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Arles Festival 2019 : Laurence Aëgerter, a magician of shadows

Arles Festival 2019 : Laurence Aëgerter, a magician of shadows

Among the fifty exhibitions featured this year at the Rencontres d’Arles, one artist in particular emerges from obscurity. The subtle greys of Laurence Aëgerter’s images contrast with the artist’s cheerful and warm personality. On her way back from a book signing at the Croisière, she spoke with us about the project she has worked on for the past five years, and which is now on view under the southern sun.

Upstairs at the Croisière, exhibitions are arranged one after another in a labyrinth of galleries and terraces overlooking the city. On the wall of one the rooms, which retains a bit of cool air, we find a series by the French artist Laurence Aërgerter, austerely titled Cathédrales. It comprises several identical photographs representing the façade of the Bourges Cathedral, the sole difference being the shadow passing across the stone structure. These are in fact photographs of a book published in the 1950s by the Ministry of Tourism to promote the religious architecture in France. The artist photographed one page over a hundred times in order to capture the shadow of her studio window as it travels across the image. This series launches a reflection on time—the photographer’s stubborn quest to transcribe its passage as if to make up for the inability to capture it.

Laurence Aëgerter, Cathédrales hermétiques, Coutances, (église gothique, XIIe siècle)

A latent image

This first series is followed by Cathédrales hermétiques, whose title is all the more enigmatic because the images are all dark. The photographs are set up on large easels placed on the ground, facing the windows. Visitors, intrigued, are encouraged to pause and observe the phenomenon taking place before their very eyes. As light travels across the image, the photograph emerges from the dark image, and we can see the interior of a cathedral. “I silkscreened over my gelatin silver prints with heat-sensitive ink,” explained the artist. “This ink is able to become translucent upon contact with sunlight. As the ink warms up, the image is revealed.” An 80-centimeter tall image takes about forty minutes to appear in its entirety. Aëgerter reflects that “experiencing this transition is beautiful. There is something magical about it.

“Experiencing this transition is beautiful”

In the time of cathedrals

The experience of the passage of time overlaps with a reflection on temporality, on something that exists in time, survives for a day, a decade, a century, or more. Cathedrals are among those monuments that last through the ages. To create her series Cathédrales hermétiques, Laurence Aëgerter photographed three cathedrals dating back to three different periods: the tenth, the twelfth, and the twentieth centuries. She thus explored “the different architectural modes that inspire spiritual experiences.” The photographer’s work, however, acquires a new dimension when we realize that the time of the cathedrals intersects with other temporalities: the time of the photographing, the production of the image in the artist’s studio, and finally the duration of the exhibition. A single image thus invites us to perceive different facets of time. The curator of the exhibition, Fannie Escoulen, explains that “the permanence of the past meets the ephemeral present,” while the photographer contends that she “constructs little monuments to time.”

Laurence Aëgerter, Cathédrales hermétiques, Coutances, (église gothique, XIIe siècle)

By Coline Olsina

Laurence Aëgerter, Cathédrales hermétiques

July 1 – September 22, 2019

Croisière, Arles 

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