“—Labyrinth. I never succeeded in leaving. / I live forever in a building on the point of collapsing,” writes Baudelaire, less describing the physical maze than its psychological confinement. The poet’s note describes a typical nightmare. Like wandering alone through a city as its crowds inexplicably dissolve. Tossing and turning in sleep at the witching hour. Writing and rewriting over and again or rehashing the same image ad infinitum until something begins to collapse, or emerge. These labyrinths are always exhausted. They point to what never made it out of the mind. Stuff that gets stuck in there, and haunts. One could think to all those labyrinthine films, where scenes sharply cut by a camera create senses of chaos or confusion or entrapment. Films that twist time or logic, setting up elaborate traps for the viewer: no escape. Such films follow the logic of stifling anxiety dreams, in which the special FX of the mind blur into scripted spaces, dead zones or dead ends set inside spooky castles, faraway hotels, and empty apartment blocks. Maze-like hallways infused with psychotic ghosts turn out to be a metaphor for the writer’s mind. That great plotless Fog with its glowing gaze reveals itself as a parable of sensory disintegration. (Or tromp l’œil.) Hell is the cold heart of all labyrinths: it circles blindness, confusion, the devilish unknown. Such shocks are spectacular. From them, allegories emerge.
The works in Charlotte Houette’s current exhibition restage the cinematic labyrinth. Set-like paintings of blank windows culled from the Treignac Projet facade, re-coloured to court the uncanny, coax the viewer into a maze of disembodied effects. “Her labyrinth,” as one anonymous German parable reads, “could be compared to shocks while groping in the dark.” Amongst silkscreens of flowers and drowned faces, coulisse-like casements, and floating window frames, the viewer gropes for meaning within an atmosphere of eerie passivity, crowded alienation, or the strange pleasure of feeling trapped. It isn’t so much about horror, than the illogicality of dreams. The paintings flicker with feelings of foreignness, moments when the mind feels unrecognisable to itself, or when ones home, perhaps in foreign light, feels uninhabitable. The works circle moments, basically, when the maze takes control of the plot: “rather like being caught in a fog, or a cloud-enveloped landscape,” as Arden Reed notes, elsewhere. Houette’s works entrap in the mist of imagination, the mind’s ‘abime.’
All works, Untitled, 2020
With special thanks to Louise Sartor & Matthieu Palud
+ Ateliers Duplan