“I want to leave the canvas” remarks French artist Mathilde Denize, standing in the center of her airy Rome-based studio, where she has spent the last year completing a residency at Villa Medici. Now, she prepares to send off a new body of work for her first solo exhibition in New York, titled Reverse for a Better Move. Opening on September 8th, Denize brings together an unprecedented assortment of figures that blur the boundaries between sculpture and painting, costume and installation.
The below text was written by Boris Bergmann to accompany the exhibition
They don’t have a name. We can call them Characters or Puppets. Maybe Entities or Monsters. They emancipate themselves from box and genre. They come to life in an ever-moving space. As if they couldn’t remain frozen to the wall; too sacred, too definitive. They leave their status as an untouchable object. They become available.
For Mathilde Denize, nothing is lost and everything is transformed. Her figures are made from a great disorder. The old canvases are cut out, tied to new ones, sewn, woven, painted upside down. They find the second breath of a new form. The gesture is never completed; the momentum continues unabated. Thus, they take their freedom. We think of this remark by Nietzsche: you have to have enough chaos in yourself to give birth to a dancing star.
Because they dance, these figures, they never stop moving. They talk to each other, whisper in the wind, exchange secrets, make fun of us, pitch, breathe, sweat, push us aside. In Rome, Mathilde Denize made a film in which her creations, embodied, escape from the studio. Finally, the pieces can live. In New York, they don’t need to be worn. Reunited, these figures are mobile.
They are all singular entities. However, we recognize a few commonalities, a few recurring motifs emerge: hands, eyes, pockets. Perhaps this is a nod to Bresson’s Pickpocket where the cavities have never been so full of life. The figures pose, in their glowing bathing suits, and attract our gaze like a dazzling, yet invisible Venus. A somewhat grotesque air gives their posture a mocking aftertaste. The figures mimic the heroic statues ubiquitous throughout the streets of Rome. Unlike these statues of carved marble, Denize’s figures contain humor and tenderness.
Where do these visions come from? To answer this question, Denize uses watercolor. She traces worlds from dreams. Here, geography is no longer valid. Reason loses all bearings. Even Piranesi wouldn’t find his way back. Everything is dripping; the walls and the colors. The whole painting sweats. Denize studied cinema, and her family worked in film sets when she was a child. You feel a need for staging in her work. She creates worlds, and then sweeps them away.
Cross these worlds; look at them directly in the eye. Faced with a strangeness, here’s one piece of advice: grasp it. Do not hesitate to take them all. To deform them, to embody them, to ruin them. There is no more frame or canvas; you can force the locks. Reverse the usual connections. Go in front of the works. Get to know them very closely. Turn them around. Feel them. See them live. And live through them. Mathilde Denize’s creations are more than paintings. Second skins waiting to replace our old exteriors.
Born in Sarcelles, France
Lives and works in Paris, France
Mathilde Denize (born in 1986, in France) lives and works in Paris. As a visual artist, her practice is oriented towards painting, installation work, sculptural composition, performance, and video. Denize’s work is born from a desire to make meaning emerge from a fragmented present. A collector of discarded objects, she often cuts up her older paintings and then weaves them into new forms with found materials. Thus, new artworks are born from remnants of the past, a metaphor for the complicated existence of human beings. Inspired by great experimental artists, like Carolee Scheemann, she utilizes the body as much as the painting. Her garments, which often resemble a sexualized female form, act as both armor and camouflage. Her paintings are an open diary, punctuating and dialoguing with her sculptures. With subtle gestures, Denize constitutes a set of forgotten and anonymous forms, witnesses of a contemporary archeology.
Below, please find an imagined dialogue by Boris Bergmann and Mathilde Denize.
Mathilde Denize's figures have it all. Except speech. We couldn't help but imagine their voices:
Nous avons quitté le cadre, la toile, la peinture elle même.
Tu parles, tu parles — mais je ne te vois pas bouger
Pour aller où ? Hors cadre ? À quelle portée ?
Dans l’interstice, la où l’on ne m’attend pas.
Que caches-tu dans ta poche ?
Peut être cette volonté de ne pas tenir en place.
Rien, des coquillages, de très anciens souvenirs.
Des coquillages ? Alors fais moi écouter la mer
Fais moi voir, plutôt, tout ce qu’il y a derrière.
Ça m’excite quand tu dis ça.
Arrête avec ta philosophie s’il-te-plait, moi je veux juste danser
Tu t’es vue ? Cousue main. De restes à peines triés. Tu ne passerais pas la porte d’un club un peu cossu.
Tu trembles mon vieux, tu sues.
J’ai en moi des merveilles inimaginables, de quoi inventer un trésor.
Sans incarnation, nous sommes de vides coquilles.
De viles broutilles, plutôt
Ça me déprime, tes sentences en rime.
Même à moitié plein, j’ai plus de désirs que certains
Regarde, ouvre l’œil, tu vas finir par la trouver — la Beauté
Et l’autre qui se la joue déesse brillamment mise en valeur par les dispositions de la salle, c’est triché.
Au moins on peut nous habiter, s’emparer de nos corps, de notre peau.
Il est utile que l’œuvre, à nouveau, serve.
Se réinvente comme les saisons, comme les lunes
Ça nous rapproche de la terre
« Nous ? » j’ai l’impression d’être seule
Seul à deux, tout seul ensemble
— on s’aime quoi
On va finir par tenir dans une grande photo de famille
J’ai tout appris de la foudre, de ses mouvements incertains
Et cette main qui au dessus continue à mener ma danse mabraque
Je me sens vivante ¬— mais seulement à l’air libre. Comme un pantin de chair qui aurait coupé les files.
Peux tu me conjuguer le verbe mouvoir, au passé simple, puis, très vite, au futur de l’intérieur ?
Conjuguer ou conjurer, c’est au fond le même acte
J’aimerais entrer en toi, sous ta peau, dans tes veines — alors je te parlerai dans ta bouche… Tu me parles comme un Dieu sans pitié
Il serait temps de choisir ce qui en moi vient à vibrer.
C’est juste moi