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.


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

Dove Al­louche

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....

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