Jean-Luc Mylayne. The Autumn of Paradise is the French artists first institutional solo exhibition in Switzerland. For more than forty years now, the work of Jean-Luc Mylayne (b. 1946) focuses on the encounter with birds, their fleeting presence captured by the camera. The bird in its natural habitat is Mylaynes distinctive subject, serving not only as actor but also as conceptual partner on equal terms. The exhibition presents an ensemble of about forty works created between 1979 and 2008.
At first glance, Jean-Luc Mylaynes photographs appear like randomly obtained everyday images situated in the transitional areas between unspoilt and rural landscapes. In addition to dominant nature, one can see traces of human civilisation in the form of houses, streets, fences and walls in the distance or at the edge of the picture. Characteristically, there is a bird in every image. Just as the geographical context of the scenes remains indefinite, the specific features of the birds are at times barely discernible. When the animals are captured in motion, they appear distorted and blurred. Sometimes one detects the winged protagonists only at second glance in the parts of the scenery that are out of focus or at the edge of the picture and partly truncated by it.
This seemingly non-hierarchical image composition does not conform to the perspectives of ornithological studies or classic nature photography which centre on the distinctive features of the birds or the unusual flora. Mylayne focuses on the one particular bird as an individual rather than as a specimen of a particular breed. His pictorial compositions are based on a precise choice and combination of lighting conditions, weather, time of year as well as the selection of the frame and the positioning of the bird. Each tableau is well thought out; nothing, not even the smallest detail, is random. The images are intricately composed and always comply with the artists conceptual approach.
Thus, Mylaynes photographs are a far cry from anecdotal snapshots. They are the result of months, sometimes even years of preparation. In the period of time indicated in a works title, the artist has explored the surrounding area, observed the selected animal and slowly gained its trust without feeding or taming it. This trust is the fundamental prerequisite for a relationship between the photographer and his subject and, by extension, for creating the image. When the moment has come and the scenery meets his expectations, Mylayne takes the photograph. Working with analogue technology, Mylaynes photographs are unique prints (except for some smallformat editions). Equally unique is the moment when the artist presses the shutter release button: a moment that will never return.
Together with Mylène Mylayne, his wife, collaborator and namesake, the photographer travelled through rural France and the American Southwest. In 2003, the American Lannan Foundation first made it possible for the couple to spend the winter New Mexico. Four back-to-back winters in Texas followed. Mylaynes works of this American period are characterised by the resounding blue of the sky contrasting with the golden-yellow landscape. The flying protagonists are usually smaller songbirds. No larger birds of prey are featured in Mylaynes pictures. Here, too, his focus seems to be on the ordinary, with the uniqueness of the bird and the moment revealing themselves only on closer inspection.
With all its premises the use of analogue photography, the making of unique prints, the focus on the same subject over several decades and, above all, the long time needed to produce each individual work Jean-Luc Mylayne has created an artistic oeuvre that is as radical as it is poetic and, to this day, remains unparalleled.
For the exhibition at the Aargauer Kunsthaus
, the artist couple developed a hanging adapted to the bright upper-floor galleries. The arrangement of the works is deliberately not chronological but rather based on associative thematic groups.
A joint project with the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France, the exhibition will travel to the Long Museum in Shanghai, the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover and Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography in Amsterdam following its presentation in Aarau.