Emanuelle Castellan: Reconstitution | Chez Valentin

Emanuelle Castellan, a French painter who’s based in Berlin, showed a collection of work which has stayed with me since I saw it in Paris a few days ago. If life itself is the source of art, then Castellan paints at several, deliberately imposed, removes from this source. This collection was inspired by a Marguerite Duras film, Nathalie Granger, from 1972.

So, a re-enactment of a re-enactment. Art that is reconstituted, doubly. With all these degrees of separation from life, what was it that grabbed me about Castellan’s paintings with such force? They pulse with watchful female energy: her figures, witch-like, crouch over bonfires, thoughtfully perch on chairs, stare out from the canvas. Dreamy but intense; gorgeously moody; avatars of yonic power.

/castellan-valentin-1.jpeg waiting for the embers (2020)

I have no idea what the plot of the movie (and exhibition?) is. I’m just going on vibes. The “reconstitution” means that it shouldn’t matter, that this way of seeing is appropriate. Even Castellan’s muted colour palette of yellows and greens is an invention: the film’s in black and white, just like Duras’ words on the page.

In an interview accompanying the exhibition, Castellan explained that the film provided a source of inspiration during the pandemic. And that, visitors to the exhibition don’t need to worry if they haven’t seen the movie. She doesn’t remember it perfectly either.

“I wanted to reconstruct the source of this work, even if the scenario escapes me,” she explains. “What I mean by this is that I very intuitively followed these figures, these images from the film, as if they were keys to venturing into other ways of seeing.”

This other way is what reached me, the viewer. And inspired me to write about the show.

Emanuelle Castellan: Reconstitution is at Galerie Chez Valentin (Paris). 09 March - 13 April 2024