Agathe May — Outrages


Lithography / engraving

Agathe May

Past: January 14 → March 11, 2017

As man accumulates more and more objects the ‘desert’ spreads and becomes stifling. Waste, the toxic remains of this great contemporary feast, is the tool for this process of sterilisation. Jerry cans, empty boxes, worn shoes, discarded dishes, and flexed springs all feature in the world represented in Agathe May’s latest works; these are akin to a vast still life, or rather, a life that is ebbing away as nature is invaded by these discarded objects which man, in his race to infinity, is constantly generating. ‘Enlightenment in all classes of society,’ wrote Georg Christoph Lichtenberg in one of his aphorisms, ‘consists in correctly grasping the nature of our essential needs’. Agathe May is an artist of the Enlightenment in an era of obscurity: this is a perilous position, which requires a process of constant re-equilibration. Deploying this lucidity requires something more than simply withdrawing from a world one rejects—as the proverbial ivory tower is yet another form of sterility. Hence, one must find a way to position oneself on the ‘edge’ of the world: expelled from it, fascinated by it, or entirely within it, and not really outside it, but truly on the edge.

This notion of staying on the edge, oscillating between being present in the world and a feeling of not belonging to it, haunts most of her recent works. In Nous chantions, dansons maintenant (‘We sang, now let’s dance’), two nude figures, which could represent the viewers, are carrying a bin from which waste is falling out, immediately turning into sharp projectiles or stars that form a constellation. Le nid (‘The nest’) is a paradoxical shelter containing a young woman and birds on a bed of dead wood. The forest, or the intricate piles of countless dead branches, provides a decor and an armature for a series of objects that no longer have any purpose.

There is no naivety in Agathe May’s work, and no quest for a lost Garden of Eden that can be regained via some miracle of art. Man has reshaped everything: birds are caged, trees are planted so close together that they become tangled and kill each other, and human beings create stone statues—only the garbage flies about and has some form of absurd life. A white, cold, and lunar light creates an aura over this indeterminate world, and it is hard to know if it is appearing or disappearing. There is however, no sense of resignation, because in this indeterminate place something is still possible—as attested by the allegorical power of these works—, bringing sense where previously only quantity reigned.

Agathe May engraves everyday themes in a manner that is evocative of great painting, and the tension between the two, which is deliberately anachronistic, gives her works their narrative, fable-like power. A bin bag becomes a Pandora’s box from which spill the vices of our time, and the two people carrying it, in their nudity, are reminiscent of Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise. As for the young woman who is bending over a hole full of objects—it is difficult to tell whether they are spilling out of it falling into it—, her meditative posture reminds us that death also reigns in Arcadia.

How does one live in such a world? How does one live in a world in which the only possible nests are makeshift shelters made of dead branches, in which the apartments are fragmented memories, saturated with a sense of absence, and in which collage is the only way that figures can intrude upon flower-covered meadows? What can be done in a world in which man cages freedom in aviaries, swims in oceans whose beauty he does not see, and stands upright in the lost innocence of his youth, while behind him, others, who cannot find anywhere to live, spit on the inhospitable ground? Agathe May’s images provide no answers to these issues, precisely because they are questions—a clear mirror has replaced the wonderful smokescreen that we constantly create as a major tool of contemporary illusion.

Her ability to break the illusion of reflections is closely linked to the way she has transformed a conscious difference into a form of resistance.

‘It is on this foundation and in my own time, using a marginalised technique whose rules I break, that I succeed, it would appear—in a large absurd gap—in not being absorbed by a world that I cannot relate to. Also, the idea is not to produce works that please the viewer. But because of my hypersensitivity my works convey as much unease and anger as they do wonder about the world.’

Agathe May continues on her path—the path along which her work progresses, on the edge of the world, on the edge of an abyss, in a process of equilibrium in which it is still possible, at least for the moment, for her to avoid falling in, as she looks at the bottomless pit that our vain wealth will never fill. He ability to resist the attraction of the abyss is no doubt driven by another of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms, in the form of advice: ‘Strive to transcend time.’

"Au bord du monde" Pierre Wat, 2016
  • Opening Saturday, January 14, 2017 4 PM → 8 PM
04 Beaubourg Zoom in 04 Beaubourg Zoom out

40, rue Quincampoix

75004 Paris

T. 01 45 55 23 06 — F. 01 47 05 61 43


Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 2 PM – 7 PM
Other times by appointment

Venue schedule

The artist

  • Agathe May