Scratching the Surface at Galerie Derouillon, Paris, France
With My-Lan Hoang-Thuy, David Rappeneau, and Manon Wertenbroek
Curated by Marion Coindeau
From July 2nd to 31rd 2021
The exhibition “Scratching the surface” evokes the kind of feelings where attraction flirts with discomfort, provoking without ever actually crossing that fine line. The sensuality in the work of My-Lan Hoang-Thuy, David Rappeneau, and Manon Wertenbroek comes from a desire to find direct contact with the material. Yet the latter often has a dual character, opening up a critical space between an interior and an exterior, where individual and intimate exchanges with the world play out. The hypertrophied, constrained and hyper-sexualized bodies of David Rappeneau’s drawings, My-Lan Hoang-Thuy’s object paintings made of thick layers of acrylic paint printed and then reworked manually, and Manon Wertenbroek’s visceral sculptures all question this ambiguous relationship to the surface of the work.
David Rappeneau borrows the familiar codes from Japanese anime to portray the fantasized body. Despite the frontal nature of these naked bodies, offered up for our gaze, our desire becomes confusing when we stop to look at their yellow or purplish skin, their emaciated faces, and their bulging muscles. The skin tones glow through the strokes of the coloured pencils and the neon light effect. Their intriguing iridescence stands out from this grey universe and seduces us with a menacing charm. Confined in closed spaces with off-axis perspectives, the characters in this hallucinatory universe are the embodiment of fantasies that that evade us – just as their gazes evade our own. They also escape the frame of the drawing, from which legs, arms and hair emerge and appear. The nonchalant attitude of these beings smoking cigarettes in lascivious and apathetic poses reveal a latent melancholy, a generational lethargy. David Rappeneau depicts an experience of alienation that of the characters but also that of the audience. Exuberant sexuality has made way for boredom. These heightened fantasies are the projection of a desire so intense that it cannot be satisfied. What we see here is a sensation stripped of all feeling, “superficially erotic” shells of a body, to quote Audre Lorde in her essay “Uses of the Erotic”. A cold vibration, similar to that of a telephone screen, emanates from the scratched surface of the paper, which condemns its characters to impossible encounters and simulates a feeling of closeness.
Conversely, the works of My-Lan Hoang-Thuy display a subtlety that reconciles her practice of drawing and painting through a sensuality that is expressed, above all, through her work with the material itself. What we see above all else are My- Lan Hoang-Thuy’s gestures: the paint has no canvas but has become autonomous, a mass of pigments that she models through drips and then printing her drawings on the surface, sometimes with pencil lines etched on the surface of the paint. In this new series, My-Lan Hoang- Thuy ties her drawing to her painting work. Photographs of the artist’s drawings meet her touched-up self-portraits printed on the thick surface of acrylic paint. The drawings, sometimes at a distorted angle or stretched out – which is then replicated during printing, form more abstract compositions, flirting with the figurative. The sensuality of both the material and colours is matched by triangular shapes piercing clear curves, enhanced by geometric patterns done in pencil and felt pen, giving the false impression of lace. The drawings are no longer just preliminary sketches, but are worked into the painting, becoming an essential element of the composition.
From this work of synthesis comes a freedom rooted in movement, where there is no longer hierarchy, but where the elements meet to create a new formal language. My –Lan Hoang –Thuy is not looking to give a straightforward definition to things, but enjoys blurring the lines between genres, bringing material to life, and playing with the contradictions that appear on the surface of the work.
The ambiguity of desire which stirs the creator and the spectator is at the heart of Manon Wertenbroek ’s practice. Her sculptures evoke the body without ever portraying it directly, functioning as synecdoche, skin without a body. She uses materials directly related to the body – leather, latex, metals, jewellery – and appropriates their erotic potential. For Tombe corporelle et bien-être, the pinkish-purple leather, similar to the colour of a bruise, is pinched, creased and stretched. It looks like internal organs, an envelope, a crawling snake, or intestines digesting. It is always a dive towards the interior and the intimate through this opaque window – an attempt to go beyond, to detach from the skin in order to bring the true identity into play. This metamorphosis is embodied in Urine-sang-eau de mer, «soak yourself with sea salt since it holds a particular power, that of arousing thirst», a latex and mesh skin suspended from a wall that almost seems to be decaying. While soft at first glance, the pastel colours (beige, bluish, purplish) quickly evoke a cold, cadaverous body. The central cavity gives this envelope an opening, from which a visceral creature could have emerged. Although it’s open to our gaze, this interiority is inaccessible to us and is as frustrating as the way the Zipper H85 undresses – in vain – the wall in which it is embedded. Manon Wertenbroek’s work is nourished by an essential tactile contact with the material, which contrasts with the almost fetishistic rigour of her technique.
Each of the three artists works with ambiguous care. Their gestures both heal and do damage, shaking the precious nature of the format and contrasting meticulousness and imperfection. David Rappeneau’s drawings are meticulous, but their sharp, incisive lines vigorously scratch the paper. The scenes depicted take place in bathrooms, in theory a place for self-care, but are populated by disturbing bathers, punctuated by streams of blood or a broken mirror. Although the acrylic layers of My-Lan Hoang-Thuy’s paintings seem to be thoughtfully caressed, spread with delicate care, the artist also seeks to disturb the resulting precious object. The irregular and flowing edges of the paint, the rough nature of the material, and the spontaneity of the pencil line all free themselves from any decorative fetishization. Finally, Manon Wertenbroek’s extremely meticulous work is paired with an obvious violence that pierces, tortures, and tears the leather or, on the contrary, uses a slow movement that plasters a wall torn by a zip. The sensual surface of the works is immediately scratched to better reveal their complexity, thus arousing our desire to touch them, to get as close as possible to them to try to grasp their nuances.
Photo credits: ©Grégory Copitet /all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Galerie Derouillon, Paris