Dove Allouche: Images through the Wringer
The graphic arts department at the Pompidou Center hosted a solo show by Dove Allouche last summer. Some of these pieces were on view again this last winter at the Gaudel de Stampa gallery in Paris (January 17–March 15, 2014). At the time of this writing he is preparing a new show at the Peter Freeman gallery in New York (February 27-April 12, 2014). In a recent conversation he discussed some of his latest work, in which drawing, his core practice, is closely connected to early photography techniques. Following is a condensed version of the interview.
Why are you so interested in drawing and the link you make between drawing and photography?
It all goes back to my grandfather, who was blind and smoked a lot. He used scissors to cut stencils out of paper handkerchiefs,
and then drew with cigarette ashes. That was a photographic technique, a way to block parts of the image. There was something totally entropic about it: the smoke he inhaled made it possible for him to make images. As for my own relation to photography; i t’s always deceptive, because the medium hasn’t gone any further, in my opinion— the pioneers like Hippolyte Bayard and William Henry Fox Talbot were infinitely more creative.
SUBJECT AND TECHNIQUE
In speaking about your work you like to refer to a double mise-en-abyme of photography by drawing and of drawing by photography. But often it seems that it is photography that leads you to drawing. Is that always the case? It’s true that many of the drawings I’ve made so far are based on photos. Les Déversoirs d’orage (Storm Spillways, 2009), for example, is based on a series of photos shot blindly in the sewers of Paris that were then transformed into photogravures. Similarly, for the Zéniths series (2011), I took photogravures of rocky peaks made by an alpinist named Pierre Dalloz and turned them into drawings. Then the drawings were x-rayed. So there was a triple transfer, each time blotting the image more, figuratively and literally. In my recent work, however, there is no longer any narrative subject. The subject of the work I’m doing now is the photographic emulsion I make myself, with the same tools used for drawing. I put spores known for their voracity on a photographic plate. They eat away the emulsion and do the drawing for me on the plate itself placed in a Petri dish. Then I fix the plate and draw on it. That’s the opposite of what I was doing before.
So for you photos—found documents, travel photos, etc.—and photographic techniques are both your subject and your tool?
In contrast to my recent work, in which the photographic emulsion itself has become the subject of the artwork, until now photography, often pictures I took myself, was strictly a tool. For example, for the Melanophila (2003-08) series, I followed AFP dispatches and waited for a fire to break out in a eucalyptus forest somewhere or another. Finally, there was one in Portugal. The firemen told me I could stay for less than an hour, so I took pictures very quickly. Using these poor quality photos I made 140 drawings that were supposed to be like negatives of photos that I would take during a later visit. I realized that the subject itself was regenerated in less time than I took to make the drawings because the eucalyptus trees were being reborn from the ashes.
In your show at the Pompidou, you included a suite of drawings based on stereoscopic glass plates dating back to World War I, using various chemical procedures.
I made the first drawings with graphite and ink. Then I started using metal powders dissolved in alcohol. At that time I was working on another series, Les Granulations (2013). That made me want to do drawings that would become lighter or darker over time. I made the last two drawings in the latter series, Les Stéréochimies, using lead oxide (also known as Naples yellow) for one and powdered zinc for the other. In these stereoscopic plates there is a slight discrepancy between the left and the right image. Usually the brain combines the two images into one, but I separated them. On each of these plates you can see airplanes dropping shell bombs, but I didn’t draw them. I wanted to replace this subject with the toxicity of the chemical powers. There is a shift between the subject and the materials that produce it. Furthermore, my drawings copy all the imperfections in the plates— the scratches and funguses. I wanted to retain their state of conservation in the process of drawing itself.
In Les Granulations, once again was it the subject that led you to experiment with the technique, in this case physautotypes?
For Les Granulations, I worked with Jules Janssen’s first Atlas de photographies solaires (1904). First I made two drawings. Janssen understood that it was granulation that produced sunlight, and that’s what he wanted to photograph. The black spots seen in the images indicate an absence of granulation. It was a kind of metaphotography in that he addressed the question of photographic granularity and density. So I decided to work with Jean-Louis Marignier (a scientist at the CNRS) on research i nto the physautotypes invented by Nicéphore Niepce before the daguerreotype. Practically nothing is known about that work except for what we’ve learned from the correspondence between Niepce and Daguerre. Niepce had the crazy intuition that if lavender, a solar plant if ever there was one, was subjected to a series of chemical transformations it could reflect the light it had stored. When mixed with alcohol it produced a photosensitive emulsion that would react on silver plates. Our experiments were based on the conviction that the only way to go beyond Janssen’s atlas was to through the same chemical procedure. There was a double relationship with the subject: the first was the lavender itself; the second resides in the fact that these luminous plates are the opposite of Janssen’s very somber photos, referring in turn to the drawings I was doing then. That brings us back to light, the subject of his atlas.
Why and how does color appear in your work, as it did in the four images in Les Dernières couleurs (2013)?
That was an important step. For that series I worked with a conservator, Bertrand Lavédrine, a specialist in the history of au-
tochromes. There are four images: one per color, Les Dernières couleurs, and one for the addition of three colors, La Dernière couleur. I was loaned one of the last unused autochrome plates made by the Lumière brothers in 1954. I wanted to break down the additive synthesis that allowed them to make color photos by separating out the grains of potato starch by color and then adding them all together again. The non-narrative nature of the images connected them to Les Granulations. Right now I’m working on water-damaged autochromatic surfaces. When you submerge a plate under water, capillary action makes the pigments migrate verticality. That’s the principle of chromatography. In short, I do nothing to determine the color; it’s a product of a chemical reaction.
