Elene Chantladze & Nicole Gravier at ERMES ERMES, Rome


What was already there: like gravity, like weather. A face quivers to life as though its features have momentarily gathered uncertainly. Scratchy halos surround animals, girls, birds in a pale veiled atmosphere: an interlude of bird-like chatter before eyes widen sideways, flowers bright as sirens, eyes everywhere. Growing out of clouds, walls, stains, eyes looking out quizzically. A world teeming with quiet watchers, hypervigilant lookouts assembling to survey the horizon. Elene Chantladze saw the ‘the surfaces of a foreign universe’ on pebbles that she found on the beach, presences waiting to be drawn out by her hand, waiting to come forth. She sketched the missing details on the stones. The raw, unprinted backsides of cardboard chocolate boxes and other discarded scraps became surfaces where lively things could push their way through into reality. These forms were sometimes rendered with burned matchsticks, or with fingers covered pigments made from plants, foods and basic supplies: elderberry juice, jam, wine, oil, tar, petrol. Rubbing up towards each other, groups of figures share their outlines with one another, an Enzo Mari wooden animal puzzle with frail membranes. One painting shows an impermanent assembly; they are confiding in each other, sharing information. A small figure bares its chest, a taller one raises its long beak towards the sky, another cradles a howl, a blur of activity buzzing and swooping around her. More vigilant eyes, a different kind of watcher. Her gaze is away from us and towards large, imposing artworks hanging on the walls of museums in the 1970s. Mondrian, Albers, Rauschenberg, Fontana, Morris. We have seen the image of this woman—the artist Nicole Gravier—in other photographs that she made during that same decade: waiting, thinking, about someone or something that will arrive. Revolution, lover, phone call, letter. Surrounded by books and magazines, from which faces stare from posed photographs—bodies torqued into narrative vectors that disarm and direct. Gravier as artist and model positions herself as a Bovary figure in a state of heightened awareness. A fantasy is sold, but not bought. A woman stands quietly in front of the artwork and looks. What was already there: the masterpiece by the male artist hanging on the wall of the institution. The surging tidal currents under the sign of women as a category and class. A question hitherto never fully posed to any of the discourses that might illuminate the condition of difference that would strike deep into the heart of social being, life-making, pleasure, desire, ethics and psychic life as well as conventionally, male-defined notions of politics and economics. An artwork is regarded by a woman and a question mark that threatens the wall that holds it up. She watches and is watched in turn, eyes everywhere.

Laura Mclean-Ferris

July 20, 2022

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