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Look well

The recent sculptures of Serge ESSAIAN resemble strange houses, sorts of truncated buildings, models of constructions in relief, white walls pierced by empty windows, where a stray silhouette occasionally appears.
These are the same silhouettes, busts, gaunt faces one finds in his paintings, supported by angular bodies cut from living flesh.
But look well at these houses. You cannot say whether they are folded paintings, bas reliefs, or spread-out sculptures. They might resemble the fragments of sculpted towns in the tympana of Gothic churches, often inhabited by out-of-scale personages, like a reduced world in which the human figure overflows the frame.
Certain of these sculptures can be seen as an attempt to get outside the painting and make the shadows more real, the presence more felt.
They seem like expectant little theaters, machines for perfor­ming as yet unwritten plays, walls for concentrating stories. To such an extent that, when you go near them, you think you hear murmurs, whispered words, the sounds of feet on the invisible stairways, a muffled knocking on the walls, inter­spersed with long moments of silence. These sculptures make silence. And that silence should be looked at more closely. Look well at the repetitions of the window apertures, open or shut, which form a seemingly neutral sort of grille for a gigan­tic confessional. They are the evidence of all our cities.
Look well at the make-up of the walls, which indiscriminately form bases, pillars, the slopes of roofs, leaving gaping holes open to every wind, but no door, no way out, no escape. Look well at how, like an elongated body, the structure of these houses stretches out along the two axes of. a cross, face and profile, and hesitates to venture fully into the third dimension, all in geometrical restraint. Look well at the dislocation of lines, the inversion of slopes, the overturning of roofs, the absence of any fixing of form by means of simple geometry. And yet it all seems made up of elementary images.
Our gaze circles about, passes over the white form, seeks the line of construction, encounters a window inhabited by a mask of flesh, and discovers a new landscape consisting of houses, bodies, and silence. That is how two or three houses can make a city.
These sculptures make a landscape of essential cities. One might imagine that these are fragments of streets, of squares, of heaped-up buildings, but reorganised according to a repetitive collage around a frame or an immense win­dow, in which human presence is almost an anomaly and cer­tainly a questioning. Everything seems made so that there can be no encounter. Each one is at his window, each one looks in a different direction, each one speaks separately into the void, everything suggests noncommunication. And yet, if you look closely, if you walk around the sculpture, or pass in front of the paintings, you meet glances, you become conscious of the strange presence of faces and bodies. These silent inhabitants are the incarnation of the walls. It is only then that you perceive, gradually, that it is they who are looking at us, that their stifled and distant voices are calling to us in inaudible murmurs, with imperceptible gestures, and that we are no longer quite those who look, but sooner those who are looked at.
The little theater begins to stir, as if there were noise con­fined in the paint, movement restrained in these landscapes of cities.
But the sculptures and paintings do not come down to the representation of a closed, nearly prison-like world, where the human figure parades its errancy. There is also the upsurge of a hope, of an attempt to survive, of a call, a sign, a glance. The work of Serge ESSAIAN affects us by a double inver­sion: the inversion of looking, which makes us lend to the sculpture or painting a quasi-real human presence; and the inversion of meaning, which reminds us that the subject of the representation always remains the noncommunicability of that presence. This inversion is the sign of art.

Xavier Fabre

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