Prémices 1993-1994

Flesh Reversed, Flesh Exposed

Prior to this exhibition, entitled A Fragmented Identity, the works of Jennifer Dany Aubé wore on the outside this interior flesh that Georges Didi-Huberman speaks of.  That is, they display on the surface what is supposed to remain underneath, deep.  Without the skin to cover it, without the epidermis to soothe it, a moist, suppurating, living flesh thus multiplied, from work to work, wounds that cannot be bound up.  Red, and variously textured, these wounded surfaces seemed to want to take up position at the threshold of the bearable.

The goal of this painting, then, seemed to be to produce disgust, repulsion, perhaps nausea in the viewer, as well as the blind terror of imagining one’s own interior flesh by the intervention of the artist.  Painful vision of a scorched body, this matter without form, soaked in blood, certainly could not pretend to please.  However, neither does it leave us indifferent.  By virtue of the fact that pleasure is impossible, these series of wounds had the power to fascinate.  Their obsessive nature, the delirium of their repetition, the excess and rage they evoked, sent the viewer into areas outside the rational.  Before this disorder of tissues, before this free surging up of the humors,2 reason no longer holds sway.  It is as if dissolved and borne away by a stream of blood.

Thus, we really know, viewing these works, where we are:  at the antithesis of a theorem’s clarity, in other words, right in the heart of the baroque gloom.  The bleeding of the surfaces tries to touch the body to shake it by stirring its humors, to realize once more the disquiet and confusion caused by the sight of wounded flesh.  The uncovering of this interior flesh is both obscene and troubling because, now outside, it is no longer in its place, a place inside or underneath, at any rate hidden from view.  Consequently, if it no longer is inside or underneath, if it can be seen, it is displaced,3 it is inside-out.  Here the expression “être à l’envers”, indicating an emotional problem, has a very precise meaning.  These works, literally, put us on display and seek to turn out bodies inside-out; they are playing with our humors.

This brief return to past works allows us to see better the importance of changes brought by the installation on display at Axe NÉO-7.  To describe is still the best way to recount the effect.

We begin by entering an installation with white walls, in the centre of which is placed a large cube, also white, that acts as reinforcement for the piece.  This cube is closed on three sides and opens only onto the far wall.  The inner surface of the cube is plastered with these red textures, the optical and tactile properties of which evoke the interior flesh.  To reach this hollow space, it is first necessary to go the length of the wall and turn.  It is not immediately visible:  we arrive there indirectly.  Our gaze never fixes on this flesh in a direct, immediate way.  The surface looses its appearance as wound, becoming instead the inner wall of the hollow space of the body.  A space that is so vast that we can enter it and move around easily, but at the same time narrow enough to prevent any retreat.  The hollow is never actually visible from a distance.  It is visible only in the interval separating the opening from the wall facing it.  This interval is made up of barely one meter.  Viewing is thus always governed by an intimate response that invites touching; never does a distanced viewing that is purely optical seem possible.4  This effect of the installation is remarkable, it has a decisive semantic value.  By hindering distance, the work becomes impossible to grasp by the eye alone but on the other hand the painting wholly seizes the viewer’s body.5

The goal of this installation is also to show the interior flesh without producing the awful pain of its exposure.  The experience of these surfaces is thus renewed.  These are certainly textures similar to those of previous works, but how dissimilar is the effect.  Between the painted surface and the mechanism of the installation, a relationship is established.  It must be said that the hemorrhage of open wounds that was the previous work, by their repetition resulting in the inevitable desensitizing that followed, caused a fatal loss of the power to shock.  Little by little the viewer is anesthetized.  Also a new mode of contact between the work and the viewer became necessary.  By provoking a meeting that makes distancing difficult, by thus affirming the tactile quality of surfaces, the surrounding surface is no longer flesh to be bound up.  The blood flow, the feared hemorrhage, has given way to a slow circulation of blood and of ideas, or rather concepts.

Jean-Pierre Latour

A Fragmented Identity / Une identité fragmentée
An exhibition presented at  Axe NÉO-7, gatineau, QC
June 5-26, 1994

1Georges Didi-Huberman, La Peinture incarnée (Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1985), p.126.

2Humor must be understood in its two senses, as bodily fluid and as an emotional state, for these works deal with both.

3The indignation caused by Jana Sterbak’s Flesh Dress perhaps ought to be understood in these terms.  The strong reaction to this work, despite the arguments invoked for it, is perhaps caused by this shifting which has that which should be underneath the skin becoming the body’s final covering.  When the interior flesh is exposed to the outside to become clothing, a true object of anguish appears, since the flesh is made into skin.

4Didi-Huberman writes, “The sense of touch is both that without which vision cannot take place and that which is the eschaton of vision, its limit, but also, wierdly its telos:  touch would be the aim (obsession or phobia) of vision.”  La peinture incarnée, p.56.

5This inner vision referring to the interior flesh reminds us of the nineteenth-century fascination with cases of autoscopy observed by Charcot and his followers; it makes us relive this situation where mental imagery moves about in the body’s interior, and as Didi-Huberman observes, offers us “(...) an entire iconography of folds, entrails, the multitude of bizarre lines of all organic systems.” ibid, p.127.


The object of anguish par excellence is flesh, that of the interior.

Georges Didi-Huberman1