The Photographs

Les Photographies de Lydia Flem. The Photographs of Lydia Flem,  avec des textes de : Yves Bonnefoy, Alain Fleischer, Fabrice Gabriel, Hélène Giannecchini, Agnès de Gouvion Saint- Cyr, Donatien Grau, Ivan Jablonka, Jean- Luc Monterosso, Catherine Perret, François Vitrani, édition bilingue français/ anglais, ed. Maison européenne de la photographie, Maison de l’Amérique latine, Institut français de Berlin, 2014.

« It would not be enough to present Lydia Flem’s photographic compositions as a unique bridge between picture and text, photography and literature (passing from the former to the latter). It is true that the relationships between the photographic objects produce a symbolic style, one more narrative than decorative. The text programmed by these images is an auto- biographical novel, La Reine Alice, where the terrible experience of illness is meta- morphosed into a fable. But instead of these images being illustrations of the story, the text becomes their terrible poste- rior caption. It’s important to note that these thoroughly unique photos are the first this well-known writer has ever done. She used an amateur’s camera and knows
little about the work of contemporary art photographers. Her materials were whate- ver was in reach of her sick bed, a few subjects and suitable surfaces to arrange them on. This sudden burst of photographic creativity met a need. She invented her technical skills and aesthetic system simultaneously, just jumping in and doing what full-time art photographers do, with no past, no apprenticeship and no experience in this discipline. There is a hint of a victory in this work, not just that of pictures over words but of the sovereign imagina- tion emancipating itself from an imperiled body. Instead of the usual oppositions between good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, there is a shift, a transversal relationship between the evil and the beautiful, with the aesthetic winning out over the tragic. If Flem’s images seem like rebuses or magic formulas, it is because they were needed as another layer of an organism’s natural defense system, another “prescription” in addition to those of medicine. The photos made by many artists today often show the dark side of being and the world beneath the shiny surface. Flem’s photos, on the other hand, although rooted in despair, give us joyous figures of an irresisti- ble, playful lightness of being. They give off an enigmatic harmony of meaning.

Alain Fleischer

“Find your ground, the ground for the exer- cise of another life, of another life that awaits you, of a new life to be accompli- shed, hic et nunc, a life that was not there before. Once you find the ground, then comes the operation of moving.”
Henri Michaux

I could act as if Lydia Flem were not Lydia Flem, as if her photography had nothing to do with her books. That’s partly true, but only partly. Her photos are like angels: they may have no sex but they exhibit the signs of a transfiguration. They arise in an in-bet- ween place where books, stripped of their customary usage, remember where they came from—the thin layer between the wood and the bark on which words were first written, before strips of papyrus were employed. They are folded and assembled into what becomes a leafed object, a magic charm that Flem’s images stage and deconstruct, scattered pages on which the secret army of sign moves like pawns on a chessboard. These are the figures of a ritual whose capital-letter meaning is spoken in the lower-case language of
childhood: shirts, candy wrappers, post-its, colored pencils, rulers, magnifying glasses and compasses. All these scholastic items become as light as a feather. A little girl tightrope walker hops on the lines of a yel- low and blue ruler, balanced only by the invisible gesture of her wrist. Now we see her standing on the number 13: heaven or hell, who knows? A few objects gathered, kept, moved, animated, a secret collection the artist exposes and exhibits with all the detail of a dream. With her Mac and a digi- tal camera, Flem toys with technology. She defies the codes of artistic quality. She makes do by making something out of nothing. As she tinkers around, she revisits the childhood of her medium and a time when photos were jewels kept in a special case. She pins down images like butter- flies. She strips them of their aura of “the real real” where photography has cease- lessly burned its wings. What remains is the charm and miracle of a disequilibrium in the conventional relationships between text and image. Her photos upend the idea that, to paraphrase the old saying, the image is fleeting while writing remains. Here everything bursts into pieces: the ephemeral installation of objects on their borrowed pedestal, their reproducible image awaiting new media to be printed on, and the rebus that the viewer can construct—or not. The thread of the fiction that weaves these three dimensions exists because the photo is here, but its referent is gone. What we see, the movable pieces of a puzzle started over and over again, are the traces left by a game whose rules we cannot know. Pure images of fiction. Motionless images of a movement as precise as it is unlocatable, they are figures of “the essential move: the only operation necessary.” I

Translation, L-S Torgoff

Ainsi que la couverture du poche de Georges Perec, Penser/Classer. Points.


