Émilie Pitoiset’s current exhibition Giselle is a small gem. Stepping into KLEMM’S modest space, it becomes clear that the artist has meticulously directed every detail to create an environment of complete immersion. Don’t get me wrong: nothing here is bombastic or in your face, quite the contrary. In order to appreciate Pitoiset’s Giselle we have to be prepared to slow down, relax, and refocus our attention to discover the unexpected and beautiful in uncluttered, pure details. As we enter Giselle’s world, we have to relinquish our own frenetic urban pace, leave it on the sidewalk of the Brunnenstrasse as we cross the threshold into the gallery and shut the door.
If we do this, we might reevaluate the exhibition’s apparent bareness and tune in to the nuanced richness delivered by its carefully orchestrated economy of means. Nothing here is superfluous. Everything is carefully poised at the intersection between drama, art and life. It asks us to let go and savor the evocative atmosphere of Pitoiset’s aesthetic mise-en-scene.
Émilie Pitoiset, Giselle, 2012, found photograph, framed, 30 x 24 cm; Courtesy of the artist and KLEMM’s
Giselle, heroine of the homonymous 1841 romantic ballet, dies of heartache upon discovering her lover’s deceit and turns into a dancing ghost, while remaining forever entrenched in her tragic love. Pitoiset’s works share multiple themes with this enamored ballerina from life, death, art, and performance. Even the sitters in Pitoiset’s found photographs can be likened to Giselle as ghosts –haunting our imagination with their unspoken tales. The performative aspect of the work is expressed in the sitters’ poses, for each is engaging in some kind of game, dance or physical choreography. But it also underpins the artist’s role, signaled through simple black lines drawn over the images. These uncover the pictures’ geometric logic and concurrently record the artist’s agency on the work. Do these lines spell out the images’ intrinsic compositional grammar, or has the artist manipulated the photos’ natural order by bringing one detail to the fore at their point of intersection?
The mood so beautifully evoked is an ethereal sense of transience – the feeling of being poised exceptionally at a precise instant in time. Everything balances vertiginously between life and decay. One artwork, a plant titled Misunderstanding, looks frail and past her prime, yet time appears to have frozen around her. The work’s softness and intimacy encourages contemplation, enhanced by a hypnotic, looped musical sequence emerging from the second room. Repetition qualifies the loop as well as the actual melody, which develops through a series of echoes and muffled variations on a theme to calming effect. It is apparent that nothing has been left to chance in this integrated and harmonious experience. Sound and sight converge, for example, in the bamboo curtain delineating passage from one room to the next, filling both a practical function as a divisor, and concurrently contributing to the auditory and visual experience of the space. The delicate sound of its bamboo segments rattling against each other fuses with the recorded music from the video installation, La Répétition, while visually, its threads move in waving rhythms, ricocheting to the music’s sound. In the second room, the daylight filters through the curtain shedding shimmering lines across the floor and walls. Given that lines are a recurring feature of Pitoiset’s practice, this effect is an elegant device that neatly complements the works.
Émilie Pitoiset, Giselle, 2012, leather, coated aluminium, 180 x 273 x 45 cm; Courtesy of the artist and KLEMM’s
Pitoiset’s treatment of her photographs highlights them as objects as much as they are images. Frames are not centered along the walls--doing so would distance them as much as possible from each other and from the spaces where the gallery walls intersect, resulting in the isolation and abstraction of the visual image. The contrary is true; there is no place for centers here: from the plant standing askew in its saucer, to the video projected on the periphery of the wall it shares with the room’s door, rather than on the large empty one to its side. Works are paired up, or positioned at extremities, thus leaving large, unembarrassed areas completely bare. One frame, for instance, is nested in the tiny space left between a corner in the first room and the bamboo curtain leading into the second space. This achieves a contradictory effect. On one hand the work seems to be humbly content with being relegated to this liminal no-man’s-land, as if by mistake. Yet this strategy also reclaims that space and concurrently gives the work an exceptional status. Not so humble after all perhaps… Similarly, throughout this exhibition, a general air of simplicity beguiles a deeper tension and balance of meanings.
Pitoiset’s works juggle multiple themes. They evoke romance and a by-gone era, while also toying with oppositions between life and death, play and performance, geometrical logic and unyielding mystery. All of Pitoiset’s Giselles put on a show, just like their nineteenth-century dancing muse. And Pitoiset herself has beautifully choreographed their dance in this subtly rewarding exhibition. An exquisite alternative to the hustle and bustle of the city and to the infinitely more boisterous 7th Berlin Biennale, at the KW Institute, just a couple of streets away.
(Image on top right: Émilie Pitoiset, Giselle, exhibition view at Klemm's, Berlin, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and KLEMM’s)