Le Ciel de Midi 

(essay written for the exhibition J'avale la vague que me noie le soleil de midi at Leal Rios Foundation from May 20 to September 19, 2021)

Rarely does one begin a text by confessing a limitation. That is what I will do today: confess the impossibility of covering in a few lines all the strata, twists, pathways, and interpretations that I find in J’avale la vague qui me noie le soleil de midi. The coherence and depth of the exhibition that AnaMary Bilbao presents at the Leal Rios Foundation immediately brings up to mind some of the essential questions of contemporary thought. The reflection on the status of the image that characterizes all her work, here is complemented with a series of references that expand ad infinitum the range of problems she usually addresses.


The exhibition is inspired by George Bataille’s famous book Le bleu du ciel (1935) and by Chet Baker’s interpretation of Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue (1987). Working with negatives found by chance in flea markets to produce a series of works that are presented in a variety of formats — photographs, projections, and video — the artist suggests a phenomenology of the conditions for the apparition of images. And with it, an exemplary manifestation of what Heidegger called, in his famous text, The Origin of the Work of Art, the “ontological struggle” of art; the capacity to detect “an opening of Being” and to help us grasp and deal with our finiteness. The reference is not lost here, and AnaMary Bilbao’s exhibition is heir to a line of thought that was inaugurated by Nietzsche and continued by Walter Benjamin, Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Georges Didi-Huberman, focusing on the key issues of indeterminacy, the end of the absolute or the aporias of time and representation which, ultimately, brought with them the overcoming of metaphysics.


And who better than Bataille to serve as a guide, he whose writings like Bilbao’s own works negotiate the interstices between the sublime and the casual, the spiritual and the disturbing, the eternal and the ephemeral. An inversion of values, as Nietzsche himself would say, that we find, for example, in the empty sky the French author chose to title his book. A sky that is no longer the reflection of the transcendental but an abyss of unrelenting anguish, an inversion that is perfectly recognizable in the quotes projected in the series Dirty[1] (2021) or in the paradoxical title of another series: Découvre le ciel dans le bas (2021). An inversion that can also be found, albeit more prosaically, in the passage from negative to positive and in the apparition of a blue that is no longer — as it is in pictorial tradition — the symbol of the “immense”, the “pure”, and the ideal, but appears “grey”, “blackened”, “arachnid”. A void that generates “vertigo”, as the artist explains; the same ambiguous feeling that Poe[2] referred to as the “Imp of the Perverse”[3].


This “double gesture of erasure and creation” in AnaMary Bilbao’s work[4] has been mentioned before, and rightly so, but the truth is that this double gesture is a single gesture, a founding gesture. An attempt to overcome the limiting dichotomies of metaphysics. In the same way that light causes or presupposes obscurity, as we see in her first video Lighted by a Searing Light (2018), emptiness is the condition for the emergence of being, for the apparition of those flowers we see in Les fleurs soient toujours éphémères[5] (2021). There is no absolute, there is no wholeness as Kurt Gödel has demonstrated so perfectly there is no single interpretation. This much is obvious in the diversity of the series Daydreams (2021), in which the artist plays with the same hermeneutic freedom of the visual narrative that was so fruitful in the best cinema by JL Godard, Guy Debord or Chris Marker[6] there is no certainty of a trodden path, as we can see in the work I am still not sure how long we will stay here and where we will go then (2021). Between dream and reality, apparition and memory, fiction and evidence, images open the possible: indeterminate like the liquid, which Bilbao imagines poison, ingested by the indefinite protagonists of Daydreams. It is impossible not to think about the Derridian figure of the pharmakon, poison and salvation at the same time, a perfect example of this différance we recognize at the core of AnaMary Bilbao’s aesthetic and conceptual work.


Bilbao proposes an aesthetic ontology that perfectly crystallizes the contradictions inherent to the postmodern era: resurgence and disappearance, representation and dream, narrative and visual overload. The weight of the blue sky is uncannily strange (Freud’s Das Unheimliche), almost unbearable, like the ghostly landscape torn by a lonely scream in Almost blue (2020) a video that looks like a painting by Turner, edited by Jarman with a score by David Lynch. Images balance between darkness and light and Bataille’s “blue of noon” shines in the middle of the night and in the dark background of each painting. Memory finds its way into impossible shapes and specks that erode vision.


As Georges Didi-Huberman writes in Survival of the Fireflies, “The image isn’t much: a remnant, a crack. An accident of the time that renders it momentarily visible or readable.” This describes the works by AnaMary Bilbao: visible time, accidents of time that survive oblivion, fireflies, “luminous bodies passing in the night”, in Walter Benjamin’s beautiful definition. And, as we have already said, Blanchot’s night[7] and the blue sky are two sides of the same coin. The image rescues memory and reveals the inexorable passage of time, it saves one memory and condemns all others — broken and fragmented, it endeavours to survive the passage of time.


AnaMary Bilbao's work exists in this ambivalent position, a space where the sky has lost its majesty, and the colour blue is nothing but a trace Derrida again of the physical corrosion of time. A space where love is made on a tomb and paths lead nowhere Heidegger again. A space where there is always an Almost that unsettles everything.


This oscillation “between the final imminence of death and a possibility of liberation and redemption” — as the artist describes La Mort, the poem by Bataille from which she took the verse that is used as the exhibition’s title — is nothing more than the imperfect remnant of that blue of noon. Finitude. A crack. Incompleteness. A remnant of silver nitrate, a suspended gesture that opens history, a landscape that no longer heals.

And so many other things that lie beneath these works that we cannot fully grasp.

Aurélien Le Genissel, May 2021

[1]          Reference to the female character in the book who also plays with the female figure as an inverted ideal.

[2]          The Imp of the Perverse (1845)

[3]          The vertigo one feels when gazing at the “blue melody” or the “immense blue sky”, as Bilbao explains, is the same one feels when “falling” in decadence (déchéance), as Bataille writes in his work, an approach to the religious that deconstructs the relation between immanence and transcendence, physicality and spirituality, much like the works we can see in this exhibition.

[4]          Essay by Bruno Marchand, written for AnaMary Bilbao’s solo exhibition The last gleam of a dying star, at Uma Lulik, Dec. 2018.

[5]          A reference to the ephemeral and to the passage of time, to the finite nature of being and to the flower as a metaphor of of metaphysics, which Angelus Silesius described with the words: The rose is without 'why'; it blooms simply because it blooms” and that Heidegger recovered to define the relationship between being and nothingness.

[6]          “Side by side, the two images intensify uncertainty” Bilbai explains in her perfect definition of montage and Roland Barthes’ troisième sens another reference whose shadow is present throughout the entirety of Bilbao’s artistic process.

[7]          This absolute of Blanchot’s “other night” is closely related to Bataille’s light: “Dans cette nuit opaque, je m'étais rendu ivre de lumière”. But that is a broader issue.

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