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Sophie Delaporte and Astier de Villatte exhibition

Postmodern Mysteries
Text by Vicki Goldberg

Solo show HPGRP gallery, Tokyo, October 2010.
Solo show Astier de Villatte, Paris, January 2011.

A lighted glass globe sits alone on a table. A man and a woman rather suddenly appear on opposite sides of the table, making the light so happy to have company it glows more intensely and blows the woman’s hair back in what must be a stream of photons, as winds don’t blow indoors and there’s no fan in sight. The man soon gets discouraged, and not long afterward the woman sinks into despair; her head falls forward, her hair hangs down and hides her face. Do not ask why.
On the facing page another man, in another room, at another table, lowers his head in the same despairing manner (without enough hair to cover his face, but never mind). Why? This much is clear: he has been undone emotionally by a hand saw that lies placid and innocent on the table.
Sophie Delaporte’s photographs for Astier de Villatte are as full of mystery as a collection of Simenon stories, as charged with ambiguity as a painting by Dali, and as partial to whimsy as a song by Noel Coward. The mysteries are decidedly post-modern; consisting of inexplicable actions, they involve no crime and have no solution other than anyone’s guess. The ambiguity is immutable, six centimeters of uncertainty evidently being preferable to a meter of clarity. The whimsy is one facet of an off-beat sense of humor that manages to combine melancholy, portents, and absurdity; cherishes fantasy; and relishes the odd and the almost ridiculous.
In short, her art is a perfect fit for the furniture, the white ceramics, and the candles designed by Astier de Villatte, the firm founded by two men whose products include a hand-crafted ceramic copy of a Louis XVI-era cake mold fished from the trash, and a candle that gives off the scent of a haunted castle in Scotland, an ambiguous odor if ever there was one. These two men and one woman who also designs are Delaporte’s chief models, along with one very talented cat.
Delaporte’s palette and lighting make sophisticated references to art history; in one instance, a reclining woman as out of focus as a late Impressionist painting comes into richly colored focus, gorgeously lit (by a candle with an idiosyncratic scent) in the midst of darkness, an image as dramatic as a painting by Ribera. More often Delaporte edges into surrealist terri-tory: a man does a halting ballet with a sheet of paper, another proposes to comb his hair with a fork, a couple has a heart-to-heart on the floor amid jumbled-up chairs. Delaporte also devises her own version of a succession of silent movie frames, such as the four photographs of a man who swirls a bright patchwork fabric that first obscures and then overtakes him completely. Progressions like this one suggest excerpts from flip books or perhaps, since their author has the imagination of an impish elf, Eadweard Muybridge on marijuana.
In one single image, a man peeps out from behind a classical head he clasps in his arms. He could be commenting on Delaporte’s own photography, which makes abstruse classical references to painting but manages to subvert just about everything else, including, need I say, our expectations.

Vicki Goldberg.

more about Astier de Villatte