Aurélie Pétrel

Tracks, curated by Alexandre Quoi

December 12, 2018 - January 26, 2019

New York

Artist : Aurélie Pétrel

 The polysemy of the title Tracks reflects the main propositions presented by Aurélie Pétrel’s first solo show in the United States. The exhibition aims at giving an overview of the last 15 years of her artistic career to reveal how traces and remnants materialize in her photographic manipulations, and compose emblematic works with recent productions like the tracks of a music album. This retrospective survey intends to shed light on the original approach of an artist concerned with deconstructing the production processes of photographic images. 

The selection of about fifteen pieces among her vast body of work started around Process (2018), a piece specifically made for the exhibition that translates under eight distinct schematic forms the recurring protocols of her practice. This series of geometric diagrams that delineates a mental map of the artist’s operating modes is presented like a guiding principle revealing her rigorous and programmatic method. Before describing its main standards, we should note that time and space, the constitutive parameters of the photographic process, are crucial to Aurélie Petrel’s inquiry into the reconstruction of image resources and its creative potential.  

Her research is divided in two phases and revolves around several geographical reference points – the cities of Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Leipzig, Montreal, New York and the village of Romme in the Alps – which require long-term shooting campaigns around specific themes and contexts. During the first phase, photography is used as a common tool to capture gestures and situations, a space-time measurement tool. Once the shots are collected, the artist engages in a long selection process to build photographic series printed on baryta paper in standardized format. Kept in a storage cabinet, the artist calls them “latent images,” using a technical term that refers to images prior to their chemical revelation. 

During the second phase, the stock of untreated photographs is activated according to “photographic partitions.” This phrase, coined by Aurélie Pétrel to describe her process, draws on music and choreography to suggest how the source image is – like a note – re-played and reinterpreted during production and exhibition. She favors duration and impermanence in contrast to the instantaneity and fixity usually associated with the photographic medium. Her volatile and almost performative images therefore undergo a series of activation, transfer and alteration processes. This creative diversity emerges through the body of multifaceted works gathered in this exhibition. They demonstrate the variety of mediums and processes used to transfer and manipulate images, from print on paper to glass, wood, metal and plaster. 

Under the influence of the dual culture of analog and digital photography, Aurélie Petrel’s generation has developed a growing interest for a multidisciplinary approach, opening onto fruitful hybridizations. Architecture as well as sculpture and installation inspire her treatment of image volume and their integration in structures that interact with the environment. We could call it “extended photography” to use an expression forged by artist and theorist Peter Weibel to designate the experimental practices of the 1970s. Following in the footsteps of the analytical spirit that led to a deep rethinking of the photographic norms, Aurélie Pétrel’s approach is resolutely post-conceptual: she however does not confine herself to a self-reflexive process; neither does she aim at a self-sufficient formal language. On the contrary, beyond the eyes, her work engage the very body of the viewer in a phenomenological experience in the strictest etymology of the term, that is, the study of what appears. 

Between plays on scale and enlargement, transparency and opacity, reflection and parallax, mise en abyme and compression, cutting and fragmentation, the artist’s wide range of effects impacts perceptive phenomena up to the dissolution of representation. This is indeed the conclusion to be drawn from this exhibition, as well as the real common thread of Petrel’s photographic investigation: the need to consider photography as abstraction. 

Alexandre Quoi, November 2018. 

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