A Body Grows in Belleville
Le corps has been the site of exploration in art ranging from the nude form to contemporary investigations in identity, gender, and race, from the body erotic to the body liberated from the gaze. The body both has been inscribed with meaning but also viewed as an imperfect vessel.
Much of art has centered on changing views of the body, interpretations that shift along with culture and values. However, the body is also mundane, making up the most basic and common shapes that we see.
Our first visual vocabulary is the bend of an elbow, the elongated teardrop shape of a thigh muscle, a soft stomach, smooth skin. Before the body had meaning and symbol, it had simple shape. Artist Mathilde Roussel speaks of her work – loosely centered on the shapes of the body – in such a way that opens the conversation to incorporating your own visual vocabulary. She doesn’t present unequivocal parallels, saying that her magnificent draped rubber sculptures are skin or that her paper pulp forms are muscles in varying states. Instead, she allows the shapes to speak for themselves, inviting you to access your own experience and perception of the body. Her work has no need to be didactic because it so clearly evokes forms both inherent to nature and our own bodies.
Through both the work itself and her own presentation, she engages you in a dialogue about the material and the process: how she works experimentally with shaping unstable mediums and reflects on the outcome.
The materials she works with are both fragile and strong: various forms of paper, including pulp made from her own sketches and salvaged tissue paper used to preserve the surface of lithographs; graphite; rubber; and wheat grass – evoking the body without symbolizing it.
My favorite pieces are collages which seem to mix human shapes and textures with the nonhuman, helping us reflect on our own form; intricately cut paper sculptures which, in appearing like muscle tissue, suggest the static state of a structure built for movement; and the stacked tissue paper forms created by her own body over time, as a way of representing growth and change. All of her pieces incorporate movement and incite touch, creating an experience akin to observing something alive, rather than a material object.
In her studio in Belleville, Paris, we see her process through engaging collages and dioramas, playfully sketching ideas for her new works in a way that stages alive forms within space, like actors on a stage. We see muscular shapes filling gallery space doing gymnastics on intertwined skeletal structures and floating grass installations revealing growth, both rooted and floating; we see both skeleton and skin and the life she breathes into her forms. Though she is open to interpretation and experimentation, her work retains remarkable precision and her themes are palpable: growth, change, atrophy, regeneration, and the impact of the passage of time on form.