ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Nadia Naveau - 2007 - Uit elkaar zwierende paardenmolens [NL, essay],
An exploding merry-go-round
Some words on the series of sculptures ‘Le Salon du Plaisir’ by Nadia Naveau
When in 2006 I somewhat jokingly – yet hopefully – wrote a text that I entitled Towards a new decoration in my book De Schouw van Gaudi (Gaudi’s Chimney), I was happy to include Nadia Naveau’s account of the genesis of her joyful sculpture Shirley’s Temple. The text gave a few examples of the way in which purely visual, formal or tactile strategies can lead to new textures or artistic propositions which move us or get us thinking or affect our ways of looking and of being.
‘I think it’s important that a sculpture evokes bewilderment. I like sculptures which attract me, but which at first I don’t know what to do with, or what they are about. A sculpture should be a bit nutty or weird, a bit wacky’, Nadia Naveau explained. ‘You taste a good sculpture, it has something tasty, I can’t put it into words, it is a mixture that works without you being immediately able to read what it is supposed to be about. What you say about Shirley’s Temple is rather accurate. The logic of the sculpture is purely aesthetic. I felt like making something delectable, baroque, and ugly. I wanted to work from a classical approach, from the idea of exhibiting in a park and I thought of a sort of throne with a monument on top. I was thinking of statues like the Neptune on the Marnix Square in Antwerp, which I think is fantastic. The flames came out of the modelling itself.’
In May of this year Nadia Naveau showed me a sculpture of a belligerent native American, modelled in multicoloured, layered plasticine. It was a lovely little piece, in which the sand rose structure which already appeared in earlier work seemed to have become more organic. This was funny faux-marble and serious sculptural mastery.
Last week I saw for the first time photographs of Le Salon du Plaisir. I was sitting next to the artist. ‘She’s exploded’ I thought. Silently we looked at the images scrolling past on the computer screen. ‘I’ve exploded’, she said. ‘I have discovered a freedom which gives me unfettered possibilities.’
The immediate sources of inspiration for this wonderful collection of sculptures were the countless sculptures and decorative elements that Nadia Naveau saw two years ago in China Town in San Francisco and photographs of the famous 19th century Salons in Paris. In Chinatown she was struck by the whimsical shapes of the works, but also by the white colour; in the salons it was the swarm of white sculptures against a black background that caught her attention. She took both sets of images, merged them with the forms she has in her fingers and pushed them through each other, in much the same way as the architect Luc Deleu designs unpredictable yet invisibly calculated architectural volumes, by taking two different volumes or constructions and pushing them through one another.
The sculptures are 10 to 15 inches high. They remind me of the salt cellars and other small artefacts and models by Benvenuto Cellini, who never was assigned a large block of marble.
The sketchily modelled figures arise out of the equally lyrically finished lump of clay. They are not held captive, like the slaves of Michelangelo; instead they are thrust upwards. They would sooner remind us of the cannibalistic shipwreck victims of the Raft of the Medusa, as depicted by Gericault. The touch is reminiscent of Velasquez, Goya or Delacroix. We are reminded of the ironic “I hate the movement that shifts the outlines” from the poem Beauty by Baudelaire, who resolutely chose the side of Delacroix in the discussion between Ingres and Delacroix (“line or colour?”). Of course this age-old debate loses a lot of its meaning if, instead of speaking of painting, you are looking at sculpture. Still, it is a useful filter through which to view the work of Naveau. In Le salon du plaisir you recognize an enthusiastic drunkenness of form, but also the contours of Ingres and the clear outline of Hergé. The works in plasticine are very colourful, but the colour has no modelling function. Especially in the sculptures that are glazed in white you can see that form predominates. Light and shade provide added depth and movement, and seem to bring the scenes to life. In short you could say that Naveau has transferred the colour use of Delacroix into a manner of sculpting, as Camille Claudel did before her.
Curved corals, cowboys on colliding or dying horses, trappers with rifles, horses that trip over buffaloes, tree trunks and bears, a dream castle, Marge of The Simpsons who arises like a contemporary Nefertiti from a wonderfully draped pleated skirt or a gigantic flower, helmeted soldiers from the First World War: they all meet in sculptures which go in every direction, have offshoots, and change shape.
‘The embracing couple is derived from Bernini,’ Naveau explains. ‘I did give them antlers and thick, bulbous goggles, in order to make them a little bit my own. The symmetrical image is based on a gargoyle on the Notre Dame in Paris. I doubled him out and placed him with his back against himself. The dream castle is based on the drawing I made for the frontispiece of our last book.’
I consider it a great privilege to have witnessed the birth of these free sculptures. ‘Le travail de Nadia Naveau est magnifique! Quel souffle!’ (Nadia Naveau’s work is magnificent! Such a breathing space!) the painter Damien De Lepeleire wrote to me recently. I can only agree. We know that it is Naveau’s dream to one day be able to make a great wedding cake like the piled-up sculpture on the Antwerp Marnix Square. Give that lady a big square and lots of clay and bronze, I’d say. A new Trajanus column, with scenes which protrude on all sides like an exploding merry-go-round! It can never do any harm.
Now that I have written the lines above, I can perhaps for a few minutes have a look at what I actually think and feel when I look at these works. They make me happy, but why? In a previous text about the work of Nadia Naveau I noticed that her sculptures had something short, squat and gnome-like and dark in their form. I suspected that this was due to the fact that they were all modelled, even the big sculptures. It also struck me that the sculptures were often given a porous skin, as if the darkness that spoke from the forms needed to be tempered by a protective, but at the same time fragile skin. All the sculptures of Le salon du plaisir were modelled in one day’s session. Their power springs from the balance between apparently rough touches, an anatomical approach which is true to nature, and the smaller, sharp details. The added layer of glaze, which only takes its ultimate shape in the oven, removes certain details and strengthens other movements. Such sensuous dripping! It reinforces the flowing aspect of the movements. It reinforces the play of light and shade, which enrich and often reinforce the morphology of the sculptures. The art is to not make the glaze too thin, so that the sharp, clay edges don’t protrude, and not too thin, so that not too many details are lost.
Such mastery of form moves me. It is as if deeper worlds in me are being addressed with a wordless song. The physical actions of the artist – the fast gripping, pushing, kneading, pinching, rolling fingers – allow themselves to be read in the movements of the sculpture. That the sculptures look daring from all sides, allows us to surmise the presence of a phenomenal eye. The figures wish to merge into one another. They threaten each other, overlap, jump over one another, stab and embrace each other. They are wild copulations which will last for an eternity; the legs, arms, feet, heads, tails, jaws, rifles, lances and tree trunks grow from the earth and reach out and grab for the sky, but most of all they push themselves into each other, against each other and over each other like a momentarily solidified, but still hot melting pot.
Mhmm. Have I now said something meaningful about this? Why am I moved, I wondered. And how does that work? Methinks, in my head and my body such a successful melting pot evokes the image of the eternal whirling around me, which my brain can only simplify with difficulty into liveable, predictable images. And I feel that in this whirling, with all its ugly and cold matters, it is only forms of impassioned presence and attention that can offer the necessary warmth and solidity capable of filling the void in between all that swirling dust.
Montagne de Miel, 4th of September 2007
Translated by Kate Mayne