Knowledge, with Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, is not far from being a performance of dream. Each time he gets closer to materials and to their complex operations, one can’t help but think that he also gets closer to dream. This learning of dream, which the artist uses on a daily basis in order to evolve, involves asserting parallel lives, of which we know at least two striking sides: the life of the researcher, always seeking to bring together his family of thinkers and artists, and that of the explorer, using his body to gain access to his own memory, partially buried in the ground of the Guyanese forest.
CB: Mathieu’s relationship to time is more indomitable than chronological, working on ways of opening to what is different, like the forest or the Savanna, perceived as living and unpredictable creatures in the work of the poet and writer Wilson Harris, who came from the same region (the Guiana Shield) as him. The writer’s intense and highly metaphorical vision accompanies the artist even in the production processes of his recent works. The ongoing exhibition at the Rochechouart museum is a very beautiful invitation to travel. Each piece shows an unstable and even suspicious image of nature, capable of diverting, like in the waterland of Guyana. The exhibition is the place where dreams remain accessible, within reach. The works discover themselves, like us, in a state of constant evolution, they fluidify this access to the unconscious, and make palpable the common denominator that links us all to landscapes: whether they conceal or reveal their secrets, one has to fight against the possibility of a sudden reversal (the moment when the positive ceases to be, when it slides into the negative, and vice versa). Any precious material, originating from the bowels of the earth, is riddled with beliefs and destruction — this is what is whispered by these red, pulsating and peaceful paintings, which reveal through their legend (Study for the ransom room (Atahualpa), cinnabar on copper, 2018) their poisonous and uncontrollable nature.
IA: I’m returning to Wilson Harris and to his text « Fossil and Psyche », in which he underlines the modern ability to distance ourselves from the past lack of freedom and to delude ourselves about the freedom offered by the present: he analyses several literary works which address expeditions as exploitation narratives. You were talking about landscape and buried memory: no landscape we explore is actually new according to Harris, it brings us back to a mental landscape — the location of the « authentic discovery »* of our past, of our own alienation, of what continues to be a burden to us over generations. This impetus towards the Guyanese landscape is less of a return to origins for Mathieu, than a path that he regularly takes. The other day you evoked his older, « found footage » pieces, like The Edge of the world (2003). The forest was already there. The exploration was mental before being implemented through several return trips undertaken by the artist along the Maroni River, looking for Wacapou, a gold miners village that has disappeared, and where the house of his mother used to be. His previous exhibition at the gallery, Chimen Chyen (2015), recounted one of his first trips, which had resulted in the failure to find the house, and in the accidental, partial destruction of the Super 8 footage he had brought back. Fossil and Psyche reveals Mathieu’s deeper penetration into the forest, which now covers the old village of Wacapou. The objets bearing witness to the location of the village — which were found thanks to a local guide — and the materials he uses as substitutes for the mercury polluting the shores of the Maroni river (cinnabar brushed over copper frames, turtle shells coated with gallium) are signs, within the exhibition, of the partial domesticating of the landscape. Like the ability acquired over time to appropriate his own past and to engage more directly with what shapes our unconscious.
CB: In fact, I believe that Mathieu increasingly considers his productions as parts of this living creature that the landscape constitutes. All his recent works expand his view of reality as physical and even carnal, through which materiality embraces and bites like in the work of the filmmaker Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent, 2015). The work keeps experiencing, throughout its life, a slow mutation, which is also that of humanity — there is necessarily a form of entanglement, contamination and even symbiosis. The great variety of materials used at Rochechouart, like at the gallery, does not contradict Mathieu’s desire to trigger events that can be connected through the principles of communicating vessels — that is a fluid mechanics in which the content is in equilibrium regardless of the volume and the shape of the container. The forms of the exhibition are like this, they only dream of letting something escape (a breath, music or toxic compounds that are natural or chemical), like one frees speech, knowing that a word can « set us in motion ». It can lead us very far away, if one refers again to Wilson Harris: towards the reconstruction of the « I », as well as towards the Other, and towards a certain form of completeness, which involves the understanding of powerful rhythms before finding one’s own. Living exposed to the risk of the landscape, like to the risk of others. Addressing death as outstanding collective work or the exhibition as the form of reconciliation. I will end with this quote that a friend recently sent me: « Perhaps, like the war survivors themselves, we need to tell and tell until all our stories of death and near-death and gratuitous life are standing with us to face the challenges of the present.»**
IA: the exhibitions taking place at the gallery and at the Rochechouart Museum end with the screening of Wacapou, prologue or A room in my mother’s house, a film that partly echoes the narrative undertaking developed in Secteur IX B (2015), the artist’s previous film. The heroine of the latter suffers from hallucinations due to the ingestion of drugs from the « colonial first aid kit » and seems contaminated by her subject of research, the Dakar-Djibouti expedition evoked by Michel Leiris in Phantom Africa. By changing the continent and getting closer to his personal history, Mathieu returns to a production method that is more simple, editing archive images borrowed from the anthropologist Michèle Baj-Strobel and from his mother, and footage shot with Victor Zébo on the Maroni river and then in the forest covering Wacapou in December 2017. The music composed by Thomas Tilly as well as Mary-Jane Leach supports this form which, although it is more abstract, underscores the same possibility of getting contaminated, or even profoundly affected down to our unconscious by what we observe or search. The archive-landscape, considered as the memory of past events, enables one to relive trauma, as opposed to studying it from afar. I believe that we both share the idea of an alchemical transformation from historical memory to the work of art.
*Wilson Harris, Fossil and psyche, Occasional publication, African and Afro-American Studies and Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 1974, p.9
**Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, 2017. p.34
traduction: Callisto McNulty
Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc was born in 1977, he lives in Sète (France). In recent years, he has exhibited his work at the Jumex Foundation, at the Kunstforum Baloise (2018), at the MMK Frankfurt (2016), at the Kunsthalle Basel, at the Bielefelder Kunstverein (2013) or at the Serralves Foundation, Porto (2012). He participated in the 56th Venice Biennale (the international exhibition and the Belgian Pavilion, 2015), the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014), La Triennale, Paris (2012) and Manifesta 8 (2010). He received the Baloise Art Prize (2015) awarded in the context of Art Basel.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)