Les peintures d’Annabelle Agbo Godeau donnent à voir à des personnages qui se mettent en scène. Fruits d’un processus de collecte d’images digitales tirées de journaux ainsi que de scènes de clips ou de films ses toiles associent visages d’ami·e·s et figures pop oubliées, de la « femme fakir » à à la chanteuse de disco. Entre fantasme et affirmation de sa propre identité, répétition du même et fluidité du sens de l’image, ces compositions décortiquent l’ambivalence du face à face en tant que représentation de soi.
Scindant ses toiles à la manière de pellicules de cinéma ou de collages, Annabelle Agbo Godeau décortique la mécanique narrative de l’image. Sa peinture rappelle à ce titre celle d’un Jacques Monory avec lequel elle partage le goût du monochrome et de l’esthétique cinématographique. Préférant le temps suspendu de la nuit et du rêve à celui de l’action, elle donne à voir des personnages qui semblent devenus maîtres de leur propre image. À la manière des figures de Talks in a foreign language (2019), les femmes représentées dans ses toiles détournent attitudes, décors et artefacts stéréotypés. Résistant à toute surdétermination, elles jouent de l’ambiguïté des représentations et de la confusion des identités.
Ces personnages se situent parfois à l’intersection de problématiques de genre, raciales et sociales. Exhumant des figures oubliées du flot dense et continu des images, elle s’attache à les inscrire au sein de contre-récits en leur donnant une nouvelle dignité par la peinture. La matérialité presque granuleuse du portrait de la chanteuse de disco Liz Mitchell (Liz, 2020) ou le visage poudreux de la musicienne Miharu Koshi (Miharu, 2020) leur donne ainsi une gravité tragique. Ces représentations participent également à réinscrire ces figures dans l’imaginaire collectif.
À la fois mélancolique et érotique, le bleu qui voile ces peintures est le bleu nocturne où la réalité se dédouble pour revêtir un caractère surnaturel. Il tient en ceci quelque chose de l’amour physique exprimé par Maggie Nelson dans Bleuets1, où la poétesse raconte à la fois le deuil et la reconstruction à travers sa relation à la couleur. Dans les toiles d’Annabelle Agbo-Godeau, les visages maquillés et les corps érotisés participent de cette construction de soi. Plongeant leurs yeux dans les nôtres à la manière du regard caméra de Monika dans le film éponyme d’Ingmar Bergman2, les muses de How to Identify the Stars (2020) et du Chant du cygne (2020) ne sont pas de simples objets de désir abandonnés à la lascivité des poses qu’elles adoptent. Puissantes, elles nous piègent dans des représentations équivoques dont elles semblent les seules à détenir les clefs.
Car c’est bien là tout le mystère de ces compositions. Multipliant les effets de miroir entre ses œuvres, Annabelle Agbo Godeau joue de
la profusion de détails contradictoires qui peuvent donner au·à la spectateur·rice le sentiment de toucher l’intimité de la toile. Ainsi, le face à face ne s’y offre pas comme une simple représentation du même où la signification demeurerait pour chaque regardeur·euse inchangée. Elle varie, se transforme et se complexifie au contact de ceux·celles qui lui font face. Roland Barthes écrivait que l’étonnement face au détail était « le commencement timide de la jouissance »3. C’est probablement de cette délectation du dettaglio rompant avec l’unité du tableau que se joue l’artiste, créant des pistes de significations opposées qui désorientent autant qu’elles révèlent la fluidité constitutive de la peinture.
1 Maggie Nelson, Bleuets, Paris, éditions du sous-sol, 2019
2 Ingmar Bergman, Un été avec Monika, 1953
3 Roland Barthes, Sollers écrivain, Paris, Seuil, 1978, p.70
How to … (not) take a look at Annabelle Agbo Godeaus complex image-text- constellations -
Stop searching (I got everything you need)
After a while, the visual relations between the people in Annabelle Agbo Godeau's image-text constellations engaged me the most.
The intense eye contact of the dancing couple as their bodies move unseen towards and away from each other, performing their choreography of "funky isolations" dance steps. How we have to watch the dancers to be able to learn. The inability to look at each other when one's head is on the other's, as in the image of two men wrestling. The hypnotized, presumably inwardly directed gaze, the medical gaze of the optician, who looks deeply into the eye of his customer, and the empty gaze on her part that goes back to him.
After looking for a while, I was preoccupied by the gazes in the two illustrations of how to hide under a couch. The one who lies on the couch and the one who slips under it seem to relate to each other through both the presence and absence of their visual connection: At the same time the reclining surface of the sofa becomes an axis of symmetry where the posture of both is inversely related, mirrored against each other. Lacan has described the ability to recognize oneself in the mirror as a fundamental human development, in which one becomes aware of oneself but also of the views of others. Does the one woman recognize herself in the other in these pictures or is it really just a matter of deceiving someone else through the game of hide and seek?
For the vitrine of sonneundsolche, Annabelle Agbo Godeau has created a collage of a female figure as well as a compilation of drawings that recreates opened magazine pages.
Agbo Godeau has long been interested in vintage magazines - often erotic publications from the 1940s and 50s. In addition to photographs taken in her circle of friends, she takes a good part of the images and text fragments from them, as well as from movies, and transfers them into her paintings, where they are related to each other.
Mostly she chooses portraits of women, which catch them in 'sensual-glamorous' activities, e.g. in (ice-)dance or aerobics, or the artist uses photographs in which they appear in stereotypical feminine poses. While many paintings of the last few years were permeated by a strong blue color, which through its reference to so-called "blue movies", hence pornographic films, as well as to the pale light of our computer screens, pointed to the link between eroticization and desire, in the exhibition Stop searching (I got everything you need) Agbo Godeau shows for the first time a compilation of charcoal drawings. These are also the consequence of a pandemic-related restriction of her production conditions. Much more, however, these drawings carry the decision not only to think of magazines as image sources, but also to use and exhibit their structural principles and content conventions.
