EMILIE BENOIST : From Science to Fervour, the Invisible Fabrication of Images

The installations of Emilie Benoist are always accompanied by a series of drawings that represent a sort of stream of consciousness, as if sneaking insight into her work in progress from a secret diary. She began in 1998 and has worked relentlessly (in the same format) ever since. This series began with a homage to the text of Henri Michaux, En circulant dans mon corps (Circulating Through my Body), an extract from La vie dans les plis (Life in the Folds).

In her early work, Emilie Benoist was passionate about ethnology. Lévi-Strauss’ The Savage Mind haunted her… and then she shifted her focus to science and its effects on the world and the environment, the decomposition of cells in the human body and certain organs like the Cellula Phantastica; the place where our imagination resides. Gradually and somewhat empirically, her interest moved from science to faith and perhaps even to alchemy and her work became suffused with a certain fervour; a powerful awareness of the world.

She has explored the microcosm of our bodies and the macrocosm of the universe and she continues to do so today, as can be seen in her drawing Cécité, which represents the Antarctic and Arctic polar circles as a sort of refuge of the subconscious. Each of these worlds, immense and miniscule, seem to take on the form of a circular chart that recurs in each piece and sculpture: the tiny polystyrene balls in the monumental piece Neverland that is covered in layers of lead that could be the cross section of a tree or a black hole in the universe. Each of these worlds enables us to see -as if through an eye- into the world that surrounds us.

Images of the brain are omnipresent in Emilie Benoist’s work, but contrary to other artists, she is less interested in mental images than in the image of the organ that generates them and the invisible process of their fabrication. Many of her drawings and even her sculptures can be read as works of cerebral cartography in all their splendour, like a collection of maps.

She often takes inspiration from documents, for example, articles on the expeditions of Commander Cousteau, taken from old magazines (papers dropped off in front of her door one morning by an anonymous contributor). Naturally, she also collects images form the Internet, but the source is irrelevant here; this isn’t archive fetishism so often seen in contemporary art, these documents are absorbed, almost sedimented.

There are many strata here. First, layers of material i.e. the innumerable layers of lead covering the surface of the drawing Neverland, then the many layers of paper in Haches, made from copies of Le Monde folded into the shapes of prehistoric weapons suffused with news from the modern world. These strata bear the artist’s fingerprints, like furrows that reappear throughout the engravings. They are the signs of time, like traces of erosion that remind us of the Earth’s origins.

This year, for the first time since 2008, Emilie Benoist has reintroduced colour to her drawings. Before, her world seemed asphyxiated by a perplexing grey, which affected a sense of reticence on her pieces. This return to colour, the white on white piece Cécite and the Lumière blanche series marks perhaps a certain liberation, a detachment from all didacticism and an exploration of the way in which images are broken down.

Anaël Pigeat