TWO HES MAKE A SHE
Gaëlle Hippolyte and Lina Hentgen teamed up to form Hippolyte Hentgen in 2008 based on their common enthusiasm for drawing. Does the four-handed making of artworks mean the death of the author? Here is a practice whose many subterfuges skillfully work around this dilemma. .
The duo formed by Gaëlle Hippolyte and Lina Hentgen has developed an approach that allows them to penetrate and appropriate a variety of complementary fields of creation with a high degree of interdisciplinary porosity: silent performances, sculptures, installations, environments and collaborations with the composer PierreYves Macé. Yet drawing, broadly defined, is at the core of the great majority of these practices and constitutes the aesthetic keystone of this duo’s work. That came about naturally from the start, consolidating the collaborative dynamic that gradually developed. This bonding based on drawing led to many experiments. During their initial period, which retrospectively seems to have been very stimulating, drawing was a flexible way to carry out a dialogue that became more robust as it went along. Through trial and error, dead ends, doubts, sacrifices, exaltations, learning, unlearning, adaptations and (con)fusions, they built the scaffolding for an approach whose aim was to produce a single personality by means of a double depersonalization. Opening up to the other in this kind of contradictory process, of course, implies a loss. What one gains from this exchange is proportional to the loss entailed by the contamination of the other, an alter ego who, in a reciprocal movement, is Page de gauche / page left: « Les Fonds ». 2012 Acrylique et encre sur bois. 220 x 200 cm (Tous les visuels, court. Semiose galerie, Paris Ph. A. Mole). “Backgrounds.” Acyrlic, ink on wood Ci-dessous / below: « Documents 1 ». 2013 Ensemble de 32 collages et dessins sur documents 194 x 183 cm. Collages and drawings on documents
authorized to infringe upon one’s most intimate spaces of inscription. Encroach upon, but also repeat, distort, perfect and alter, with construction inevitably a synonym for destruction.
A DOUBLE FICTION
Hippolyte Hentgen—and here we must note the degree of symbolic transsexualization implied in this (de)construction of identity— is a fiction, and “doubly fictitious” at that. Gaëlle and Lina gradually developed it, building on the basis of a shared culture that to some degree marked each of them before they started working together. “Before we met,” Gaëlle explains, “we had a sort of common repertoire rooted in modernist painting, the poster art of the 1920s and 30s, and fringy music. Another common point in our respective work was that we were both very citational and tended to draw on the same elements in making pieces where the subject seems unimportant, such as anonymous photos, press clippings and amateur handmade items, where the clearly recognizable details were treated with the same systematic neutrality, the same inexpressive indifference. We were both dubious about the role of the author in the creative process and the possibility of being able to say something new and important, or being able to convey emotion, after a century of endlessly reproduced images.” Among the artists with whom they feel some affinity are, in no particular order, Philip Guston, George Herriman, Richard Artschwager, Giorgio De Chirico, Paul Thek, Jim Shaw, Matt Mullican, Mike Kelley, Öyvind Fahlström and René Daniëls. “We tend to be interested in artists who are good at finding many ways to blur distinctions, artists for whom traces, citations, caricature and pastiche comprise a perimeter of actions to be decoded, thus exciting the intelligence and offering various non-authoritarian degrees of vision and comprehension.”
THE IMAGE AS DOCUMENT
In some cases their drawings are “carefully done” and “elaborate,” in others they are driven by an urgency that demands a few rapidly sketched lines. In conformity with this duo’s hostility to hierarchy, they do not consider the one category superior to the other. Drawings emerge from a state of mind, a mood, the context they are made in and their referential sources. When the format is propitious, Gaëlle and Lina work on the same piece simultaneously. Otherwise they “exchange roles” with the objective of interrogating, if not challenging, the status of the author in the hermetically closed sense of the term. Multiple authorship necessarily means little or nothing in Hippolyte Hentgen’s production, especially since they never reveal who did what and where, deliberately concealing the processes, protocols, stages and timeframes through which their drawings are made. In this their work goes against the insistence on artworks whose uniqueness is immediately apparent that we have inherited from the modernist tradition and its minimalist extension. This status is even further suspended insofar as Gaëlle and Lina regularly adhere to appropriationist strategies through which Hippolyte Hentgen negotiates second-hand sources for their unprecedented aims, along with recurrent references and models. They regularly speak of images as documents, “whether archival material, a fragment or a citation.” Invariably these images are translations of an external reality, contrary to the conception of an “original” drawing supposedly conceived ex ni
hilo. Consequently, the exchanges, rites and games the two perform are juxtaposed to another field of tensions, between an “original” drawing and the image as document. With its reminiscences of the industrial past, familiar motifs, iconographic constants and tips of the hat to influential figures, Hippolyte Hentgen’s world reflects an impressive heterogeneity and openness on both the iconographic and stylistic levels. Yet their work is marked by a certain authorship, no matter how fictional it may be. Paradoxically, we can see it in the recurrence and incorporation of exogenous effects and leitmotifs. That is precisely what makes their work so interesting. In seeking, through depersonalization, to bury the practice of making original drawings in a no-man’s land whose borders cannot be defined, Hippolyte Hentgen nevertheless succeed in investing their work with an authorship that affirms its identity by means of its contact with other reappropriated and revitalized territories. It is as if this affirmation, like the dialogue between two people taken up in order to produce a third, fictional other, could only be come about through the intervention of other realities.
Translation, L-S Torgoff Erik Verhagen teaches contemporary art history at the Université de Valenciennes. Hippolyte Hentgen Gaëlle Hippolyte et Lina Hentgen Nées en/ born 1977 et 1980. Vivent à / live in Paris Expositions récentes / Recent shows: 2013 Mamco, Genève; Chapelle du Genêteil 40mcubes, Rennes 2014 et 2015 Galerie Sémiose, Paris
Erik Verhagen enseigne l’histoire de l’art contemporain à l’université de Valenciennes.
« Les Enfants de Septembre (Tribute to Michael Grater) ». 2012. Graphite sur papier. (Coll. privée et MACVAL). Vue de l’exposition « Chambre grise, chambre rose, Semiose galerie ; (Ph. A. Mole). “Children of September.” Graphite/paper