États d’Âme

Colette Pourroy

04. 11. 2023 – 10. 12. 2023

Soul States by Colette Pourroy

Since its invention in the 19th century, photography has often served as a sort of aide-mémoire and it did not take long for it to supplant the painted portrait in genealogies or in civil registries. But does the camera capture the true essence of a person or just their physical appearance?

For the past ten years, the published works of Colette Pourroy have broken with traditional family albums: her pictures avoid faces, preferring imprecision to detailed descriptions, the dialogue of shadow and light to explicit narration. And yet, each of the artist’s series has been devoted to her closest relatives, a friend or a family member, whose shadow, silhouette, or fuzzy outline she seizes, as if to draw attention more to their disappearance rather than their physical appearance.

Very few artists can convey mourning with as much subtlety as she does; in Colette Pourroy’s work there are neither funerary symbols nor weeping figures. The departure of the cherished manifests itself by the vacuum they leave behind, by those spaces they no longer occupy in each of the interiors that punctuated their daily routines, by the accessories they will never use again, the landscapes to which they will never return. Yet Colette never gazes nihilistically upon life’s fragility. Don’t titles such as Eve reincarnated or Metempsychosis refer to belief systems where the soul might be reborn in a different form? Indeed, the compositions of Ascent of the Soul or Cosmic Goddess resemble some Hindu sculptures and seem to assert this conection with Eastern spirituality. Isn’t it possible for a human being to be reincarnated as an animal, a plant, or even an inanimate object?

In the series Soul States, the model’s nudity is less a subject of eroticism than that of a body unencumbered by all artifice, just as it is at birth and upon its return to the dust. A white veil that covers or envelops a moving woman’s body could be interpreted in myriad ways: is it the virgin ornament of a young bride or instead a phantom’s shroud? A classical dancer’s tulle outfit or a nun’s wimple? This spectral and sensual veil participates in shrouding the image, becoming the transition from the visible to the invisible or from life to the beyond, akin to the shroud in which Jesus was bound before the Resurrection or the silken threads of a cocoon where a chrysalis completes its transformation before flying away.

This series was shot in a 17th-century Provençal building, erected on the site of a Templar commandery steeped in somber legends. Generations have come and gone from medieval times to the present day, stratifying countless human destinies whose memories have now faded. Colette Pourroy confesses to having felt the presence of hidden forces while working in this place. Do photographs have the power to resuscitate the creatures of the past while also prolonging the memory of their past lives?

Dying to be reborn is not confined to theological reflection, artistic creation is also part of a quest for immortality. By avoiding the excessively clean surfaces, by eroding the physical body, Colette Pourroy probes that life force that outlives ephemeral appearances and which flows from century to century. Through compositions that evoke Degas, Whistler, Toulouse-Lautrec, or Francis Bacon, Colette Pourroy rejects the camera’s automatic reflexes to bring her work closer to that of a painter. By erasing she reveals, showing that photography is not limited to what the eye perceives but that it also can speak to the soul.

–Marc Soléranski 
Art historian, playwright (05/10/2023) 

Translation by Paul H. Rogers