Pascal Convert

Architecture and self-portraiture, as forms of mnemonic art, provide the two principal axes of the works in Pascal Convert’s show. This is immediately apparent in the first of the dozen rooms in this exhibition, where the motif that informs the entire show is introduced. In reconstitution, 1991, Convert works with an object that is lost forever: a ruined villa on the Atlantic coast, evoked here by an almost life-size axonometric drawing of its interior, traced on the wall in black graphite. There is also an image of the building’s facade—a very schematic, simple silhouette drawn freehand and etched into black glass, like a marble surface agitated with reflections (dècoupe [cut-out, 1987]). Convert uses fragments of this villa, and of two others (also now lost), saving them from oblivion in drawings or appropriations of surviving decorative elements (the window grilles, for example) or in castings—a mode of representation that lies between the thing and its image. Empreinte (imprint, 1990), for example, is an ornamental stucco rosette transferred here into solid crystal.

Responding to these “architectural” works are others, devoted to portraiture and self-portraiture, in which, again, we can perceive a reflection on the index, as well as the artist’s predilection for the disturbing weirdness of objects that are born of indexical thought. Autoportrait (self-portrait, 1992), installed alone in a small room, seems at first like nothing more than three eye-level openings in the white walls (two side-by-side on one wall, the third on another). A more careful inspection, however, reveals that they hold silver casts of a head and a pair of arms. In fact, the cavities are luminous and each anatomical detail can be seen with extraordinary precision. In another displacement of the genre of self-portraiture, also entitled autoportrait, black glass plaques show an enlargement of several pages of a polysomnography (a medical exam that consists of recording the nervous activity of a subject while asleep) that Convert underwent. The 16 continuous lines constitute a fundamental sort of automatic writing, deeper than language, transfigured here in panels that suggest both tableau and funerary stele. The polysomnography appears again in chambre de sommeil (sleep room, 1992), where it covers three walls. At the middle of the room is an empty throne, fragile and ageless—a white wax cast of an armchair—the final touch in this portrait of the absent author.

The most striking works in this show were the series of five small-scale pieces, each entitled autoportrait, 1991. On the surfaces of these works, one can just discern the generic traits of a face—the oval of the head, the eyes, the bridge of the nose—without being able to recognize any precise physiognomy. Three of these works are rendered in plaster; the fourth is made of embossed silver and is presented on a pedestal in such a way that we see the work in both positive and negative. The final piece, the most enigmatic—the closest to invisibility—superimposes crystal and plaster. This piece is based on a portrait of Convert’s father, painted when the artist was still a child. Thus, the adult visage is not actually Convert’s face, and the five works cannot be considered self-portraits except to the extent that they partake of that genre. One is tempted to imagine a tie between this untraceable work, literally impossible to situate, and Convert’s work of today, but the connection takes only the form of an ellipsis.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.