Hubert Marot at SIRA / Asnières-sur-Seine

Hubert Marot / Maniements

December 15 – January 12, 2021

153 quai Aulagnier, 
92600 Asnières-sur-Seine

A princess posing under a mass of hyacinths on one side, an abstract composition in a box- turned- frame on the other. A witch’s hand enters the scene, holding and showing a severed citrus. All takes place in a completely griddled setting, like the ground glass of a view camera, a fine theatrical perspective. I see drips in the background that the flash, of a Weegee-esque violence, reveals tone on tone. Two little buds like torn out, rotten eyes. 

I see a dripping and christic crown, which has become a body through its verticality supported by feet made of perhaps dried bread, an offering of common daisies at its sides, the whole on a pedestal-tray of food packaging origin. Slightly recessed an empty snail shell, its visceral mass possibly already consumed, two small bolts as wheels to form a car that exists only in the two- dimensional flatness of the painting. Sygil-like geometrical patterns form the ground; the background is smoky, I can’t grasp its distance. 

On the other hand a white background, close to the eye, which slices diagonally across a black and white grid floor. Discreetly a cow in pastures, calm, looking towards me. A poor, pale tulip strangled by two floating smiles while her sisters stand back. The smiles are disembodied; two little tomatoes are faceless eyes with flash pupils. A spider here is a disturbing black silhouette. I am reminded of Dr. Caligari’s set, exactly one hundred years ago, with their shadows painted on the tray, with destabilised and confining perspectives. 

In these large photographic tableaux, improvised compositions appear in ghostly shades of grey. At first there is a domestic construction from bric-a-brac amassed by an instinctive flâneur. Hubert is the only one to see it, through the lens of the compact camera, before capturing it live on the spot to freeze it as a still life.Then the complex steps of chemistry gradually transform the light of an intimate moment into a painting, moving from Hubert’s white-walled room–a temporary photo studio–to the darkroom. It is in this darkroom that, by the instincts and gestures of a craftsman, the emulsion is sprayed, in fine particles, onto the prepared surface of the stretched linen. The image is the alchemical appearance of the grain: it is on the deposited dust that the composition, destined to disappear from its birth, can, beyond the furtive glances of the first viewer, be seen by other viewers later on. 

Bataille, in a short article from 1929: … sad layers of dust invade the earthly dwellings endlessly and defile them uniformly: as if it were a matter of arranging attics and old rooms for the coming entrance of hauntings, ghosts, larvae that the worm-like smell of old dust feeds and intoxicates. […] One day or another, indeed, the dust, since it persists, will probably begin to win over the house- maids, invading the immense rubble of abandoned buildings, of deserted docks: and at that point there will be nothing left to save us from the night terrors, without which we have become such great accountants… On the manuscript, but not published, this conclusion: Man does not live on bread alone, but on dust… 

It is a look that freezes the world. First that of the photographer, then that of the viewers facing the pictures which are too large to be a simple still life. I imagine the erased colours that the scene may have had. The intimate logic of Hubert’s taste in arranging his odds and ends bestows on them a sublime which, alone, if they had not been composed as a whole, they would lack. Taste is a generative disposition: it is an embodied practice that requires a physical space. The body, or more precisely the eye, stages a specific real that the camera validates. What may once have been waste and scrap destined to oblivion become spectral traces of a mode of inhabiting the world. 

Once the camera steps in between Hubert’s gaze and his mise en scène, the human eye is replaced by the technological dimension: the photographed composition thereby loses any other raison d’être than that of being captured, caught. It will cease to exist immediately. The individual parts lose their identities and find themselves reconstructed inside the machine as the shutter blinks. All things, in front of this mechanical gaze, are a captive shadow already dead. To photograph is an act of violence against the world. To watch the appearance of this ectoplasm on the canvas is to look at what is no longer and can no longer be: a revenant from beyond the grave. 

I look at the spider on one of these canvases. It is threatening, as is the passing of time or the dust against which the struggle is never-ending. As a temporary respite, one wishes to stop time, as one pins an insect to preserve it. The spider was alive, and now it is fixed, static. Hubert as an embalmer, preparing his manoeuvres for the hereafter. 

One night around Pigalle, standing still on the pavement, in search of the next stage, we were un- decided and Hubert had led, declaring: To remain still is to die. That was years ago, and the sentence comes back to me when I look at the little photographs of Parisian ground floors that Hubert captured as a voyeur strolling around. These colourful images show little. Or else they show what people have tried to hide: close-ups of frosted film, mounted on the windows to conceal the interior from the curious passer-by. 

This could be the opposite logic to that of the large canvases: outdoor visual barriers as miniatures, like illuminated pictures, rather than indoor still lifes enlarged and elevated to the level of genre painting. Colour, which extends to the frame, but which remains silent, where it could have taught us the particular meaning of a blue hyacinth (sincerity) or violet hyacinth (request for forgiveness). The light that emanates from behind the glass, as opposed to the unifying flash that we would come to impose. 

The small photographs, these fleeting recordings of a stroll: discreetly taken with the iPhone, almost banal. Attracted by the seductive colours of the frames worked like a high-end car’s paint job that catches my eye during a walk, I approach them, but I see nothing beyond the colour. Insect bum- ping into a glass pane. The configuration of a flower cannot be adequately expressed in language, according to Bataille; the same, perhaps, for colour. A hazardous survey of the colours of the city, a colour chart of the city drift. Bataille again: It is futile to consider only in the appearance of things the intelligible signs that make it possible to distinguish various elements from one another. What strikes the human eye does not only determine the knowledge of the relationships between various objects, but also a decisive and inexplicable state of mind. The access to the intimate is blurred. Saul Leiter, 2013: There are the things that are out in the open and then there are the things that are hidden, and life has more to do, the real world has more to do with what is hidden, maybe. […] We like to pretend that what is public is what the real world is all about. It’s refreshing not to see every- thing. Hubert’s photographs make me want to live in them and this desire is not a rational formulation, it is a desire of a fantastic order, an invitation. 
Leiter: Photographs are often treated as important moments but really they are little fragments and souvenirs of an unfinished world. I look at Hubert’s manipulations and I say to myself: maybe I was there; I wasn’t actually there, but in front of them I get caught up in a nostalgia for the unknown, an anguish of curiosity. 

Naoki Sutter-Shudo