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"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Empty and Full. Invisible and Visible. Unfinished and Finished. It is a realm of fluid contrasts that Sandrine Llouquet’s work inhabits, one where the realized space on the page is in constant dialogue with the undrawn space, the emptiness of the exhibition space and the mind of the viewer, on which the piece will ultimately make an impression.
Llouquet is mindful in her choice of material, for this series preferring to produce small-scale works on paper. Paper, in its associations with books, blankness, fragility and lightness goes nicely in tandem with the figures she draws, which bloom and fade on the page. The artist describes her attraction to working in this medium with an anecdote from her early education in art: “I remember clearly the event that caused me to dive seriously into drawing. When I was a child I began to take private drawing lessons with an old sculptor who lived in my city. After a while he told me: ‘Now that you know how to draw, you can start to sculpt.’ I was disappointed by his comment and noticed that he considered drawing just as an under-medium, to be used for sketching, only as a step to create what he considered to be real artwork - a sculpture, the ultimate for him being bronze sculpture. This influenced me to choose drawing and to encourage people to consider it as full-fledged art.” And so it is the unfinished simplicity, the “sketchiness” of drawing that Llouquet finds so relevant to her narrative.
Taking cues from vast, open spheres, like deserts and oceans, Llouquet purposefully leaves much of the page blank when she draws. At the outset, she considers the page as a writer does, and then leaves the emptiness so that it may continue to dialogue with the full. This is the space she leaves for the viewer, to make our own impressions, and to continue the lines and figures that she has left unfinished. The invisible lines carry as much weight for the artist as the drawn ones do, with the artist saying that even the lines that we cannot see must be “fluid, aerial and have perfect curves.” She begins a work, and we may finish it, or not, as we please. Says Llouquet of this phenomenon: “An artwork gets its climax, or reaches its apex, once the viewer makes this operation of capture.” It is for this reason that over the course of the artist’s career, her work has trended toward minimalism. She has reduced much of the content to the particular stimuli that she believes will be most powerful in inciting a reaction in the viewer, and has let much else fall away into the emptiness on the page. She strives to trigger imagination, rather than actively form it. The diminutive scale also makes sense here, because in order for the viewer to see the artwork, we must stand close and establish some intimacy between ourselves and the artwork. It is through this process that each piece, and in fact Llouquet’s entire body of work, continually becomes itself.
Transformation and becoming constitute the conceptual backbone of Llouquet’s work, yet are also present in the drawn forms on the page. None of the figures or scenes in the series is static. Each person that Llouquet depicts is in the midst of an experience and much information is missing about where he or she has been or where he or she is going. One moment in the middle of a change is what we are given, and we can construct the rest on our own. Each work presents a multitude of possibilities because above all, these artworks are prompts.
Yet while the emptiness on the page is where the story may come alive, it is also where it fades away. The imprecise edges of the figures that blur onto the blank page can also be seen as deterritorializing, rather than giving way to something new. And it is this question that Llouquet’s work constantly raises: The work is certainly changing and becoming, but is it forming or falling apart? Llouquet sees her drawings as microcosmic heterotopias, where multiple stories and outcomes can take shape or disappear.
If Llouquet’s drawings are always in a state of becoming, or unraveling, then the action happens at the line of flight, where the empty meets the full and the invisible meets the visible. The line of flight is the transformation point in this series, and it is where the mystery lies and where the questions are raised.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat tells Alice that as long as her destination is unknown, she is sure to find her way there. Llouquet is the Cat. She gives us confidence that we will get somewhere, as long as we look hard enough, and walk long enough.
Gillian Lee Sturtevant
Ho Chi Minh City