. The large scale installation art, Negotiation 68 and Negotiation 70, created with peat, with their geometrical shapes, if defy the gravitational rules, yet draw a balance to maintain their presence in the closed environment of their display.
The cyanotype prints of the Graphein printmaking series are an exploration of the lopsided engagement amongst the humans and the environment. The abstract character of the works hints at the distorted nature of the landscape. Le Méhauté says, “These views from satellite images, of which I produced negatives, show immense circular fields in the United States and Saudi Arabia. These fields, linked to agriculture, reflect the hyper-productivity of our contemporary societies; some fields are clearer than others because their soil is exhausted.” Crucial to the technique of the cyanotypes is the engagement with the sun: the work is revealed in the light of the sun and not in a dark room. The sun leaves a unique mark on paper like human existence has a lasting imprint on the environment.
Le Méhauté states, "If people looking at my work can experience a minor shift in their perception of the world, I would be happy. Finally, if my work can help us feel a little more connected to our surroundings, open our emotional sensations, and our points of views, I would be glad too." The multimedia installations emphasise the constant exploration of the association between humans and the environment in the age of Anthropocene. Aware of the philosophical journey, Le Méhauté embarks on which indeed carries a creative purpose, yet nudges the viewers to keep the act of questioning consistent both as an introspective and an extrospection exercise.