Cécile Beau, Albédo 0,60, 2017, frigorific system, copper, water, Chinese ink, polyethylene tub, 60 x 60".

Cécile Beau, Albédo 0,60, 2017, frigorific system, copper, water, Chinese ink, polyethylene tub, 60 x 60".

Cécile Beau

Cécile Beau, Albédo 0,60, 2017, frigorific system, copper, water, Chinese ink, polyethylene tub, 60 x 60".

If the artistic world of Cécile Beau (who is originally from a cave-studded part of the Pyrenees) feels extremely remote from the human, it is nonetheless imbued with a sense of life. Featuring materials such as air, water, rock, tree bark, and charcoal, her work has an elemental character. As seen in her recent exhibition “Lithique” (Lithic), it amounts to what she calls a “science-fiction povera.”

In the sculpture Albédo 0,60, 2017, viewers found a round vessel filled with a black liquid and a milky substance floating in the middle of it. This fluid is, in fact, a solution of water and Chinese ink, and the soft, unstable white surface is actually ice, frozen thanks to an underwater cooling unit. The blackness of the ink-stained water makes the liquid’s depth unfathomable; viewers, leaning over to get a better view, saw only their own reflections. The sculpture ceaselessly changes like a meteorological phenomenon, bringing to mind Hans Haacke’s early systems works, such as Condensation Cube, 1963–65, with its continual transformations of the contained fluid.

Five vivid-blue images, cyanotypes produced using the rays of the sun, show astrological charts for the precise moments when meteorites entered the earth’s orbit at five random spots around the globe, among them Assisi, Italy, and Aarhus, Denmark, between 1640 and last year. In these “Meteors Ascendances,” 2016, all we saw were diagrams in which the visualization of the constellations was accompanied by scientific data. These in some ways make up for the absence of the object in question—that is, the meteorite itself—or for the crater, a sort of negative presence, left following its impact on the ground. These astrological maps with the signs of the zodiac included a proposed thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus, inserted between Scorpio and Sagittarius. Astronomy and astrology, separated since modern science claimed dominion over the study of the heavens, encounter each other once again.

In a second room, one saw Accrétion, 2017, comprising thirteen cement hemispheres—the same number as the constellations in the cyanotypes—of varying diameters. They were hung on the wall along a descending diagonal axis. Meant to represent planets, these mysterious half-orbs are covered with a mixture of pigments, sand, or earth, and each has a name derived from Mesopotamian (not Greek) mythology. More than by the shadowy space in which it was placed—the show was lit by natural light only—this work was dominated by a deafening and cavernous noise, produced by a black cement mixer. Invisible volcanic stones, sand, and charcoal turned inside this contraption’s black hole. This threatening whirlpool, which seemed as if it could swallow up the entire exhibition in one fell swoop, distanced viewers from the harmony of the spheres discussed by Johannes Kepler, bringing the audience closer to the lithic dimension suggested by the show’s title. In general, Beau’s works seem to respond to Haacke’s suggestion on the occasion of his 1965 exhibition at the Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf: “Articulate something natural.”

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.