Pick up the pieces

Any archaeological discovery is both a revelation about ourselves and a reassessment of the times that preceded us. Forging tenuous links between individual history and collective history, both cultural and geopolitical, Dune Varela set out to draw a parallel between the rise of photography and that of archeology, concomitant inventions in the middle of the 19th century.

We tend to forget it, but the photographic process was subsidized and encouraged in France by archaeological circles for its ability to restore reality as faithfully and precisely as possible. The first photographic impressions thus coincide with the first excavation sites and it is to an architect by the name of Alfred-Nicolas Normand that we owe in 1851 the first plate proofs, brought back from his trips to Pompeii, Palermo, Athens and Constantinople.

Walking in the footsteps of these pioneers, Dune Varela reformulates the challenges of the photographic medium by confronting it with two contiguous movements: that of Greco-Roman civilization and that of its own history, both intimate and familial.

“How to create the link?” she repeats to herself.

Her residence in the Perche gave her the opportunity to flee and bury herself, to appropriate the strata and sediments of an unknown territory. By uprooting herself, she paradoxically seeks an anchoring, a re-rooting. Search elsewhere to find yourself. Disappear, reappear. Emptying, transforming in contact with nature. Mourn what we have been, mourn what has been. In learning isolation, loneliness. To walk in discontinuity, to orient oneself in disorientation.

"Getting lost is a dangerous way to find yourself," says Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.
The analogy goes without saying between archaeological excavations and this impossible quest for identity, where the chance of discovery coincides with the wounds of existence. The Perche forest becomes a sanctuary, the place of transmutation. Listening to the animal and plant world, telluric currents. Pantheistic asceticism where the broken link with life is repaired. Where we reveal ourselves outside of ourselves.

Contrary to kitsch anachronism and postmodern irony - as practiced by plastic artists Francesco Vezzoli or Daniel Arsham, of which distracted observers could inadvertently bring her work closer -, Dune Varela literally inhabits her works, invests them physically and spiritually. Not in a compassed mysticism or a romantic exaltation, but in a belligerent body-to-body with the tangible reality of matter. Bas-reliefs and fragments of sculptures, of which photography always constitutes the initial stage, are the raw material and the metaphor of her desires and her anxieties, of her resistance to adversity.

In each of the pieces, there is a stage in its existence, the transition from one state to another, the reification of an idea. In theoretical development, she favors the exposure of affects and most often relies on intuition, at random, on the accidental. Or rather to what she calls "synchronicity", somewhere between the "Objective Chance" advocated by Breton and a form of intentional coincidence. A sum of intertwined signs which produce meaning by their superposition.

Closer to the processes of a Vera Lutter or a James Welling, the ancient repertoire which preoccupies her does not have the function of affirming the resurgence of a past greatness nor even of measuring it. It is a question of confronting it with the present, of restoring its allegorical part. If antiquity is resurfacing today in contemporary art, it means that it still has something to teach us, by shedding light on the present in a new light. Just as the pre-Socratics anticipated eminently contemporary concepts. The line between the Old World and the New World no longer exists, henceforth the temporalities overlap and collide.
As the image tends to transform into a dematerialized flow replacing the collective consciousness, Dune Varela reassigns it a solid and concrete consistency, until it physically attacks, building up in destruction. After having riddled bullets with shots of the Acropolis, blinded with a bomb the photograph of an Apollo or broken the materials which form the basis of her impressions, she widens the spectrum of her plastic research even further. From the imitation of the real to the limitations of the real. The transition from plan to volume is no longer enough, it is now relationships to time, matter and space that come into play in her work.

Photography becomes a sculpture in its own right, in a combinatorial game of supports, volumes, formats and textures where several temporal strata converge. In the viewer's mind, confusion arises between the printed photographic image and the material of the print medium. Are we observing a sculpture, a photograph of a sculpture or a combination of the two? Is there a direct link between the object photographed and the location where it was exhumed?
Counterfeiting occupies a preponderant place in her approach: the lures of vestiges made by her printing her photographs on marble or concrete slabs, sanded and scraped to give them a patina proper to relics. They are then broken into pieces, reassembled and arranged on bases imitating archaeological scenes. With Dune Varela, photography is no longer just the representation of an element of reality on a flat surface but becomes the subject of a reflection on the very conventions of its representation. Images that have become images of images, elliptical fragments of a diegesis which covers the history of the Greco-Roman Empire and, by extension, of what has been called "Western civilization". A highly arbitrary name, since everyone knows that it was built by nourishing ties of interdependence with the Mesopotamian civilizations of the Middle East. These origins obscured by history implicitly refer to the concealment of the artist's own origins: a Jewishness that her family was so afraid to reveal that they ended up disowning. The confrontation with mythology joins its own genealogy. Diffraction of the chronology, fragmentation of the memory.

This linear conception of history, which is political, cultural and social at the same time, Dune Varela strives to deconstruct it by removing the overhanging perspective of the past. In its contemporary representation, the warlike or romantic impulses specific to ancient statuary are no longer embodied in their conquering virility, but in the form of details isolated from the whole. Like a puzzle to decipher: truncated bodies, busts without heads, segments of architecture. The delicate relief of a hand or a drape becomes an address to the gaze stretched towards a timeless otherness.

From this photographic debris, without origin or destination, emerges a feeling of incompleteness, vulnerability, unfulfilled desire, although still inclined to spiritual fullness. One discerns there a strange neighborhood with the contemporary world, in the manifestation of its decadence. “To be forced to fight against one's instincts - that is the formula for decadence” writes Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols.

Taking this step further, Dune Varela decided to perform a filmed performance in the Perche. A nocturnal ritual in the forest, in which she plans to bury the bust of a statue and to exhume it several months after its burial. An extension of the rituals of childhood, where circumventing the forbidden is like a transgression. Find an archetype of man who precedes civilization. A human freed from the symbolic figure of God and the Law, authority and domination.

Statues also die, and it is time to mourn. All that remains is the comfort of these hands frozen in stone. Intrepid in the offering of self, of gift, of caress. Ageless postures, whose beauty and grace remain intact. Recompose a crumbling identity, collect the scattered fragments of that which escapes its existence. The evil eye is removed, the mourning is accomplished, life can resume its rights.

Julien Bécourt