Institut français Berlin  17.10. – 22.11.2014

Vernissage 17.10.2014 5:30 pm

Institut français Berlin
Kurfürstendamm 211
10719 Berlin

Revue “Par ici la sortie”, numéro 1, Seuil, juin 2020, P.56-57. Deux photographies : “Marcel Proust à l’abri d’un papillon” et “Virginia Woolf confinée dans un carré de menthe”. Courtesy Galerie Françoise Paviot.

Tue+Fri 2–7 pm, Wed+Thu 12–7 pm, Sat 11 am–3 pm


These photos by Lydia Flem were born of the necessity to transform suffering into images, to transform pain into beauty. Games, dreams and stories had to be invented somewhere between humour and accepted powerlessness.
With a sense of malice and seriousness, like a child, the challenge was to restrain the excess of feelings, to give form to the formless, to find a thread of fiction and to gain a foothold back in the real world.
Based on the small things of everyday life, things we throw away in an instant, ephemeral compositions were created with a digital camera.
This photographic diary, kept since the summer of 2008, gave birth to a novel Queen Alice in 2011, of which it was the hidden framework.
Lydia Flem was filmed by Alain Fleischer as she read all of her book out loud on 27, 28 and 29 January 2011, in the Tithe Barn of Ardenne Abbey near Caen, now part of the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC).
The manuscript pages of Queen Alice have been divided between 15 envelopes, each one of which contains surprises, slipped in by a playful hand: a sweet, a sea shell, a feather, a crown, a music box, etc…
Constrained by these 15 objects and the words of the novel, cut up, folded and re-assembled, Queen Alice has come back to its origins in photography.

Alain Fleischer wrote in the December 2011 issue of Art Press : “It would not be enough to present the photographic compositions of Lydia Flem as an unusual transition between images and text, between photography and literature. (….) For very often, photos taken by contemporary artists show the blackness of the individual and the world under their glossy surfaces. Lydia Flem’s images, however, which are rooted in despair, make the figures appear joyful, full of the irresistible, playful, lightness of life, and giving off an enigmatic harmony of sense”

In the same issue of Art Press, Catherine Perret added:
“With her Mac and a very basic digital camera, Lydia Flem scoffs at technology. She defies the codes of artistic quality. She gets by with almost nothing at all. In her pottering about, she rediscovers the early days of her medium, when photos were like jewels stored in boxes. She pins out her images like butterflies. Her photos make us re-asses the old idea that, to paraphrase the saying, images are fleeting but writing remains. Here, everything explodes into pieces (…) What we see are moving pieces from a jigsaw puzzle that is being constantly re-started, we see the traces of a game, of whose rules we are unaware”.

Art Press, décembre 2011, « Introducing, » par Alain Fleischer et Catherine Perret.

Art Press-pour A4-FLEM 44-46_GT

Art Press, 384, december 2011

Lydia Flem is a writer. Her books include L’Homme Freud (1991), Comment j’ai vidé la maison de mes parents (2004), Panique (2005), La Reine Alice (2011) and Casanova, l’homme qui aimait vraiment les femmes (Éditions Seuil). But several recent exhibitions have also featured Flem’s photography—her first photo shows. Somewhere between images and words, they are narratives of “a strange harmony of meaning.”
By Catherine Perret (philosopher) and Alain Fleischer (writer and artist).

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :