The delicacy of disaster
A landscape is essentially a construction, a position with regard to a collection of natural elements, just as a portrait, before being a portrait, is a face. This is the view we should take of Hélène Muheim’s Lignes d’horizon, elegant landscapes in which her use of the page serves to highlight the coexistence of the landscape and its absence: a few ridgelines and snow-capped peaks, traversed by a horizontal line that is both indistinct and deliberate, suggesting other natural beauties on the immaculate surface of the white page. A landscape, therefore, is a construction, but here it is essentially emotion, just as a sea of clouds or a dense forest were emotion for the German Romantics. Le cœur de la montagne s’est arrêté de battre (“The Mountain’s Heart has Ceased to Beat”), proclaims one evocative title, suggesting an obliteration, a disappearance, a universal end.And yet, with gentle resignation, the world keeps turning, albeit at a slower, almost somnolent pace, as if in a coma. Tirelessly, Hélène Muheim depicts “what is no longer there”, patiently preserving what survives beneath the strata of consciousness, in the memory of a rustling in the leaves, in the memory of some distant drama…
Gently, then, the artist “makes up” her landscapes, as if applying makeup to eyelids, delicately smudging and blurring until the pigments become one with the delicacy of the skin or paper: “I make up the remains of the world”, she says, also finding these remains, relics and traces in the history of art, in the sources that inspire her drawings: sombre depictions of the Chamonix Valley by a 19th-century Swiss engraver, paintings by Renaissance artist Joachim Patinir, background landscapes by Leonardo da Vinci…
The blue mountain peaks in Da Vinci’s Saint Anne illustrate the complexity of a landscape that is both jagged and gentle, violent and mysterious, manifest and meandering. Hélène Muheim draws Chimeras too — deforming mirrors of an inner world where mineral, rather than organic forms softly contort, suggesting the tentacular plant-like convolutions of Art Nouveau.
Forms appear in the folds and layers: a woman with donkey’s ears reminds us that there is humour, too, in these works — or at least, a sense of serenity in the face of certain terrors. Does the Chimera entitled One More Breath suggest the final breath of life, or is it the breath of creation, of communication with the cosmic forces of the universe, like Roland Flexner’s Bubbles?
When we met, the artist also told me of her regular trips to India, of her solitary walks, of the death of a brother in an avalanche, a long time ago… There is disaster in the air, but no darkness. And these drawings are of such delicacy that they could only have been done in the light of day.
Léa Bismuth, art critic (member of AICA) and independent exhibition curator.