2005

 

 Moon Water

Materials:  plaster, gauze, saltwater, medusa skin, mirrors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This installation entitled “Moon Water” includes a sequence of photographs of the moon taken during one night from my bed overlooking the Seine in Paris.  It also includes hundreds of plaster and gauze moulds of jellyfish, and a collection of mirrors whose silver tain has worn away with the passing of time. Each morning, over many weeks in Autumn and Winter, I collected and moulded the large iridescent blue jellyfish that had washed up on the shores of  Port Phillip Bay.  Within days the luminous blue liquid bodies of the jellyfish evaporated, leaving a barely perceptible skin. The moulds swarm, face-up, across the floor.  The mirrors shimmer like frozen tidal pools at dusk.  What was once living and liquid, petrifies to a silvery stillness.

As a forensic medium, plaster gives permanence and shape to the transitory and  concealed.  In this work plaster records not only traces of death but also the process of evaporation. The moulding process transforms the voluminous and heavy liquidity of the jellyfish to a state of “weightless grace”. The process exposes all the scratches, wounds, bruising and swellings caused by the turbulence of storms, tides and currents.  But what was hidden is now revealed in reverse, as opaque slivers and lumps drawn across epidermal layers of wrinkles and folds embossed with tresses of tentacles and seaweed.  The sea’s motion inscribed in the soft bodies of the creatures is now frozen, held intact, hardened and set in time.

The photos and moulds bring together a nocturnal scene between two hemispheres; between the sky and the water, and the river and the sea.  The alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus believed that the moon impregnates the substance of water with a noxious influence, and that water, which has been exposed to lunar rays for a long time, remains poisoned water.  He wrote that the moon gives to those whom it influences a taste for water from the Styx.

The plaster moulds become vessels of white opaque skin – small sepulchres for the  remains of creatures that once swarmed in the moonlight.  Each takes on the lunar roundness of a face.  A face that exposes, with the hard resistance of eyes without protection, what is softest and most uncovered.  Like a lunar skin, they reflect the grace and violence of the sea.

 

Catalogue essaye by Jean-Luc Nancy.

English translation by Julia Pound

MEDUSE-GELEE

Comme il est étrange que l’animal nommé « méduse » en français soit appelé « jelly fish » – ou bien « jellyfish » en un seul mot -  en anglais ! Quelle distance entre le mot gréco-latin, passé dans les langues romanes mais aussi dans le russe ou l’arabe, et le terme anglo-saxon que d’autres familles linguistiques ont repris. D’une part on a le nom de l’une des Gorgones, de l’autre on a un mot composé « poison-gelée ». Un personnage et une substance. Une figure terrible et une pâte molle, gélatineuse et tremblotante.

Medousa, la seule des trois Gorgones à être mortelle, est aussi celle dont l’aspect terrible pétrifie celui qui l’affronte (il a fallu la ruse de Persée pour lui renvoyer à la face son visage reflété dans le bouclier du héros). Sa chevelure de serpents a transmis son nom à l’animal dont l’ombrelle abrite une poignée de tentacules qui ondulent au rythme de sa nage nonchalante.

De la figure furieuse et  redoutable jusqu’à la masse molle et paresseuse, quelle continuité ? Sans doute, on sait que ces animaux peuvent provoquer des brûlures, mais ce n’est pas ce qui les rattache à la Gorgone sœur de Sthenno et d’Euryale. Il faut chercher ailleurs comment Medousa peut être égale à gelée.

Elizabeth Presa propose unesolution de l’énigme. En laissant sécher la peau des méduses, dont elle prend l’empreinte, elle rapproche la gelée translucide de la surface d’une lune blafarde. Elle comprend avec Paracelse cette peau figée et grêlée, comme le produit empoisonné de la mer infectée par l’exposition aux rayons lunaires, et la compare à l’eau du Styx.

Nous sommes donc déjà dans les parages de la mort et de l’effroi. En vérité, la peau lunaire et grenue qui tourne vers nous son crible aveugle nous présente un visage sans vision, un regard retiré et crevé de mille piqûres d’épingles, une sorte d’Œdipe multiplié dont le sang ne coule plus et dont la face lavée et livide expose un secret redoutable : un emblème, un symbole ou une hypotypose de la défiguration dernière. Alors nous comprenons que la gelée peut délivrer autant de force pétrifiante et glaçante que l’aspect insupportable de la Gorgone. En vérité, nous comprenons que la puissance de Méduse n’est pas comme on la représente souvent celle d’un éclair fulminant ni d’un visage chargé de cruauté. Sa puissance est plutôt celle des yeux enfoncés sous la peau, celle de peau privée de chaleur et de forme au contact de laquelle nous éprouvons en même temps la dureté et la mollesse, l’enfoncement dans la masse indistincte et la suspension flottante à la surface.

