Martine Aballea

Gillespie/Laage/Salomon Gallery

In an early written work, MARTINE ABALLEA described a solitary winter holiday at a seaside hotel. The protagonist, excluded from village life and disoriented by the overpowering natural landscape, goes through the motions of civilized life with increasing detachment. She begins to succumb to paralyzing attacks of dissociation, which she barely manages to control by covering. her head with a green silk scarf. The green light filtering through the cloth, which seems to represent conquered, manageable nature, restores her to her precarious self.

In her most recent piece, an installation entitled Green Nights (Les nuits vertes), Aballéa has created a similar experiential situation for the viewer. It is not a place which encourages lingering, but even the briefest encounter leaves a disturbingly stubborn impression.

One enters a small room bathed in perfectly even, dim green light. On the left is a darkened window. Beneath it, on the floor, are two “tastefully” arranged and thoroughly artificial centerpieces in footed glass bowls. One centerpiece has a woodland theme, with branches, pine cones, etc., while the other evokes the shore, with sand, shells, plastic seaweed and other appropriate items. On the opposite wall is a barely visible door opening onto complete, utter and impenetrable darkness.

All of this is set behind a velvet rope. In front of the rope, on a stand, is a placard bearing the text: “Inhabitants of the green nights like to have: 1) a green environment 2) a place to rest 3) their favorite foods 4) a few companions.” The text seems to add to the difficulty of interpreting the piece; it is her habit of using words as literal and explicative equivalents that turns the text into a riddle. It is not impossible to understand if one locates the origin of the green nights in the tension between the polite, controlled, rituals of the social world, and the dark, natural forces that reside in the unconscious. In this case Aballéa would seem to be saying that people who live with terror like to have everything nice and civilized.

The civilized, the polite and conventional, occupy a central place in Aballéa’s work, but she deliberately creates images as insubstantial as a reflection on the surface of stagnant water, which the slightest breath might destroy, leaving the viewer gazing in horror at the depths. The pictures are the more fragile because they evoke impossibly nice worlds, uncomfortable in themselves.

Aballéa creates intangible images by juxtaposing and manipulating language patterns, forms and conventions in combination with visual elements. The result is a kind of surrealism with its pretentions removed—cool, distanced and apolitical. The installation form offers some unique opportunities to Aballéa’s surrealist method; here, objects, light and text combine to form a single, fragile, frontal image affective beyond the means of pictorial representation.

Nancy Wilson-Pajić

#image 2#