calendar 'A vol d'oiseau'


'A vol d'oiseau', 27 April 2007 - 30 April 2007

'A vol d'oiseau' retraces the past five years of Viviane Sassen’s fashion photography.

Long, slender legs, hip slightly out, a woman poses with a determined gleam in her eyes, a solid stance, one hand resting on her left hip. In the other hand she holds a sapling, daintily potted in a plastic bag from the Saatchi Gallery, its tangled branches streaking across her face. And then there is another woman, perched on a stool, her right hand busy actioning a window shade. The blinds turn the background into a rythmic pattern of black, horizontal bands. Vertical elements introduce a formal contrast: the folds of the curtains, the wood paneling, the grill of the heater. Within this grid, the figure becomes bizarrely mimetic and is finally lost in the clamorous jungle of her richly adorned interior.
Here, the woman is camouflaged. Elsewhere she is thwarted, hindered, truncated, contorted, divided or concealed.

For Viviane Sassen the female body is an element of playful composition. When the woman is alone, unaccompanied and unadorned, her integrity is confronted against her reflection or her shadow. Seated, her legs and hands elegantly crossed, she returns our gaze. Her glance is fleeting, though, and all she deigns to reveal is the outline of her profile on the wall. In another image, the figure’s representation is perturbed by an imposing tropical tree. A proliferation of rounded, shiny grey branches fosters our confusion: which is the arm? Which is the branch? Where is the leg? The gentle spiral of a branch melds with the shapely contours of the ankle and calf. This visual pandemonium is completed by the introduction of an alter ego, often another female figure. The limbs meld on contact as one body becomes the extension of another. The matter is fluid, the geometry infinitely variable. Their relationship occurs through brutal collusion, interlocking mechanically or in a sensual overlapping. The figures are plainly visible, yet they evade immediate interpretation as they always seem to slip away through some corner of the frame.

What remains then? If an entangled body cannot always be grasped as a visual evidence, it retains nonetheless its graphic expressiveness. Sassen’s compositions, direct and incisive, are ordered by the limbs: arm, elbow, palm, neck and leg. The body draws lines around which volumes and colours are distributed. Here, the photograph is above all an image, an area that has been partitioned on the surface of the picture. There is no story to tell, no before or after, which is not to say that there is no feeling. The image is flesh, and sometimes it shivers. Unretouched, it conjures an earthly, untamed beauty from its imperfections. The lighting is usually stark and effects are kept to a minimum; the coarse, unpolished craftsmanship conveys the sensuality of the picture. The image is raw, like the natural surroundings through which the photographer ventures. Viviane Sassen does not portray green pastures but a bed of pine needles, a trunk sticky with sap, tortured branches of deadwood, or damp soil. This sensual harmony among the mineral, the organic and the human is at the heart of the photographer’s work in Africa. Her portraits depict teenagers from Zambia and Ghana in the colourful luxuriance of the African flora. Flesh, earth, and flower form a palette from which Sassen composes her fauvist pictures.

Raphaëlle Stopin

'A vol d'oiseau', 27 April 2007 - 30 April 2007
Festival International de Mode et de Photographie
Hyeres, France