That the artist is interested in the continuities of social expectations and ideas manifested in magazines and in the way they are displayed, is well felt through the tonality in the magazine pages, which the artist adapts joyfully from its templates and with which she re-formulates phrases spiked with contemporary references. In an always cheerful tone, the drawings are accompanied by headlines and captions that behave as absurd how-toinstructions or reveal scandalous news, indeed simply stuff that happened yesterday. One may always suspect a pun behind the easily consumable images and texts. The clues show the artist's sense for the continuities of power relations, conveyed through subtle gestures and gazes. In Agbo Godeau's constellations they particularly concern the notions of „feminine“ and how these are represented with certain cultural codes. Similarly, voyeurism and desire are made present within the span from the illustrated magazines of the 1940s and 50s to the here and now.
Today, we may have the Internet at hand any time, suggesting that with the help of its intelligent search engines we can satisfy all our desires with just a single click. But Stop searching (I got everything you need), the title oft he show, was already a promise in the advertisements of erotic magazines decades ago. Frances Farmer got arrested. It happened in 1943, but you could still check her story - is the caption for the picture of the young Hollywood actress who was declared 'insane' under great media attention and kept in a psychiatric clinic for years. Doesn't this also make us think of the current debate about the paternal conservatorship of Britney Spears and her hysterization in the press for years? In any case, the drawing, if we – if I - look up Frances Farmer's story, opens up to thinking about that particular desire: Wanting to take part in the life of a persona created by the entertainment industry, and the terrible psychological consequences that this appropiation can have for that person.
Likewise, a different noticeable overlapping suggests itself to me in another image-text constellation: Black and White is dead it says - in an announcement for color television. It is framed by the picture of a Black women wearing an eye-catching hat, a portrait of a white middle aged man and an advertisement for a gun. I can't help but read this as a commentary on political "color blindness", in the way that those who refer to not "seeing skin color" dismiss structural racism and don’t acknowledge power relations. It seems that by repeating such phrases imprudently, those also wish they could return to a time when images were exclusively black and white.
A Twisted Kind of Peepshow
A Spectacular Woman
Looking at Annabelle Agbo Godeau’s latest work through the glass front of the BPA space is like watching a twisted kind of peepshow. Two athletic performers in short red dresses descend from the ceiling into what appears to be a mise-en-scène of femininity. Instead of one-way mirrors, behind which usually other anonymous spectators would linger, a triptych establishes the scenography of the show. With a bright smile, beaming at you through heavy makeup, you are invited to stay and watch.
Both performers quickly confirm every suspicion of their fraudulence, as they turn out to be just cut-outs from a painted piece of canvas. Their resemblance is more akin to cinematic and theatrical scenographies or so-called 'paper peepshows' from the 19th century, rather than fleshed-out acrobats. Or maybe they are placeholders, waiting for the actual performers to return and resume the show.
Instead, the spectacle further unfolds within the paintings on the wall. They are compositions of images Agbo Godeau collects from archival material, such as erotic magazines and pornographic films from the 1940s to 90s, and the internet. By extracting them from their original context, they are rendered ambiguous and cross-referential. The trompe-l'œil adhesive strips and pins, which loosely attach the different snippets to the blue wall, suggest the impermanence of their meaning as do the water droplets resting on the surface of the painting.
Judith Butler used Simone de Beauvoir’s famous quote "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" to formulate a theory of performativity according to which gender is not a 'natural' state of being but an identity that is inscribed onto the body through the performance of certain acts which are pre-conditioned by social conventions. The development of a white heteronormative notion of femininity created certain cultural codes that are to this day sensationalised and capitalised upon, proposing a fixed idea of the 'feminine' as most desirable.
A Spectacular Woman is the title of the work, which can also be seen written underneath a still from Lady Snowblood (1973), a Japanese action film recounting the avenger trope of an attractive woman seeking vengeance for the rape of her mother and murder of her father and brother. Interestingly, her face is not visible. What sounds like the slogan of a blockbuster, seems fitting for the glorious promises of skincare commercials and tutorials targeted most commonly at women. It is the close entwinement of notions of femininity and superficial standards of beauty that propagate an unachievable status quo. A pinnacle of the search for beauty no matter the cost could have been the controversial reality television show called The Swan (2004, USA) in which women were given drastic make-overs, including plastic surgery. A still, showing a contestant calling her husband post-surgery, is painted on top of what appears to be a cropped and pixelated image of a person wearing high heels.
Beyond that, Agbo Godeau hints at the eroticisation of femininity and the social obsession with beauty outside of contexts of 'self-improvement'. The depiction of the female passing person and the swan in the centre almost seems like some sort of preceding archetype of heteronormative femininity as it could bring the myth of Leda and the Swan to mind. It is one of many ancient stories of Zeus admiring someone for their beauty and turning himself into an animal in order to seduce or rape.
In the same way that stage lighting is central to symbolically amplifying a scene, Agbo Godeau uses colour to saturate her paintings with significations. A deep blue has been dominant in most of her works from the past few years which could be inspired by the radiance coming from the displays of the electronic devices she uses to search reference images. The colour also hints at pornographic films, so-called 'blue movies', that are an underlying theme of most works. Looking at the trickle of red blood in the still from the Japanese action film and at the laboratorial set-up, which resembles a uterus, makes me also think of something more. I am reminded of how blood is omnipresent in 'high'- and pop-cultural representations of violence and simultaneously kept hidden in commercials for feminine hygiene products. Even though it is experienced by every menstruating person monthly, all liquids within broadcasted commercials are coloured different shades of blue.