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Léa Belooussovitch: “All this is also a duty of memory”

Léa Belooussovitch: “All this is also a duty of memory”

Represented by the Paris-Beijing gallery in Paris, the artist Léa Belooussovitch reproduces into drawings often-tragic, painful press photos. With her pastel coloured pencils that she applies to a felt canvas, she takes up the main forms of the image which appears blurry, almost abstract. A unique process that questions our relationship to press images.
Léa Belooussovitch, Lahore, Pakistan, mars 2016 (mother and child), Dessin aux crayons de couleur sur feutre,2019

Léa Belooussovitch, where did you get the idea of transposing these photographs into drawings? 

There is this attraction for the image that goes “too far”: too far into voyeurism or cruelty… But also in terms of the physical relationship between the photographer and the photographed. The images I choose follow a certain logic: there is always a proximity to the subject. These are images of vulnerability, stolen images—people in them were photographed under duress, they did not choose to be photographed. These are painful images. I pick images that cross a certain threshold that I define using a certain number of criteria; and so, transposing them onto felt means transposing them onto a sensitive material that is organic, physical. It’s a kind of textile, so something we might wear… And then, because they are images of victims, of injured, vulnerable people, I had the idea of transposing them onto a medium that would receive this image in a protective way and swaddle the essence of the image. Finally, there is the process of blurring. The blur is both mental and at the same time it is the result of a technique: a pencil on felt won’t make a precise, clear line as it does on paper…. 

“I always try to find a form that serves my purpose”

Is this a way of mitigating the violent effect of a press photograph? 

The idea of the blur might be to escape to something… But it is always anchored in reality, particularly through the title of the work, which corresponds to the news event represented in the photograph and thus offers the public a clue. What we see before us is expression of emotions. There are many people who tell me that even if they cannot see what it is, they can feel that there is flesh, fire, drama… The violence is mitigated, but it remains at a subconscious level. That’s really what I’m trying to accomplish: for you to get the sense of oppression or injury… This is also why I always leave white space at the top of the drawing: it’s a way of stipulating that a reframing process has taken place and that we are not dealing with pure abstraction. 

Do you also feel that, when we witness a traumatizing event, it leaves an imprint in our minds that is confusing, blurry? 

Yes, a memory! A kind of persistence… In our own minds we are unable to be precise because either we don’t want to or because it’s related to a trauma… 

Léa Belooussovitch, Série Relatives, Mexico City, Mexique, 3 mars 2019 », Dessin aux crayons de couleur sur feutre, 2019

Is this what happens to us with news images? 

I think we may be forgetting them a little too quickly. There are indeed some images that leave a mark, like the little boy, Aylan, on the beach… Why this one but not another? We also face these types of questions. The images I pick are not very well known images; they did not necessarily have a wide circulation. I don’t choose images that made headlines, for example. Although the accuracy of photographic depiction is still deeply rooted in us, we still end up forgetting it. The idea of a drawing is precisely to have something that implants itself in your mind, but that also appeals to the imagination. Because all this is also a duty of memory. 

What, in your opinion, is the artist’s role with respect to the image? Is it the role of a critic or a creator? 

I think that I use what exists in reality—what we receive, data, sometimes what we experience—and I try to assimilate it, and then to put it through a series of transformations. Starting from this this material, I try above all to choose a form. I always try to find a form that serves my purpose. I think that the artist makes images, and thus, when it comes to images, everything that exists today, at the stage where we are in our relationship to the image, we must live with it and see how far it can go, and approach all this through art, through work… The artist is the generator of this process, in my opinion.

Léa Belooussovitch, Série Relatives, « Dhaka, Bangladesh, 21 février 2019 », Dessin aux crayons de couleur sur feutre, 50x60cm, 2019
Léa Belooussovitch, Série Relatives, « Gaza strip, 17 octobre 2018 », Dessin aux crayons de couleur sur feutre, 2019

Interview by Jean-Baptiste Gauvin

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