Paris

Audrey Nervi

galerie frank elbaz | Paris

Audrey Nervi’s practice relies on a photographic diary that she keeps during her travels around the globe. She brings back innumerable photographs that depict details seized on the fly, sometimes unbeknownst to the pictures’ subjects. The camera records more information than the eye or brain can immediately process; back in the studio, the artist sorts through her images, and, inevitably, more is seen in retrospect. She chooses pictures to rework on the computer (reframing, rebalancing the color, minimally retouching) and then paints the images on canvas. Far away from the event, what seemed only fleeting and fortuitous comes into consciousness at the heart of the paintings, in the richness of the materials. Although still imbued with all the shakiness and blur of the original snapshots, these images—no longer mechanical and instantaneous—become personal memories that tell stories.

The exhibition “Enlève ton masque” (Take off Your Mask) revealed a world of disguises where everything is masked: a car covered with a tarp in Babylone–Italie (all works 2006), a face hidden behind a helmet in Journaliste Masse Média–Paris. It is also a world filled with borders that are ceaselessly pushed back and yet multiplied to infinity. A number of the paintings feature tight geometric compositions that split them in half, as if the foot of a lamppost (Checkpoint–Cambodge), the support of a punching bag (Duel–Thaïlande), and the trunk of a fake palm tree (Anticipation–New York) were so many thresholds to cross. But there are also invisible and yet even more insurmountable barriers, such as the one in the deeply ironic No Love–New York: A homeless man sits at the base of one of Robert Indiana’s monumental Love sculptures, in front of a bank; love is for sale, but it is no longer shared.

Nervi finds moral as well as material poverty in the four corners of the world, but her paintings deliver this severe report gently; they are not so much cynical as disenchanted. What are we meant to think of these scenes in which youths and police confront each other, as in Obéir–Tchéquie (Obey–Czech Republic)? We’ve seen their like so often—they could be symbols for an era in which we accept the unacceptable; an age when freedom has come to be seen as little more than a mad rush to get ahead; a time when a pair of funfair rifles pointed at a string of balloons might just as easily be aiming at the ships seen farther in the distance, unreachable symbols of the world’s implacable economic network (Play–Istanbul). We have to hope that when art injects its strangeness back into reality—forcing us to look again, to see again—it can still make a difference.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.