In association with the 49th edition of the Rencontres d’Arles, the musée Réattu is devoting a major exhibition to French photographer and visual artist Véronique Ellena (born 1966), still little known among the general public despite her inclusion in several public collections in France (musée national d’Art moderne – Centre Georges-Pompidou, Centre national des arts plastiques, FRAC Île-de-France).
This official retrospective – the artist’s first – is an opportunity to discover more than 100 photographs made between the 1990s and the present day, including some that have never before been shown
Véronique Ellena, Rayon produits d’entretien, série Les Supermarchés, 1992, © Véronique Ellena
Véronique Ellena, Le cycliste, serie Ceux qui ont la Foi, 2003, 100 x 120 cm, © Véronique Ellena
Born in Bourg-en-Bresse, V. Ellena received her training at the École nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre in Brussels. An astute observer of the trivialities of our everyday lives, she chooses to sublimate them in her work by creating portraits, still lifes, and subtly staged landscapes.
Along a thematic journey, with sections titled “Everyday Life”, “Nature”, “Italian Suites”, “Light and Dark”, and “Memory”, we discover a body of work several years in the making with several representative series born of government commissions (Le Plus Bel Âge, 2000; Le Havre, 2007) and artist’s residencies (Les Classiques cyclistes, 1998; Les Natures mortes, 2008).
While V. Ellena’s photographs are deeply rooted in the society of her times, they cannot be classified as reportage by virtue of their composition, and draw on the tradition of seventeenth-century genre painting (Les Natures mortes), the iconography of popular culture (Le Plus Bel Âge) as well as the meticulous aestheticism of German photographer Andreas Gursky, born in 1955, (the series Les Supermarchés, 1992). The viewer relishes picking apart the minute details of this apparent banality.
V. Ellena began one of her most moving series – Les Invisibles– while in residency at the Villa Médicis, between 2007 and 2008. In parallel with her residency, she captured the city of Rome at dawn, devoid of its tourists. What results are arresting snapshots that bear witness to the powerful and silent presence of the homeless, whom we scarcely notice amid the city’s grandiloquent architecture. The artist manages to tackle the subject with great tact, without ever succumbing to voyeurism or schadenfreude.
Véronique Ellena, La Vigne du Clos (stained glass model), 2017-2018, enamel spray photographic printing on 33 mm float glass and repainted antique glass inclusions, 360 x 145 cm, stained glass made by the master glassmaker Pierre-Alain Parot and his team in his workshop in Aiserey with the generous participation of Saint-Gobain, Verrerie Aurys.
Since 2016, she has been working on a series entitled Les Clairs-Obscurs, which emerged from the digitalization of film negatives. The process has transformed her aesthetic principles into a more formal approach to the photographic medium. Images of strange beauty marked with a certain melancholy emerge from this new direction (Le Fauteuil de Balthus, 2016), some of which are directly inspired by the mythological paintings of Jacques Réattu (La Mort d’Alcibiade, 2017-2018).
Opposite this series is presented La Vigne du Clos (2017-2018), a stained-glass window specially designed for the Réattu Museum and made in collaboration with master glass-maker Pierre-Alain Parot. This project, which draws its aesthetics from Les Clairs-Obscurs, allows the artist to explore the relationship between matter and light and to deepen her study of transparency.
This retrospective, curated by Andy Neyrotti for the museum’s 150th anniversary, reveals a singular and sensitive body of work whose charm is hard to resist.
Véronique Ellena. Rétrospective, from 30 June au 30 December 2018, at the musée Réattu (Arles, France).