Veronica Kavass, September 2012
Why do a number of Mathilde Roussel’s works exist in mid-air? The suspension of sewn handkerchiefs to represent memory, the wheatgrass sculptures that represent the growth and decay of life. Invisible strings restrict the gravitational pull, but when the materials are heavy such as with Lives of Grass, with bits of the human body falling to the spotless gallery floor, the viewer becomes increasingly aware of gravity. Of gravity, of time, of existence, of limitation, of frailty. In all of her works, the artist depicts the restraints of possibility in the cycle of life: we are bound to this earth, this body, these patterns. Within that haunting reminder, the viewer wants to follow Roussel into the investigation of what makes this existence, for one, beautiful. Her work is not only about what is happening in the very instance that you see it, but about its history, the fading existence of the lives, memories, and energy that preceded the moment you are in. By floating her sculptures in mid-air or far enough away from the wall to cast shadows, Roussel is pausing life in order to observe it more closely. Through meditative stillness, she addresses transition.
By March of 2012, Roussel had developed a steady relationship with her Lives of Grass sculptures that had initially brought her to Nashville (where I was introduced to her work). She knew how the gardeners would need to take care of them, what the potential dangers were in their constant state of suspension, the structural integrity of the armatures that were designed to decompose and, of course, when they would die. She had studied her “grass people” (as Americans like to call them) in various locations and had found a certain comfortability in distancing herself from them in that way creators do from their creations. In her investigation of the cyclical, Roussel constantly moves forward, but not without taking the time to focus on the details that propel her subject matter. By the time she had arrived in Nashville for her residency, she had just completed her first Carbon series which consisted of paper covered in graphite, intricately cut to resemble the anatomical and botanical drawings she has been poring over for years in researching the basis of her work. Hanging against a white wall, appearing as though they’d fall into piles of soot, they represented the steady variable that unites all of her work.
Recognizing the overarching principles and the scientific lexicon leads the viewer into another investigation: why does this artist strive to create a universal understanding of life and death in her work? Roussel certainly addresses fragility (of material, of life) in a manner that tugs at the curtain veiling “the invisible archive of our emotions”. In reviewing earlier works such as Floating Memory and Empreinte, when the artist used personal materials containing the tangible fabric of her own history, we find the root of her investigation. Throughout its evolution from this point, Roussel’s work gracefully steps away from the reconstruction of personal memory to observe the patterns that govern all of life. The starting point belongs to her, while the end belongs to everyone, insofar as we know that neither the beginning nor the end will ever be fixed.