For more than thirty years, Sophie Ristelhueber has photographed what she calls "scars on the landscape", like a topographer. She says that she is "at war" as an artist, but unlike war reporting she prioritises the emblematic over the instantaneous. In conflictual places, when confronted by rough walls or the legs of invasive furniture in a family home, she focuses on details, passageways, and overlooked details—on everything that a place may contain. Although there is a distinct absence of people in her photographs, the places imply the presence of others and sometimes division because they demarcate areas.
"Les Orphelins" ("The orphans") is an exhibition of photographs selected from photographs taken by the artist, such as the shot of a pipe with a strangely natural shape and a photograph—resembling a painting—of two switches and a wall, in which a crack alters the geometry. Bringing these "Orphans"together expresses the idea of abandonment or division, and evokes, above all, childhood, which is very much present in the artist’s new exhibition. The exhibition provides visitors with an unprecedented opportunity to gain insight into the roots of the artist’s approach to places.
It all began with an amazing little toy typewriter with fake keys, which the artist received as a gift at the age of seven. To write with the machine one had to turn a wheel, choose each letter, and press a lever. She remembers the activity—the novelty of the physical act of writing—and has perhaps retained a constant distrust of words and their uses. In Sophie Ristelhueber’s work, words always mean something other than what they are supposed to mean. This undoubtedly explains why there are very few titles, captions, or paratexts. Meaningless, the words have become a plastic support (or a winding road). The twenty "all-overs" of the UN resolutions on the Middle East are not so much a condemnation of the policies but an ironical comment on the form of politics, the impotence of an institutional discourse.
The artist remembers the double-sided geographical maps in the 1950s, which were hung on the walls of her childhood bedroom. The front "outline" side represented the relief and the place names were indicated on the back. By analogy, she has only extracted the words on the one hand, and removed them on the other hand, leaving only what seems to be a network of blood vessels. The map, which is devoid of any information, invites the viewers to lose themselves, just as Sophie Ristelhueber used to say "lose oneself in the wallpaper" when she was a child, which completely altered the ratios of scale early on in her work. Hence, the "orphan" map is a living form, whose lines take root or renew themselves. The fascination with slices in the anatomical sense attests to what she calls: "the great silence of the land".
Flora Moricet (February 2019)
Her work has been exhibited in numerous international institutions, among which MoMA (New York, US), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, US), Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, US), The Power Plant (Toronto, CA), Tate Modern (London, GB), Imperial War Museum (London, GB), biennials of Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, Triennial of Etchigo-Tsumari, Rencontres Photographiques d'Arles, and in Paris, MNAM Centre Pompidou, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Musée Zadkine, Musée Rodin ...
Sophie Ristelhueber was born in 1949 in Paris.
She lives and works in Paris.