Les échappées

Emmanuelle Lequeux |
from 20 octobre 2016 to 31 décembre 2019

Walls have wings. Wings of desire. They also have guardian angels and Perrine Lacroix is one of them. One of those rare beings, as with the Watchers of Berlin in Wim Wenders' film, who know how to lend a discrete yet attentive ear to the stories that walls contain, the freedoms they withold, the passages they permit. One of those beings who seem to hear the murmurs, the wall-whispers, or as Agnès Varda calls them in French mur-murs: all the stories that pass through walls, that make the concrete ooze and the bricks emerge. Walls hold wonder. Wonders of paradoxes, stories, promises from afar. That is why they are so frequently seen in the artists' works.

Optimisme oblige. To better view the artist's universe, let us look toward Berlin, which inspired one of her most emblematic works, entitled Mauer ("wall" in German). At its origin is the terrible story of an East German, Winfried Freudenberg who tried to cross the Wall that divided Berlin into two irreconcilable cities. This was in March 1989, just before the Iron Curtain fell. To cross the Wall, he patched together a  hot air balloon made of polyethylene.  He managed to fly in this makeshift balloon, but crashed after several hours of flight. An Icarus who should not have been flying before history, who would have known freedom were it not for a few months. In an art center in Bonn, Perrine Lacroix awakened his memory with a thin plastic veil, held within the frame of a door. It inflates and deflates at the will of the wind. The throbbing of a memory, a fragile heart that beats, an atrium that opens and closes, opens and closes ... In Perrine's work, no state remains still, all happens within the in-between, the ambiguity. The image of this balloon thus appears in other exhibitions, with its fragile momentum, its breaths and beats.

Most of the time, Perrine Lacroix seeks to create from the architectures in which she is to present her work. But she does not approach them as structures whose geometries she might explore, full and empty, nooks and crannies. Rather, she considers each as a place filled with an inaudible load, a space that remembers those who have passed through it. The Montgolfier Brothers. Refugees in search of a better life. Victims of the Stasi. Inmates of Saint Paul's prison. We meet all these characters throughout her career, through the memories of buildings. They are now faceless, but with a thousand desires. This is Perrine Lacroix's unique way of waking the ghosts, making them appear, using what she calls an "archeology of the present."

The wall of these leitmotifs can be defined as a support, needed in all architecture. But it is never the wall in its simple and original state. From the start, Perrine Lacroix has always pushed it to wobble or even to fall; to deflect or pierce it; to knock it to the ground and step on it. For her, it is these essential raw materials that suggest, and allow her to consider, new horizons. A black screen on which ideas are mentally projected, a bulwark against certainties, a wall letting all appear. Not that her work is reduced to this pattern, but here it has one of its most solid foundations. Studied one after the next, Perrine's works do not create a barrier but rather a litany of great escapes. Most often tragic escapes, but beautiful in the momentum that gave rise to them, that never ceases to spread its energy.

Thus these castles in the air ... They regularly punctuate the career of the artist, who loves to seek them out in all kinds of deserted landscapes. Skeletons of houses stopped short in the course of construction, photographed in the middle of their stark plain. Even before being completed, they are already in ruin. Concrete castles in which all possibilities can take refuge. Their walls are barely raised, the buildings exposed to all winds. But this is how Perrine Lacroix sees walls, as in the moucharaby brick latticework that she raised in honor of six Egyptian and Tunisian migrants who died in a fire at their squat in Pantin in 2012. Caught in the smoke, they could no longer find the breach in the wall that allowed them to enter the building unseen. This story seized her; she admits to being unable to escape the haunting of the tragedies incessantly presented by the news. "These people who had escaped with the Arab Spring found a place of promise, but the fire returned them to their initial state,” she recalls. “They fled to freedom and and it was that freedom that burned them. "

There is no great escape. A final obstacle always blocks the path, no matter what escape route is taken. But there is not absolute confinement either. In all confinement, the human spirit shows its ability to travel. It is within this paradox, this wavering, that the artist's work should be seen. When she placed dozens of stays throughout an abandoned council flat in Chelles, was she predicting the building's collapse, or preventing disaster from occurring? Little does it matter. This metal forest created a perfect playground for the city kids that the artist then filmed in action. And the mountain of rubble that she dumped in the upstairs apartment, did it move through the wall, or did the wall move through it? Brick by brick, the artist constructs, deconstructs and rebuilds all kinds of heterotopias, to use the concept coined by the philosopher Michel Foucault in defining a mental space where both fantasy and utopia could nestle. But also all kinds of place that society constructs to turn away beings in crisis, dreamers, deviants: mental hospitals, prisons, cabins and other types of spaces dismissed to the outskirts. Here is the space of the other, the daily territory of Perrine, humble explorer.

What did she experience during her days in Lyon's old Saint Paul jail, a prison that witnessed the horrors of the Second World War? We do not know what voices she heard in the corridors and abandoned prison cells, but again, it was the holes that she went seeking: gates pierced with holes, cables stretched in anti-escape nets; stray footballs that she turned into globes of the world, placing them here and there in the recreation courtyard, now overgrown with weeds. As if the only thing the land could offer was a vanishing point. We do not know what voice she knew how to hear, but there was probably that of Berty Albrecht, a devoted Resistant, pursued by Klaus Barbie who locked her up. She was first imprisoned here, before being transferred to Fresnes, from where she would never return. In a notebook, Perrine Lacroix has carefully drawn lines, as many as the number of days of confinement of this pasionaria. It is as if she lets herself experience the time of this pain, creating a severe grid, devoid of any horizon, yet leading to final liberation. In the trembling hand that conscientiously constructs, line by line, we witness the humble return of humanity.

On this apparently seamless boundary that is the blank page, thousands of drawn windows appear. Openings, like those that dot the artist's entire body of work. Advertising posters, monochromes or wooden studiolo placed in the landscape, as in Un balcon en forêt (A Balcony in the Forest), there is no blind wall. Blindness certainly, sometimes: a bunker returned to its silence with its facades colored by wood charcoal, or black lava panels used to reflect the stars rather than to direct onlookers. But no blind walls. The neurologist and wonderful storyteller Oliver Sacks recalled that the "mind's eye" of someone deprived of sight, allows him or her to continue “to see" in the literal sense. All MRIs show that the visual cortex is no less animated in the brain of the blind than in the sighted. It is on this mind's eye that Perrine Lacroix bestows material. There is no longer inside or outside for her. The wall is the secret interweaving of the Self and the World.

Emmanuelle Lequeux