Marylène Negro

Galerie Jennifer Flay

Among the new generation of artists who have emerged in France over the past five years, Marylène Negro is unique in that she rejects both the object and the spectacle. Cold and experimental, her work does not posit fictional situations, rather, it sets forth procedures of observation. It consists most often of a light table and a magnifying glass, with which one may examine a profusion of transparencies. The image is thus objectified, as a body to be manipulated and examined, multiplying itself in metastasis. But what Negro gives as reference are not images so much as linguistic and taxonomic systems, scientific or medical tables, classifications of the body, or indices of everything that comes together on the light table.

This exhibition is an interrogation of the sexual body and of our discourse on sexuality, alternately medical, as in M.S.T. (Maladies Sexuellement Transmissibles [Sexually transmitted diseases], all works 1991), sexological (a cataloguing of positions), or sociological (a list of aphrodisiacs). The first effect of the show is deliberately deceptive: it elicits a desire for images (erotic, sexual) in order better to deceive us in this exhibition-laboratory, bathed in the icy glow of the light tables. These are not images that depict or induce desire, but ones that provoke a desire for images: such is the function of these works, which, like Gilles Deleuze’s “desiring machines” generate a tension that is inherent in the withdrawal of the visible.

Instead of giving us images of the body, Negro’s art reveals the body of the image, its physiology—filmic and atomized, proliferative and multiple. More than showing an image of desire the social body of which is saturated, her visibility devices transform the image of the body into the body of the image, a body fragmented and immaterial—a simple film of light between words and the things they represent.

Attraction, for example, gathers on 10 transparencies a list of 90 erotic positions, written out in a small black circle. M.S.T. is presented as a light table with a list of sexually transmittable diseases, along with their descriptions. On the table is a knot of headphones, displayed in a jumble like an interweaving of organic vines, directly reproducing the sounds on the stairwell. Here scientific, abstract classification interacts with the chaotic convergences and vagaries that it would order. Another piece is presented as an organic tangle of film footage. It consists of a 35-mm. film feeder (the “virgin” images that come before the film), on which Negro has written out a list of aphrodisiacs. Thus, the images that precede the image address the body of desire that precedes desire.

Nevertheless, it should be said that some of the pieces in this show do not always achieve this short-circuit between the image of desire and the desire of the image. Perhaps this is because no manipulation is possible, or due to the choice of a taxonomy too anecdotic, or a play on words that is too facile. Finally, if one can get beyond a certain formal rigidity that characterizes this work—which is already a bit strained—the project of this young artist holds our attention and turns out to be convincing.

At least in a French context, Negro’s position successfully walks a fine line between disabused post-Marxist criticism and the Baudrillardian cynicism of extreme phenomena. Instead of deconstructing scientific and technical rationalism in the name of a ponderous meaning, she operates in the interior of languages by collision, hybridization, and experimentation with discourses that contaminate each other and develop according to other mental configurations, right on the sensitive surface of her work. Her art is not about an implosion of the senses in the simulacrum, nor of deconstruction in criticism, but of interferences and unexpected intersections, of an evolution of sensation. On the lit surface of the work, the discourse on the body becomes the body of the discourse, a proliferative body in the process of an evolutionary mutation, which the art gives over to manipulation. Sight, hearing, touch: all the senses are solicited to engage this new chemistry of language.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.