David Leleu

Amaurosis, noun: partial or complete loss of sight occurring without any external perceptible change in the eye.

Eye trouble: amaurosis can be defined as such and it could also define what David Leleu’s work symbolically or metaphorically causes to viewers. Words such as “blindness” or “dazzle” are often used to refer to his work. Be it installations, photographs or even unclassifiable objects, each production of the artist is built out of preexisting documents that are gathered and extracted from the infinite world of images. From these various iconographical sources, magazines, books, newspapers and even the Internet, he implements various manual, technical or mechanical processes to transform the image, reveal it in a different way, make it disappear, reinvent it, reactivate it. His practice somehow brings the old antagonism between “art” and “craft” back into play. Yet, he does not oppose them but makes them interact in a dialogue. His technical processes and fiddly savoir-faires – transfer, drawing or carbon paper – open up towards an aesthetical questioning on the status and nature of images.

David Leleu is an artist who confuses the issue; he does not wish to fully unveil his techniques, nor his operatory mode, he plays on his own image and identity – and thereby the image of the artist – and, most of the time, he lets doubt hanging over his intentions. However, there is a noticeable proximity between his personal life and the evolution of his work. Everything is connected: his constant back and forth between France and Belgium, hesitations between music and painting, his personal life is often related at least in a timely manner, to the starting date of a series or a project. His first works consisted in putting together drawn auto-fictions or vicarious self-portraits, taking himself as a research topic. Surfing on the question of identity, he realized a series of drawings based on Identikit pictures that his contacts (family, friends, etc) were free to assemble from an online software (Flashface Project). In other series, Google Self-portrait and David & Marie, the artist googled his name and his partner’s to capture the first pictures which appeared. These absurd documents are used to form fictitious and incongruous drawn stories with no connection to the artist’ personal history, reminding us of the true/false questioning as defined by Clément Rosset[1] in his study on identity. The random image selection process, soliciting the Internet as a medium, and his technique based on weft and dots give an overall impression of lightness that reinforce the dreamlike feeling. This work refers to social identity, built up by others from images taken out of the web, not revealing anything about inner self but only possible appearances. This sensitive work has enabled David Leleu to state himself artistically through this fake life story.

In his work, images are most of the time used as sources, not as resources. The artist has a peculiar, almost “boltanskian” relationship with them: to search, glean, collect, show, extract, highlight, etc… In living memory installations are most representative of this work in its form and obvious reference to memory, traces and vanishing. An accumulation of photographs collected in daily national and international newspapers for a year is hung on the wall as a cloudy mass. The ephemeral and delicate aspect of the photographs is counterbalanced by the technique. The backing of images fixes them as icons while ensuring their continued existence as memories. Each image is covered with a massive and impenetrable pastel white stain which unifies them, forming a gigantic mosaic. The missing parts leaves the viewer dazzled in front of these unreadable photographs deprived of any related event, face and purpose. What were these images? What were they illustrating? Facing these stains, the eye seems to degenerate and naturally attempts to automatically rebuild and reconstitute the original image. This technique is subtly reversed in the Blind Spots series in which the blinding stain that prevents from reading is replaced by a bright rubbed out aura. A strange phenomenon, reminding of chemical evaporation – it could even be referred to as evaporated images – is eating the drawing up letting the white paper background appear. Since his Kisses and Scribbles series, the artist is digging more and more, as an archeologist, into the image or drawing to extract the material as much as the purpose, letting the white color of paper come out. In the Scribbles series, the image does not really disappear. On the contrary, it partially appears, revealed by the transfer technique, thereby renewing the question of disappearance. Conversely to the speleologist who gives up on light to rush into darkness, David Leleu brings hidden brightness out from ink and drawing, taking the viewer deep into the paper itself. This erasing work in which disappearance takes a major part relates to the novel by Georges Perec[2], The Void. In this novel, both content and form are based on the notion of vanishing. The notion of constraints as defined by Perec and the Oulipo group is similar to David Leleu’s work. Considered as a powerful stimulus, constraints, be it material or mental, undergone or self-willed, is recurrent in Leleu’s way of working and creative process.

Since a few years, the artist is engaged into a sophisticated working process, including installations, video and drawing. The stratagems of the invisible video installations which could appear as simple and minimalist are actually complex and mysterious: on a pedestal, a small engine is placed above a glass cylinder. The engine enables the movement of an articulated arm that rotates around the cylinder. This arm carries an enlighted bulb, a satellite in orbit. This hollow cylinder is made opaque by a layer of black paper. A hidden image, is placed horizontally on the top of the cylinder and a camera is positioned vertically below. The image which has previously been creased by the artist is shot on a low-angle and transfered to a video projector. These devices operate through a subtle mix of material, light and technology as image generators. These installations have to be seen as programmed matrixes to distort and thus create new images. The result is projected live, showing this transformation. The rotation of light produces a magical effect as the still image placed in the cylinder leaves it to a moving projection. Light reveals as much as it disrupts and spectacularly animates a still image. Each element of the installation participates to the revelation of the metamorphosis of the original unseen document. From a selection of screenshots, he realizes a series of pastel and charcoal drawings. These drawings are displayed in series as movie images. Taking the idea of a reversed story-board, the movie is shown first as the artist extracts screenshots and creates cut outs to put the story back together and rebuild the images memory. Light and shadow co-exist thanks to strong lines deep black and bright white zones. His recent big size photographs go that way too: lunar aspect with fake mountainous landscapes, craters emerge out of the image surface, offering subtle forms and colors variations. In this work, photography which role usually is to immortalize an object, lets it fade away, absorbed by the texture that makes pictures almost abstract. This “forced amaurosis”, so dear to the artist because of its symbolic and the sonority of the word itself, requires the viewer to get into gazing and interpreting games, in which everyone sees what he wants to see: landscapes, abstract, cubist forms, portraits, etc.

We generally tend to set “revelation” against “disappearance” but, in David Leleu’s work, these terms as much as form and content brightly dialogue in photographs and drawings. Pieces of work are linked to each other as they all participate in building an archeological, even topographical research of the image itself and light. All the aesthetics of his work lies into this controlled equilibrium where subject and matter merge. Images and drawings created by the artist move away and distinguish themselves from their primary reality. To confuse and disturb by affecting representation as well as the spectator’s view enables the creation of a whole new world of mysterious images in which we don’t know what we see or what is shown.

Baptiste Fabre

[1] Rosset, Clément, Loin de Moi, étude sur l’identité, Paris, éditions de Minuit, 2001.
[2] Perec, Georges, La Disparition, Paris, Gallimard, 1969 (2e éd. 1989).