Emmanuel Saulnier

Galerie Montenay

Like a prism, Emmanuel Saulnier’s sculpture has from the start oscillated between the erasure and the proliferation of various points of view. It goes hand in glove with what one might call “la folie du jour,” to borrow a title from Maurice Blanchot (a text that could provide us with several clues as to what is at stake here). This “folly,” this enigma, posits that clarity (or transparence) is far from being merely a factor of legibility and unveiling, but is also—like the night—something that alters our perception by crippling or clouding it.

The new works presented in this show (with one exception) resorted to Saulnier’s preferred materials: glass and water. The three Colonnes Coulées (Poured columns; all works 1992)—each two meters long—combined blown and molded clear glass to form these long pieces, stretched into a point at one end (the other end pierced at the top—the small opening enables the column to be filled with water). Lying head to foot on the floor, these sculptures at first glance resemble icicles. Then, variegated bubbles could be discerned that give the pieces a kind of backbone—an index in effect of the slight irregularities in their surfaces, of the liquid and potentially fluid quality of their interior. Add to these aspects the reflections of the space and its occupants, and other fleeting and unpredictable effects (optical distortions, spectral decomposition of light), and the objects seemed, as we observed them, to break off from themselves in order to become, like alephs, figures of the inexhaustible variety of the visible.

The latent anthropomorphism of these works, which have the character of recumbent figures on Medieval tombs, is echoed in the title of the other sculpture shown in the same room, Visage (Face), composed of two elements—both in glass filled with water, and of identical dimensions—one vertical and open on the top like a vase, the other horizontal, with the only opening an aperture like that of the Colonnes Coulées. There again, a setup that is quite simple to describe produces a very complex visual reality, every element enveloping and noticeably deforming its near-twin in a different way according to the viewer’s position in relation to the piece. And again, the accent is on a kind of contextual “drawing” that is devoted to transformation and evanescence.

Visage, with its quasi-twin structure, itself has a kind of double or inverse, entitled Tête (Head), that is virtually identical to it, except the horizontal element is shorter (around fifty centimeters long) and the two parts of the sculpture are not filled with water but with black India ink. This is the nocturnal face of Saulnier’s work: pure surface that the eye cannot penetrate and on which reflections (less numerous but definitely more distinct than those captured by the pieces in glass and water) shimmer with an original brilliance. Tête dialectically references the paradox evoked here: disconcerting clarity versus luminous obscurity; and it also provides a sculptural version of a very ancient way of thinking, according to which night and day are one and the same.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.