The Memory of Pictures

The image of an empty, disused theatre with dated architecture – a cinema, it would seem – showing almost its entire volume in landscape mode: Mathieu Dufois’ work, entitled Intermission, dated 2015, has to be considered as the obvious manifestation of his approach. Although the artist did not design it specifically as such, it is very difficult to imagine it in any other way. Indeed it is emblematic not only of his universe – a world apart, black, mental, loaded with memory – but from the outset it characterizes a style, a vision and a feeling all at once. The term intermission, usually used in medical language to indicate the “break in the effects of an ailment”, indicates here the moment of a never-ending suspension, starting with the persistent strength of memory. The use that Dufois makes of black stone – an intense, deep and mat black substance mainly used during the Renaissance – contributes to enforcing this feeling. With one large format drawing, taking great care with the composition, or even the details, and using this paradoxical manner of inviting us to take a seat within the picture of space deserted of all human presence, he lays out the fundamental terms of his art.


The world is a theatre and Mathieu Dufois has chosen to recount this supported by a whole production of drawings, models and animated videos made from these, by making the dess(e)in or drawing the very basis of his work. By operating on the methods of recovery and recycling of sequences from old archives, films and photographs, he breathes new life into his figures, and turns them into actors of memorable scenes, transforming his workshop into a small film studio. Having become a master of DIY, he is second to none when it comes to reconstituting an entire urban settings as if it has sprung forward from the depths of our memory: here a wall covered with posters, one of which comes from Ziefried Follies, the famous series of very popular theatrical productions from Broadway between 1910 and 1930; there, a wasteland, an exact copy of a situations in Brussels which had attracted his attention; and here again, the ruins of building façades which are reminiscent of so many devastated sites across the world.


All of these are projects, images, models, cut out figures aimed at the production of small film units, like this ensemble of three films which make up La Trilogie des vestiges. A project to be approached “as an independent entity or as three distinct films”, the artist explains, “three films presenting the spread of a town in three stages of temporality: Ruins, Alteration, Prosperity.” In its form as in its content, Mathieu Dufois’ art falls within the scope of experimental practice and research, He does not subscribe to any consensus, or to any conformist design brief. His films do not claim to develop a narrative, much less any kind of demonstration. “They all concentrate on the question of memory”, he points out, so that there is no misunderstanding.


Yet, we know, there is nothing less perfect than memory. It is not always exact and it is made up of holes, of fragments, of breaches. However much we scour it, imagination often comes to the rescue to full in its gaps. This shows how ideal the terrain is for the artist since every work of art is, by nature, nothing but an artifact. What challenges us in Mathieu Dufois’ approach is the way, from these fragments of memory, he succeeds in restoring something of “the memory of a place, of an existence or of past events revealed by the town and its archeology”, he adds. “As if it had a human spirit, it is a town that projects its own memories and used them to fight against the irreversibility of time.”


In this way Dufois’ art offers a double experience: on the one hand, that of discovering behind the scenes, allowing the opportunity to discover the artistic and cinematographic production procedures that the artist puts in place; and on the other hand, that of a mental, sensitive and personal projection, within the very intricacies of his own memory, inventing his own terms for a story that individualizes while also universalizing him. His approach relies on the potentiality that “the memory of images” can find a prospective echo in time and in space.


Large quantities of preparatory drawings acknowledge the artist’s insatiable mind for research. Skits of daily life, sketches of figures drawn on the go, drawings of architectural details, of night views, etc., are all like frozen pictures taken from a common album. A window with its curtains in the wind, a man and a woman inside, a couple kissing in the grass, a woman dancing with the drive-in in the background, a crowd of men wearing hats, seen from behind…: clichés, memories, traces of life that belong to everyone, with no distinction of identity, and in which everyone can imagine themselves. The use of black stone loads Dufois’ pictures with a worrying reality, an almost ghost-like quality, somewhere between an emergence and a disappearance, thus helping to increase their mystery.


Furthermore, this is a recurrent measure in Mathieu Dufois’ work, just as it is, for example, in his work on sound which is a determining part in the perception of his films in the sense that, without being in any way illustrative, the soundtrack increased the memorial weight of the projected images. This brings a depth and intensity which echoes the graphic blackness. Moreover, we can again find this same quality in the series L’Eclipse (2013). Here Dufois paints scenes which are even more troubling in that he is not only playing on unspeakable situations that throw any attempt at rational analysis but also on the contrasted effects of “chiaroscuro” which place his images in an original dramaturgy. What is this man doing then, with his gasping mouth, his head back and shoulders hunched, as if he is lost in the midst of a car fleet? What unites these people on a path in the middle of a forest and why are they looking at us so distrustfully? What is this woman doing, on the point of falling, in the middle of the night, on a road, with a motionless, dazzled child looking on?


By browsing through the diverse works of Mathieu Dufois, the viewer is finally able to take stock of that brings them together: a problem of observation. The care for detail in his drawings, the choice of knowingly elaborate views, the implication of figures that watch, or even observe, and finally, this way of placing ourselves as a voyeur in the darkness: while the memory of images needs Dufois’ art, it is above all their potential to question our outlook that interests him.


This text was published for a solo show of Mathieu Dufois curated by Philippe Piguet,
Galerie de l’Etrave in Thonon-les-Bains in 2015 with Philippe Piguet as a curator.


Mathieu Dufois

Mathieu Dufois


Arts - Libre Belgique