Martine Aballéa

Martine Aballéa has always invented stories that emphasize the extremely fluid line that divides fiction from reality. Because of the saturation of our environment with media images, the real seems closer to fiction, at the same time that extreme situations begin to look banal. The point, however, is not to play on the gullibility of the viewer, nor to determine what is true and what isn’t. Aballéa invents stories that construct a universe, one that is as marvelous as it is monstrous. But if previously her photos, vi trines, and other presentations were combined quite systematically with a narrative, such as the series of posters entitled Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, 1984–88, her new work is closer to her series of products and the canned foods for which she designed her own packaging. Just as in those series the combinations were allusive and mysterious, in her recent work Aballéa remains reluctant to assign meaning to the images she uses.

The series of 19 images she produced for this show is particularly effective. On each of them, she has simply printed a title (“Convulsion of Envies,” “Infested Woes,” “Leaded Passions,” “Mildewed Hopes,” “Drooping Curiosity,” “ Rancid Visions,” “Mutilated Souls,” “Fetid Compassion,” “Caustic Tears,” “Apprehensive Rain” ) in a type style now used only by the rare typographer who works the old-fashioned way, which recalls the type used on the packaging for luxury goods in the ’50s. Entitled “Épaves du désir” (The flotsam and jetsam of desire, 1995), this series of images is almost like fragments of a film spliced together, in which seemingly different images turn out to be the same one repeated over and over again. Each is like an episode of a serial that could go on indefinitely. Furthermore, the images refer to places we recognize immediately but cannot situate geographically. Aballéa is essentially interested in places that already exist but are unknown—lost, in some sense. They are all places that could be anywhere, ones with a universal character. Work about forgetting is not quite the same thing as work about memory. Although her practice of coloring black-and-white photographs and using silkscreened text, which gives the images an old-fashioned look and makes them seem something of the past—our past—they remain contemporary. Neither nostalgic nor romantic, as everything leads you to believe at first glance, these works insist on the distorted space between image and reality.

Jérôme Sans

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.