Edition 2009



Still Lifes

I encountered and discovered Véronique Ellena about ten years ago. Here was no muzak, I thought, but a very dense and beautiful silence—the silence of the ordinary, the trivial, the humble and the personal elevated to the rank of ‘life’s great moments’, in the words of the series she was then showing at Alain Gutharc’s gallery. Such an economy of effect was, to me, far more arresting than a spectacular demonstration of powerfulness, of which there were plenty at the time. In its gentleness and depth, her simplicity gripped me: it cut straight to what was essential, to the quintessence of our sensations and concerns—like everything that, in art, exalts the everyday and leads us towards the spiritual. As I had occasion to say in 2008, when presenting her work at the Musée Réattu, I instantly saw her photos of the Tour de France and other racing events as religious triptychs, as ‘Descents from the Cross’, filled with fervour, not to mention the series Ceux qui ont la foi (‘Those who believe’), akin to a modern La Tour. Her everyday images, such as those of Dimanches (‘Sundays’), call to mind Chardin or seventeenth-century genre scenes, while in her Supermarchés (‘Supermarkets’) I saw the vanishing points of a Rembrandt, in her Paysages (‘Landscapes’) the loftiness of a Nicolas Poussin, and in her Petites danseuses (‘Little girl dancers’) the touch of Velasquez, Manet or Degas. But let me be clear: I do not mean to reduce Véronique Ellena’s pictorial approach to a pastiche of painting or to a parody of four centuries of art history. I see these comparisons merely as a springboard, as one more trait that stirs the depths of heart and mind. A word on the Dernière-née (‘Last-born’) series, which I wanted to nominate this summer for the Discovery Award: these ‘still lifes’, composed over the past two years at the Villa Médicis, with their utterly simple lines and frontal compositions, make their mark with a pared-down quality so sober and intriguing that it is almost baroque. One cannot pass by as if nothing was happening; one remains riveted to the image, scrutinising, sniffing, almost tasting, touching the stone, wood and metal of these palpable ‘pedestals’. Fur, down, peel, scales, flesh, tentacles: appetising or off-putting, they are all ‘experienced’ by the eye. If we want to pursue my parallels with painting—for we intuit a villa nearby and we know we are in Rome—Caravaggio is the obvious choice: his ordinary, trivial world bordering on the sacred, his Virgin and all the worker saints with their grubby feet, inspiring devotion more surely than any classical pomp can do.. ‘Transcendence’, ‘transmutation’, ‘the dark side of the mirror’, ‘life’, ‘death’: the big questions are addressed, but with utter simplicity; not timidly yet somewhat anxiously, without extroversion but not without ardour. With intelligence and feeling she captures a kind of sempiternity, that of the ‘centuries of centuries’ past and to come, poised between gentleness and cruelty, childhood and cynicism, melancholy and empathy, banality and gravity. Dead chicks frozen stiff in the freezer, an octopus one guesses has been softened up by repeated violent blows, an exploded grenade: these still lifes are well and truly dead. But as with all Véronique Ellena’s work, their radical, ritualistic simplicity holds up to us the mirror of our own existence. The nakedness of their minimal, pathetic stagings reflects in an infinite series of mirrors the unfathomable questions of our own nakedness, faced as we are with the incommensurable abysses of the human condition. And it does so with an elegance that befits this kind of silent exploration,
given over to meditation and solitude.
Christian Lacroix
NATURES MORTES (STILL LIFES). One of the main features of Véronique Ellena’s work, visible in the earliest stagings of daily life that she produced in the 1990s, is the ability to meet others, understand them intimately and value them. This faculty is also noticeable in her more recent Paysages (‘Landscapes’) begun in 2005: her empathy with nature is as strong as it is with people. The spiritual depth and the sense of the sacred that emanates from these works make them a logical extension of her 2003 series Ceux qui ont la foi (‘Those who believe’). Central to her photographic interests is the spirituality of the world around us, seen not as a religious concept but rather as a pagan sense of communion between humanity and the universe. There is also mystery to be found in her photographs, together with a quest springing from her desire to capture a fleeting, intangible moment.
Véronique Ellena produced a new series during her residency at the Villa Médicis in 2007–08. Natures mortes (‘Still Lifes’) is a continuation of the earlier Ceux qui ont la foi (‘Those who believe’) and Paysages (‘Landscapes’) via an examination of a transitory state, that of the shift from utter beauty to breakdown, destruction and disappearance.
Alain Gutharc

Series created during a stay in Villa Médicis, Roma, in 2007-2008.
Véronique Ellena  is represented by Alain Gutharc Galery.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture