Uses and afflictions in Annabelle Arlie’s work
By Dorothée Dupuis
It is surprising how Annabelle Arlie’s work, although very materialistic, graphic and plastic, is undoubtedly and foremost a conceptual practice. Conceptual in the way she challenges our contemporary art world’s means of production and broadcasting, locating herself in-between an obsessive isolationism (geographical and social) and an extreme connection (Wi-Fi, 4G, social networks).
Annabelle claims that she cannot say anything about her work. That she does not know its sources, origin nor its inspiration. That she cannot comment. And yet, where does the imagination come from? Probably from this very empty mental space, waiting to be filled. From the humble childhood, from the nascent taste unaware of style, from the provincial kitsch which allows for beauty and tenderness to emerge in moments of difficulty, isolation or lack of culture. From a different relation to time, findings, and the exotic. To class too. To a consumerist desire, seen from Tarbes, where she studied art, all the way to the posh galleries and serious international institutions, from Los Angeles to Berlin, London, Dallas, and from Pau to Paris, where she exhibits her sculptures, often produced by proxy through pre-defined assemblage protocols which become an integral part of her work.
Annabelle lives in Guéthary, a tiny port in the South-West of France, on the Atlantic Ocean. She fell in love with the place, she explains, because it is far from socialite Paris, definitely “not her thing”. Her Instagram account is a kind of telenovela, both discreet and voyeuristic where stills from 1990s cult films, personal photos and works from admired artists – that she religiously reposted – neighbour deconstructed selfies and hasty studio photos, presenting works photographed for the Contemporary Art Daily and often ending up thrown away after their 15 minutes of fame, as the artist, both disillusioned and realistic, confessed to me once. Over there are intuitive sculptures: the “trois merdasses” (“three craps”) from the famous history of sculpture in art schools, piled up with nonchalance and an inimitable sense of style.
Because of her isolation, Annabelle finds the objects included in her studio practice in garage sales and local antique sales, on Amazon.com or cheap decoration shops found in every provincial town’s commercial centre nowadays. Recently, she completed some assemblages with prints on paper, canvas sheets, or fabric, made of mundane images found on the Internet, from image databases or from the everlasting scroll down on Google Image, and assembled in a bizarre game of visual superimpositions playing on a subtle but asserted anthropomorphism. Furniture is part of her basic vocabulary – office chairs, made of standard plastic, rattan shelves, exotic wood stools –, as well as objects used as extensions to the body – crutches, Ipad or mobile phone stands, equestrian saddle, and for the exhibition a Chistera, a kind of rattan extension used by Basque pelota players. The prosthesis seems to symbolise a modified relationship to the world where technology, from the most primitive to the most precise, alleviates our failings and simplifies our relationship to the world. Before us are exposed the ergonomics trying to save a threatened society, and the cracked limits of mercantile desire, like a zoo in ruins, empty of its former inhabitants. Through a both absurd and cruelly pragmatic inventory of objects and images filling our daily lives as consumers, Annabelle’s work deals with our credulity when faced with the mutability of products parading in front of our wallets and pushing us to aspire to a better world, and with the petty pleasure accompanying a recurrent disappointment. We remain stupefied by this modernity which seems to be slipping through our fingers as it gets closer, one sophisticated gadget at a time.
Objects used by Annabelle, through their contemporary aspect or on the contrary their vintage one, question our relationship to things and their obsolescence. They are like “time-capsules” in ready-made and totem-like arrangements, which already posits the question of their “museumification”, not so much in an institutional sense, but rather in an archaeological one, in terms of conservation. Their plasticity is fascinating, for in the rush of the assemblage, their mercantile nature and value disappear: the only thing that counts is the final work’s efficiency. Annabelle’s literal gestures recall the best days of 1980s-1990s furniture art, from Heim Steinbach to Sylvie Fleury, Jeff Koons, Swetlana Heger & Plamen Dejanov, and to add to this gay chaos of heteroclite references, surrealist collages and minimalist austerity as well. Both mutating upgrades and infinite art history, the weak joints of the signifiers from “Arlian” rebuses give way to an aimless ocular interpretation, liberated from desire, and satisfied with only the form.
Scientists agree that in twenty years, at the latest, we will have proof of alien life. What would aliens say when entering Galerie Derouillon and finding these colourful monkey figures on these little plastic legs, running in front of an RGB jungle, while on the walls, children looms parody miniature Brancusis, standing shy on their miniature shelves. As in Mars Attack, they would trample, with a casual brutality, these artefacts deemed meaningless in their eyes, without thinking for one second about this whole story about objects, form, and memory. Meanwhile in Guéthary, while the Eiffel Tower would be exploding, Annabelle Arlie would be watching the sea, unaware of the end of the world. She would even perhaps be listening to an old cassette of Tom Jones on a recorder.