Christine Rebet's first monographic museum exhibition on view at macLYON

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Christine Rebet's first monographic museum exhibition on view at macLYON
Christine Rebet, Ultravision, 2020. Otolithe series. Ink on paper, 24 x 32 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

LYON.- The macLYON offers Christine Rebet her first monographic museum exhibition, entitled Escapologie [Escapology], inspired by the art of evasion or escape. Fascinated by the magic and optical illusions that inhabited the landscape of precinematographic entertainment, as well as by late 19th-century spiritualism, Christine Rebet combines history and fiction in fantasized realms, playing with the viewers’ subconscious through deceptive devices still used in contemporary politics and the media.

Whether testifying to early 20th-century dictatorships or current upheavals in the Middle East, the artist creates connections between the mechanisms of entertainment and propaganda, between the powers of the mass media and oppressive regimes, exploring with ambivalent fascination the seductive power of illusory techniques.

Drawing is at the heart of her artistic practice. Inspired by pre-cinema, she chooses animation, a hybrid medium where repeated drawings give the illusion of movement and create what she calls her “paper cinema.”

Animated cinema allows many forms of experimentation, however it comprises a painstaking creative process. Christine Rebet sometimes produces as many as 3,500 hand drawn images with her team to create a five-minute animated film. Unlike a film, which captures a number of continuous images per second, animation produces movement from static images, each of them a fully-fledged drawing, made on top of each other and connected to each other. Drawing, which is her main medium, is intimately linked to language and mime, as well as sound and music.

In her hand-drawn animations filmed in 16 or 35mm, Christine Rebet adopts the stylistic and musical approach of early cartoons, down to their subversive aspect, referring to the beginnings of musical series like Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies (1929-39), which introduced synchronized musical accompaniment to the on-screen action.

As important as the lines of her drawings are the textual elements that punctuate her films. Words are often the echoes of a hidden scene or omens. The artist writes these words in English, thereby distancing herself from French, her mother tongue: “It is as if I become a ventriloquist and an inner voice […] arises. […] For me, creation is like an intuitive appearance where image and language are inseparable.” 1

For the Escapologie exhibition at the macLYON, Christine Rebet presents six animated films, varying in length between three and eight minutes, including the unreleased Otolithe. The scenography has been designed as a succession of immersive spaces, into which the visitor is invited to enter. Her films are accompanied by preparatory drawings made for the synopses, or specifically created for the animations, as well as mural and canvas paintings. The works on display retrace over fifteen years of the artist’s work.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are drawn to the song Bullet Sisters, from the film Brand Band News (2005). The film illustrates how the artist thwarts cinematographic technique through phase-shifting games, producing an ironic crossover of images and sounds. The sounds are recorded directly in the studio during filming (the friction of sheets of paper passing under the lens, the noise of pulleys and cranks, the movements and sounds of the 35-mm camera motor…) and produce a swarm of sound textures, completing the invisible narrative of what the eye cannot see. Viewers hear things without seeing them, just as silent images emerge, telling the characters’ fragmented stories. The soundtrack becomes the veritable narrative of the film.

The satirical film The Black Cabinet (2007) presents a pantomime of late 19th-century aristocratic and idle society. It refers to the advent of sound films, particularly The Great Dictator, where Charlie Chaplin shifted to talking pictures with the introduction of a virulent political propaganda speech. The Black Cabinet anticipates the rise of the Nazi regime in Europe and its indoctrination techniques.

In her more recent films, Christine Rebet celebrates collective memory and resistance to the destruction of the world. In the Soldier’s Head (2015) is a reflection on the wounds and legacy of a colonial past long denied by France.

An ode to history’s first dream and a metaphor for power, Thunderbird (2018) was created following the recent destruction of various archaeological sites in the Middle East and evokes the Mesopotamian rites ensuring protection and posterity for rulers and their people.

Breathe In, Breathe Out (2019) praises change and warns us against the ecological threats to nature. The film follows the path and thoughts of a monk journeying down a mountain. During his journey, all kinds of entities are transformed, gradually evoking a new climate regime carrying wreckage opens and closes with excerpts from Métamorphoses (Rivages, Paris, 2020) by philosopher Emanuele Coccia, with whom the artist has collaborated.

Otolithe (2021), specifically made for the exhibition at the macLYON, is an installation combining an animated film and paintings. It takes its inspiration from fijiri, the traditional songs of pearl divers in the Persian Gulf. These ritual songs accompany them and give them courage during their long voyages at sea; they punctuate the collective work: raising the anchor, hoisting the mainsail or manoeuvring the oars. A soloist, the “nahham”, begins the song to which other voices respond, composing a vocal corpus in a deep register, as if echoing the groans and clamours from the depths of the sea heard during their dives. Otolithe offers a sublimated repertoire of these ancestral practices, like the collective memory of a past world and an ode to the world’s most ancient jewel: the pearl.

Christine Rebet’s animations take us across worlds, at times funny or cruel. Like an escape, the exhibition route at the macLYON suggests an approach to reality punctuated by a sort of incantatory magic, where images transform themselves and change our outlook on the world.

--Marilou Laneuvile, curator

1 Conversation with Béatrice Gross “Métamorphoses de l’animation”, published by The Art Newspaper in March 2020

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