Two Parisian exhibitions feature the artist’s latest work: a vein-like web spreading across the ground at the Jérôme Poggi Gallery and the intimacy of origins at the Catherine Putman Gallery.
Sophie Ristelhueber is known for the nearly obsessive attention she lavishes on rifts, faults, gashes, and welts running across a wall or the surface of the ground. For the past thirty years she has sought out what she calls “scars in the landscape.” These disfigurements are the result of wars or accidents and reveal human impact on the environment or the action of natural phenomena on the surface of the planet. The Jérôme Poggi Gallery focuses on the play of correspondences between two sets of photographs. On the one hand, we have images of the Dead Sea: from a bird’s eye perspective Sophie Ristelhueber captures the desolation of this ancient body of water, now dried out. Here and there, the earth splits open to reveal bottomless pits—an absolute, dark abyss. On the other hand, we have photographs of Parisian sidewalks taken in the scorching heat of summer. The artist pours water on the pavement to highlight the bulges in the asphalt as it bubbles up under the influence of heat and blisters like pustules on diseased skin, evoking the bubonic plague or some other cursed, lethal epidemic.
Fissures and bumps sitting side by side: the surface of the ground photographed by Sophie Ristelhueber is covered with boils and sores, weathered by time and nature, and rubbed raw by human action. It is humankind that ravages the planet with pollution, bringing about the double death of the Dead Sea. It is humankind that scorches the world with the tire tracks of their motorcycles, cars, and trucks, paving it over with asphalt. The artist takes her camera where she can find man-made wounds, cuts, and fissures, but also where such scars are more clandestine and discreet, hidden from view, and requiring identification and illumination.
Sophie Ristelhueber’s fondness for surfaces and their discontinuities has never diminished. She started out as a photographer by focusing on the striations left on the ground after combat. From Beirut in 1984 to Kuwait in 1992 and Sarajevo in 1998, she came into contact with territories pockmarked by bombs, and deliberately documented these traces, revealing the mute language of the imprint. The “scars in the landscape” echoed real scars marking human skin, which she also photographed in 1994–1995. These spine-chilling reminders of wounds are a meditation on the act of healing, suturing, and piecing back together.
Rivers are the theme explored at the Catherine Putman Gallery in a series entitled Les Orphelins [Orphans]. This project started with the discovery of a typewriter that the artist had received as a child. After taking a photograph of the machine, the artist struck upon the idea to delve deeper into her own intimate relationship to memory, already explored in the photographs of her family home in Vulaine in Seine-et-Marne. She now retouches photographs of geographic maps, from which she removes all written elements. We are left with stunning images in which rivers, overpainted in red, are reminiscent of the cardiovascular system. (Sophie Ristelhueber had also photographed veins in her studies of surgical operations in the 1990s.) The map thus evokes childhood memories of poring over an atlas with her sister. A path towards memory extends further in her 2004 series made in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris on the occasion of an exhibition at the Musée Zadkine. Ristelhueber captured the tree bark in the gardens where she strolled as a child, the particular effect of rain that soaks into well-trodden ground, the narrow footpath winding around tall trees, and the carefree, yet timid, steps of a creature alive in the world.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Sophie Ristelhueber, Sunset Years, from March 23 to May 3 2019, Galerie Jérôme Poggi, 2 rue Beaubourg, 75004 Paris
Sophie Ristelhueber, Les Orphelins, from March 23 to May 11 2019, Galerie Catherine Putman, 40 rue Quincampoix, 75004 Paris