Your images always seem to make visible different moments that are mixed together, from the immediacy of photography to the slowness of drawing.
Yes, of course. For example, for the three drawings in Au soleil de la Mer Noire (2010), I wanted to go around the Black Sea and every evening photograph the last rays of sunlight on the water. Finally I chose three places, Sulina in Romania, Odessa in Ukraine and Yalta in the Crimea. These drawings transcribe both the fugacity of the photos and the long time needed for travel. To give another example, I made the series IR (2011) based on Isaac Roberts’s photo collection now held by the library of the Observatoire de Paris. This amateur astro-photographer took pictures of the night sky on glass plates for more than a decade to make a star chart that he never completed. Still he catalogued everything he saw, engraving on each plate the inventory number, date, etc. Each detail becomes a subject in itself; each speck of dust a star. Here, too, there are all sorts of moments: the moment of the photo, that of my dealings with the library and the moment of drawing.
You transfer drawing onto photos and vice versa. Are you interested in psychological transference?
I’ll give you a roundabout answer. My series Retours (2003–5), made at the Sarcelles municipal library, was based on an archive of slips indicating the return dates of the approximately 500 titles in the psychoanalysis section. Since such notes are often made on scraps of administrative papers, through them you can follow the course of municipal activities over the years—aikido courses, the use of the reception hall and electoral campaign literature. These books were taken out fairly often, as indicated by the many successive dates stamped on each slip. Facing the library’s psychoanalysis shelves was the poetry section, and there the slips were almost blank. Of course I chose the Sarcelles library because I was born there. But there was another, more important reason: while I was doing this research, which took three years, I learned that Tarkovsky had come to Sarcelles for cancer treatment and died there. I started to make the series Le Temps scellé (2006), photos of the zone in Stalker, an irrational and immaculate mental space, as a direct response to the book return slips from the poetry section. I started out with psychoanalysis, went through poetry and ended up in Estonia.
Can a parallel be made between your drawing technique—you rub out all your pencil marks by drawing over them again and again— and the way that the image appears when a photo is developed?
Of course. My drawings are like a mode of apparition—the photographic equivalent would be a double exposure. Unlike photographic paper, drawing paper can incorporate images into its fibers by absorbing the materials used. The image appears as a result of this embedding.
In Chausse-trappe droite et Chausse-trappe gauche (Trapdoor left and right, 2012), drawing takes on the function of reframing the image. Isn’t reframing a term more associated with photography than photography?
These two drawings are also based on stereoscopic glass plates. I wanted to frame the image of the earth, and I cut off the upper part showing the sky. That was a way to make them less narrative and eliminate the idea of scale. It’s true that I use photography tools in my drawing. L’Origine de la source (2012), also a double drawing based on stereoscopic plates, uses the concept of negative. The image on the left shows the entrance to the cave known as the Grotte de la Source, and the right hand image has been flipped, like the cave’s exit. The depth has been inversed.
Your drawings are always at the limit of the visible. Are they images of disappearance?
Obviously my work is deeply marked by the fact that it is at the edge of visibility. The series Frayures (2012), named after surface scratches on silver plates, might seem like hand-made drawings but they show military flares used at the beginning of night assaults. The subject is not the luminous drawing but the subsequent attack. There can always be something held back, unseen things. That’s a way of testing sight and meaning. I used the technique of ambrotypes to make another cave series, Les Pétrifiantes (2012). These images remain invisible unless they are given a black background. The glass plate is printed very slowly, just like the process of concretion in the cave. The shutter time is the same as the time of the formation of the subject itself, which is also invisible. But my images are not erased; they don’t disappear. They undergo transformations corresponding to new modes of the emergence of images and always become something else. When we try to restore artworks, the result is a catastrophe. It’s better to grant them the right to age and deteriorate.
Translation, L-S Torgoff
Né en 1972 à Sarcelles. Vit et travaille à Paris Expositions personnelles récentes 2011 Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Lille ; Frac Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand 2012 Nomas Foundation, Rome; Circuit, Lausanne 2013 Centre Pompidou, Paris 2014 Peter Freeman, INC., New York Expositions de groupe récentes 2012 Les détours de l’imaginaire, Palais de Tokyo, Paris ; Biennale d’art contemporain de Rennes Irmavep club, Livrets IV et V, Musée départemental d’art contemporain, Rochechouart Coup double, Frac Aquitaine, Bordeaux ; Le Silence, une fiction, Nouveau Musée national de Monaco, Monaco 2013 Ressources poétiques, Les Abattoirs, Toulouse ; Une brève histoire des lignes, Centre Pompidou-Metz L’Objet du silence, Graineterie, Houilles 2014 Pièces Montrées: Formes et forces, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg ; l’Image papillon, Mudam, Luxembourg
« Sublimation 28 ». 2013. Chromate de plomb, noir de fumée, éthanol, pigment d’encre sur papier. 152 x 103 cm. Lead chromate, lamp black, ethanol and pigment ink on paper
« Les pétrifiantes ». 2012. Ambrotypes. Collodion, éther, éthanol, iodure de potassium, bromure de potassium, nitrate d’argent, acide nitrique, sulfate de fer et hyposulfite de soude sur verre. 20 x 20 cm. (© André Morin) “Petrifying Ones.” Ambrotypes....