Presented at the Galerie de Roussan, Paris, in 2013, Les Aimants retraces the emergence and evolution of Lily's memories of infant desire. Les Aimants unfolds in three series each made of 21 pieces, alongside a small magnetic demonstration titled Time and Free Will.
Twenty-one personal photographs are used as the basis for the three core series: Laminated Memories (body), Les Aimants, and Laminated Memories (inverted).
Each photo is a portrait taken of the artist between the age of 2 and 13 that evokes memories of a kind of desire, perhaps a sexual awakening. Most were taken by her mother, others probably by the boyfriend of her mother or other friends. Because Lily cannot remember who captured the photo, she cannot be sure to whom she was offering her gaze. She is also confronted with a stranger in the photos: a self that was formed to fulfill the desire of the photographer to take a picture of her.
In the first series, the 21 original photographic portraits are placed in a pile on Lily's torso and then rephotographed as each one is removed.
The collection is named Laminated Memories because of the integration of the photographs’ memories into the artist's own body.
It also reminds us of Roland Barthes, who wrote in Camera Lucida (1980) that "photography creates a mutual image, a laminated object... whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both..."
Les Aimants is the title for both exhibition and this second body of work. It has three meanings in French: the magnets, the attracted ones, or the lovers. For this installation, the original 21 photographs are turned into graphic reliefs, engraved by hand onto 8 x 10 centimetre rare earth magnetic stones by a tombstone mason.
This work was further inspired by Henry Fox Talbot's journals, which were discovered by art theorist Geoffrey Batchen. And it was Batchen who found that Talbot had used the electomagnet to conceive the first mode of photographic reproduction through concepts such as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.
Time and Free Will
Accompanying the three main series is an installation of a levitating lodestone demonstrates of the latent forces of magnetism. A tiny rare earth magnet is suspended between two diamagnetic plates sandwiched in the leaves of Henri Bergson's book “Time and Free Will” originally published in 1889.
Notice how the spinning magnet changes direction as it is torn between its attraction to two opposing poles.
Titled Laminated Memories (inverted), the third series reproduces once again the 21 images from the first photographic "mise en abyme" above another photo of the reverse side of each of the original prints, this time printed on tracing paper. The verso of each print reveals other evidence: glue traces from a photo album, the stamps of the photo paper company, and notes made by Lily’s mother. These traces exist as the kind of optical unconscious that art theorist Rosalind Krauss envisaged.
Whether it is the reverse of the images (adhesive residues, dates, her mother’s inscriptions...), the positive–negative poles of the magnets, or the relationship between the photographer and model, these different pieces reveal the entanglement of time and desire in the photo.
This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria (now Creative Victoria).