Marie-Jo Lafontaine

Taormina Arte 1988

Uprooted from their original supporting structures, Marie-Jo Lafontaine’s video sculptures showed a certain weakness here, to use the artist’s own terminology. Yet in a distinctive way, these works again touched a sensitive cord of emotions even though they were reduced to fragments and multiple filmic units. Certain pieces, especially Le rêve d’Héphaistos (Hephaistos’ dream, 1982) and Le métronome de Babel (Metronome of Babel, 1984–85), suffered from their missing environments, and A las cinco de la tarde (At five in the afternoon, 1984) was less persuasive here than in its original form, which included a circular architectural structure that set the path for visual movements and swerves, proximities and distances. Still, the entire installation of the show (which also included Les larmes d’acier [Steel tears, 1985–86] and Victoria, 1987–88) maintained its edge to catch the viewer off guard. Lafontaine loves risking confrontation, admitting elements that touch upon the banal—robots, the bullfight, the tango—without being wedded to it. She discovers the passion that resides even in the most ponderous of forms, and then lightens it with an antinarrative compositional arrangement (expansive repetitions and multiplications that intersect and pass through each other). The narrative core, which had remained hidden within the complexity of the interwoven compositions and the impressive stature of the sculptures, is exposed here in Lafontaine’s delineations. The immobile advance of the robot with its large luminous eyes and the arms (and armpits) of a flamenco dancer, the incomparable bull/bullfighter couple, the iconic multiplication of the bodybuilder and his bachelor machine, the meandering and bursts of the tango contest—all evince such pictorial force that they cannot help but leave a searing impression. What arises is the possibility of rendering onto this material a structure that is autonomous, but there is no resulting loss of impact. In Le métronome de Babel and Le rêve d’Héphaistos the Other and the reflected image are the machine that has no claim to the soul, a mechanical contrivance made melancholy by the loss of something it never had. In A las cinco de la tarde the Other and the reflected image are a beast that moves beyond itself to evoke the enemy. In Les larmes d’acier the uncoupling and identification are gathered together in the male body, which tends to become like a machine, either forging or consuming it. In Victoria, the differences finally reach a state of parity and are neither in opposition (like the ego-robot, the bull-bullfighter, the gymnast-equipment) nor hierarchical (we know that the bull is destined to be massacred by the bullfighter, that the man will never exhaust the possibilities of the machine). Therefore even if the identity of the winner seemed clear from the beginning, it would fall to our passion, and not to our intelligence, to anticipate the result of the struggle. Yet there is a single characteristic that emerges from the different repetitions: to both declare and to hide, to reveal as much as possible what the symbol signifies and to shift the echo of the work still further outside its narrow perimeter.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.