Nous sommes au plus près de la caresse, nous pouvons être émus par ce reste encore tremblant de peau qui pourtant déjà s’est emplâtré et dissimulé dans une épaisseur crayeuse. Nous sommes au plus près d’une confiance dont nous savons qu’elle nous aspire vers la noyade. C’est inquiétant, cela nous communique ce qu’on appelle en français « chair de poule » et en anglais « goose flesh » – encore une animalité dont l’étrangeté nous colle à la peau. L’émotion de la mer profonde et de la lune, l’émotion de la peau caressée, de la caresse désirée et redoutée, l’émotion de ce qui peut aller trop loin, jusqu’à chavirer dans les larmes ou dans l’angoisse aussi bien que dans le trouble et dans l’excès d’un plaisir dont la seule mesure est de toucher à l’impossible et à l’insupportable. « Jelly », c’est la caresse et le regard de la Méduse, c’est son regard caressant, son regard glissant absent sur notre face qu’il lave et qu’il fige en même temps.

Jean-Luc Nancy

 

MEDUSA-JELLY

How strange it is that the animal named “méduse” (medusa) in French is called “jelly fish” (or “jellyfish” in one word) in English! What a distance there is between the Greco-Latin word, incorporated into Romance languages but also into Russian and Arabic, and the Anglo-Saxon term that has been appropriated by other linguistic families. On the one hand, we have the name of one of the Gorgons, and on the other, a compound noun composed of “jelly” and “fish”. A character and a substance. A terrible figure and a piece of limp, gelatinous, trembling flesh.

Medusa, the only one of the three Gorgons to be mortal, is also the figure whose fearsome appearance paralyses those who confront her (it took Perseus’ cunning for her face to be reflected back to her in the hero’s shield). Her snaky locks gave the name to the animal whose umbrella rests atop a handful of tentacles that ripple with the flow of its nonchalant movements through the water.

What continuity is there between this furious, awesome figure and a limp, idle shape? One undoubtedly knows that these animals can cause burns, but this is not what links them to the Gorgon sister of Stheno and Euryale. One must look elsewhere to understand how Medusa can equal jelly.

Elizabeth Presa offers a solution to this enigma. By leaving the skin of jellyfish to dry and taking their imprint, she draws a comparison between the translucent jelly and the surface of a pale moon. Like Paracelsus, she sees in this rigid, pock-marked skin the poisoned product of a sea infected by exposure to moonbeams, and compares it to the water of the Styx.

Here, we are already in the region of death and terror. In fact, this grainy, lunar skin which shows us a blank screen presents us with a visionless face, a remote expression that is riddled with a thousand needle holes. It is a kind a reinforced Oedipus whose blood no longer flows and whose cleansed, pallid face exposes a formidable secret: an emblem, a symbol or a sketch of the ultimate disfiguration. So we see that jelly can deliver as much petrifactive and icy force as the unbearable appearance of the Gorgon. In fact, we understand that the power of Medusa is not in how she is often depicted: as an enraged flash of lightning or a face laden with cruelty. Rather, her power lies in the eyes buried under the skin, in the skin deprived of warmth and shape, which when touched affords us a sense of both rigidity and softness, a feeling of sinking into a shapeless mass and a sensation of suspended floating on the surface.

We are as close as possible to a caress and we can be moved by this still trembling remainder of skin which has already become plastery and concealed itself beneath a chalky layer. We are as close as possible to a type of trust that we know will suck us towards drowning. It is disquieting, and it gives us what the French call “chair de poule” or “goose flesh” in English – an animality whose strangeness sticks to our skin. The emotion of the deep sea and the moon, the emotion of skin receiving a caress, a caress that is desired and feared, the emotion of something that goes too far, until it spills over into tears or anguish or into turmoil and the excess of pleasure that is only measured by the ability to touch the impossible and the unbearable. “Jelly” is the caress and the expression of the Medusa, her caressing expression, her absent, slippery expression on our face, an expression that both washes and freezes our face at the same time.

Jean-Luc Nancy

(Translation: Julia Pound)

 

 

 

 Papier Machine

L’Oreal Melbourne International Fashion Festival  2005

Installation:  paper, silk, water from the Seine and a video of a detail of
‘Les Deux Cousines’, (1716, Louvre) by Jean-Antoine Watteau.

Between the ground and the sky, the letter and the breath, beneath her hand
and his text, a dress forms. Behind the paint and the cloth she threads his
words. A conversation begins. The camera casts her form in light.

 

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watteau dress

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