ABOVE SEA LEVEL KIND OF THINGS
For his first solo exhibition in Paris, entitled Above sea level kind of things, Niels Trannois explores the notion of the apparition and diffraction of pictorial images. The spatial staging of the works presents itself as a possible snapshot of a mental landscape immersed in a stream of immediate sensations; the body is bathed in the image gradually surfacing above the level of the sea, of reality, of the visible. Images in the work of Niels Trannois are eclipsed, then partially uncovered, borrowing the idea of floating from Japanese stamp art, which is called Ukiyo e, literally floating image of the world. The artist is interested in the mental image of this practicea form of suggestion that is linked to his paintingmore than he is interested in the technique itself; it is more his own perception of it rather than a cultural or historical motivation. To convey this idea of vision suspension, the artist configured the space around a piece presented as the opening threshold of the exhibition stage. The wooden counter that divides the entrance to the space retains its usual domestic function, that of mediating between two places, two levels of codified reality. The counter was half-immersed in a flooded sandpit for five months near Poitiers, then placed in a dry-dock and adorned, shortly before varnishing, with a countertop as well as a black terrazzo surface (chips of white marble embedded in a black epoxy resin). It displays the stigmata of its history, the water level having left its mark. This piece constructs a body-rooting point: beyond this limit moves the impalpable. Its surface is paradoxical; though it has been naturalized by time, it is still an artifice, a theatrical device: "Above sea level kind of things" is the unfolding of the sequence of fantasies in the mind of an average protagonist who, propped against a counter, sees his thoughts laid bare in the space. They have permeated a sensitive projection surface.
Behind the counter, the artist has hung a set of collage-paintings, mental hangings, possible traces of a memory that is buried, emerging in the middle of a stream of unstable sensations. Shapes and materials engage in a detailed, fluid dialogue in order grasp a mental sensation by means of its periphery. The artist wrote in one of his texts: This project is about examining things and rethinking them retrospectively, letting them rest for a while and then taking a snapshot of them, understanding them in terms of the memory that remains of them.
Niels Trannoiss painting constantly makes reference to an aqueous or liquid perception, playing with levels of flow and settlement. Every shape has its own autonomy in the composition while participating in those beside them. When the artist uses oiled prints, the sheets are simply attached with thumbtacks, which allows air to pass between the different layers. To offset the shapes violent impression with the slowness of the pictorial process, the artist uses marble powder that draws light, snaps the images onto the paper, the prints are dipped in linseed oil, which penetrates the paper and makes it transparent, allowing the colour applied to the back to show through. The monotypes transfer the shapes to the surface of the scratched wood, shapes that, in the slowness of their soaking process, are the opposite of prints on paper, where the image is burned instantly.
In the work of Niels Trannois, the narratives developed in the titles of pieces do not support his paintings but are constructed in parallel with them. The writing supports the polysemy of the image, reinforces the feeling that our view is being carefully managed by the artist from the wings. The question that guides the artists gesture could be that of knowing how to condense a flow of perceptions into a shape, giving it a unity without breaking its movement, naming a feeling without shattering it. The image is constantly seeking refuge where reality has not yielded completely, in this neutral zone, a place of transition where the shape is not yet, or is no longer, entirely sure of itself, remaining ready to withdraw or shatter. Between the veil and the counter remains that abyss which separates desire from its object, and this is what the viewer sizes up. The distance imposed by this physical barrier generates a kind of short-sightedness, a metaphor for the trajectory of an eye subject to the instability of the shapes appearing on the surface of its retina.
Translated by Matthew Cunningham