by Marco Meneguzzo
A visit to an artist’s atelier was one of the most potent spiritual, emotional experiences of the bourgeois era. Surrounded by brushes, paints, canvases, objects, the model, one could breathe the “true” air of freedom, of violation of the rules that constituted the solid structural framework of the society beyond the threshold. Only a “free zone” such as an atelier – halfway, in social terms, between a brothel and a smugglers’ tavern – could allow one to momentarily elude the bonds of convention. And the place of creation, the lair of that strange animal that sacrifices social benefit for freedom and the license of beauty, was also its portrait: a certain type of order, a photograph, the books on the shelves, the style – usually untidy and eclectic – of the furnishings, a carpet, a reproduction, an object were all traces of the complex personality of the inhabitant of this place, offering the visitor the sensation of familiarity with or near possession of the secret of that creativity, reconstructed by means of the unconscious clues or habits revealed by the mixture of objects and the atmosphere in the studio.
So why shouldn’t artists show their work by starting precisely there, in the atelier? If there is any truth (and there is!) in the notion that an artwork can be interpreted based on the place in which it took form, and if the 20th century was marked in art by a progressive awareness and subsequent conceptualization of every artistic action, even the most violently instinctive gestures – Pollock’s dripping, Fontana’s incisions, the nude model coated in blue by Klein, the rites of Nitsch – the it is legitimate not only to display one’s physical and spiritual background, but also to construct it for the benefit of the eyes of others, a conscious operation perfectly consistent with the spirit of the times. Nathalie Du Pasquier has done just that, constructing a little studio – but we could also call it a set – that contains all the elements required for comprehension of the expressive code with which she works. It has the aura and dimension of a studio, the carefully selected objects of a set (more like that of a television show than a set for theater or film), found by a prop-person who is also the director and actor. It is like a set created for television because the objects are few, just enough to make the space appear inhabited, but without the clutter of the real world that would overwhelm the pixels of the small screen. Thus the set for “Nathalie’s room” has a limited quantity of things, but each of them is significant, because nothing is left to chance, everything is focused on the conscious reconstruction of her intellectual and emotional environment.
On a shelf that runs along the entire interior of this parallelepiped in unfinished wood (i.e. without feigned realism) a plastic object, next to another, nearly covered in paint, faces a small painting adjacent to a stack of books, while a small carpet simulates, almost ironically, the reality of a “true” room. These objects manage to create web of intersecting relations so forceful that it becomes almost visible, like the web of infrared rays in the vault of some “impossible mission”. Actually, just as happened to Borges with words, the potential of infinity is contained in a finite, relatively small number of signs. It is not the multitude, the measureless hordes of objects in the real world that can narrate the infinite, but the combinatory potential concealed in just a few: from a lottery ticket to the bottles of Morandi – always the same, for forty years – to the selected objects painted by Du Pasquier, objects to which she returns in different cycles, from slightly different angles, in a light somewhat more glacial than that of a few years ago, at times with a human presence (always headless, as in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, where we never see the face of the lady of the house, because the action is limited to another level of perception). All this is potentially the figure of infinity, the result of continuous, repeated ricochets from one image to another, in spite of the small number of the objects depicted.
It’s the domino effect.
The game of dominoes, besides its presence in more than one of Nathalie Du Pasquier’s paintings, is a metaphor for a system of associations that can be created inside a known code. Whether we are using numbers or objects, the many possible combinations can lead to success or to a blind alley: everything depends on how the “game” is played. When applied to a single painting or an entire cycle of works, this is also a metaphor for “knowing how to see”. Thus each “player” chooses his own visual and ideal strategies, attempting to prolong to the fullest that play of relations that intertwine and unfold amongst the objects of Nathalie, laden just sufficiently with that affection everyday habit bestows on humble things. How do you win this special game of dominoes? Perhaps there is no real winner (although a contemplative soul will certainly have a better chance than others), given the fact that just as in the real game of dominoes, the material construction of the game – a black line that stops, starts, lengthens without any rule of form, governed only by numbers – is more attractive than its conclusion. But the transformation of the observer into a player is already a minor triumph.