Silent girl in the window – The work of artist Mélissa Boucher

These days, as you approach the Galerie Florence Leoni in Paris,  you are greated by a young, fragile and almost austere looking woman who stares you down and refuses to let you in on her secrets. She looked at me from the window thursday evening and drew me into the warmth of the gallery, where a vernissage was well on its way, and where I met her maker, the artist Mélissa Boucher.

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Mélissa Boucher, Chloé

From afar Boucher’s piece entitled Chloé looks like a bigger version of a straightforward portrait photo, as you know them from passports, drivers licences etc., but when you really look at it you quickly realize that you are in fact facing a videoinstallation. The  photospell is broken by the girl’s random and natural movements that makes it appear as if she is waiting for something to happen while she stares into what used to be the camera, but is now the audience. You get the impression that she is waiting for her photo to be taken. She seems to pose herself as you would do in a photobooth waiting for the flash to go off, and this is, as I found out by talking to the artist, exactly what she is doing. The work captures the waitingprocess before a supposed photography is taken, and the video thereby seems to project an almost blank and ungarded side of the blueeyed girl. It is an approach that seems to capture a sort of nothingness. A blankness of expectation that occurs the moment before something actually happens. The same blankness that appears on most passportphotos, where you never quite get the timing right and therefore end up looking like an emotionless serialkiller. Not that this girl looks like a serialkiller, but she does look secretive. The artist mentions her looks as a rememberance from the paintings from the past, her outfit and the color of her hair.

The moment of anticipation is captured by Mélissa Boucher in a short video-loop that repeats itself every couple of minutes and which at times slows down to an almost undetectable slowmotion. Two effects, the looping and the slowmotion, that works together to create a moment frozen in time. Standing in front of the film, it does, in fact, feel a lot like standing in front of a photograph. Boucher thereby seems to have transfered the portraitgenre to the medium of the videoinstallation in a way that preserves, what I would call, the inherent quality of a photograph; its silence. She reenacts the way that a photograph captures a moment suspended in time, without a knowable before and after, and thereby taps into the enigmatic quality of a good photograph. In short, she leaves you wanting to know more. Like the physical presence of a photograph, Bouchers piece seems to underline an absence of information and to preserve a stubborn silence in face of the many unanswered questions. Unevitable questions like: Who is this? What is she thinking? What is she doing? What will she do? It seems like Boucher, who has previously worked with photography, is trying to transfer the inherent silence and the intriguing unknowabelness from the still media of the photography to the normaly more informative and noisy media of the video. She extends the momentariness of a photograph to the videoinstallation where the intriguing, but unknowable, subject is stuck in the videoloop. A loop that, along with the choice of an interesting subject, makes you want to know more, as many good photographs often do…

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The smokers view

Another facet to the work is it’s placement in the gallery that seems to dictate the way the audience approaches it. I discovered this when I first stepped up to see the work, which I assumed was a still picture, and ended up obscuring it completely with the outline of my head. I thereby quickly discovered that I was standing in front of a projector and realized that I was in fact facing a projection and not a photograph. The obviousness of the projector might seem a bit obtrusive, especially as it makes one fifth of the gallery off limits if you don’t want to hide the work with your head or other bodyparts, but it is not an accidental placement. The obviousness of the projector is, as Boucher explained, a way to point out the connection between the photographylike video and the projector. That is, to underline the fact that it is a projection and not a photograph, which therby underlines the whole idea of the portrait gone video.
The projectorplacement forces you to see the video from any other angle than the one you would normally use; standing right in front of it. Instead you have to see it either from the sides, from behind the freestanding projector or as a last option; from the outside. The latter being an option as the work is projected on a sort of glassplate, which enables the freezing smokers to see the work as well. Which is also what creates the before mentioned effect of being welcomed to the gallery by the enigmatic girl in the video. An enigmatic quality of the silent projection that Boucher herself describes as « les paradoxes du visible ». A phrasing that I like, as it revokes the general idea I got of the video, where curiosity and the frustation of not knowing something collides with the visual and very direct presentation of the very thing that seems to be hidden and unknowable.

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smokers view

Mélissa Boucher’s play with the visible and the unknowable is also very prominent in another of her intriguing videoinstallations, that will be premiered at the KSAT CAMP # 1 on the 15th of December!