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  • Images >> Visual Vertigo:Gaëlle Foray's Homage to the Discarded
  • Amber Bal (bio)

Gaëlle Foray's artistic style invites renewed meditation upon the two human processes that surround the artwork: first, the metamorphosis of raw materials into aesthetic object at the hands of the artist, and second, the phenomenology of perceiving art. On the side of reception (in other words, the viewer's experience of Foray's works), the artworks demand first to be felt. Only following an immediate visceral "strike" of abstract, unfocused perception, does the analytical eye proceed to examine these intricate works up close, parsing their immense and meticulous detail. On the side of artistic creation, Foray's methods elicit questions about the artist's relationship to Earth's finite materials, to the tension between environmental awareness and our own extractive practices. Foray's response to issues of waste and consumption at the heart of artistic endeavors is that she exclusively uses discarded materials; a form of recycling, gleaning, and/or foraging in the lived world. Yet, her approach is distinct from the well-established use of objet trouvés ("found objects") in modern art. Unlike "anti-artworks" such as Marcel Duchamp's 1917 Fontaine (a porcelain urinal signed "R. Mutt") or Piero Manzoni's 1961 Merda d'artista, both of which offer "common objects" in their original state for aesthetic contemplation, Foray's works are not "readymades." As opposed to what Steven Goldsmith describes as Duchamp's "subordinat[ion] of form to concept," Foray manipulates and defamiliarizes her recycled artistic material through processes of collage and bricolage.1 She describes the transformation of collected objects as a means of "paying homage to waste," from natural matter like animal bones, minerals, and fossils to synthetic waste such as long-discarded plastic toys or Tupperware containers, abandoned family photo albums, and démodé dinner party utensils from the eighties.2

What emerges from the selection of Foray's works featured in this issue is a clash between the ephemerality of the human lifespan and planetary spatio-temporal dimensions. Her artistic process forces vertiginous acknowledgement of the fragility of human existence as it presses up against that which the human tries to capture through art: the world. What's more, Earth's monumental landscapes only ever figure as and in fragments. Two specific conflicts return across Foray's works to create this sense of vertigo. First is the contrast between the limited human lifespan and the eternity of the fossil; as the latter is often figured alongside photographs of humans or man-made materials in a manner that draws attention to this unfathomably large geological temporal scale. A secondary contrast arises from Foray's recurrent human-nature juxtaposition as the boundedness of human life continually knocks up against raw and unruly natural matter. Foray's recourse to diverse textures and materials heightens these oppositions—schist lies atop bone, the smooth veneer of a photograph envelops a human form but rests against the jagged edges of a stone. As we shall explore through ruminations on specific pieces, her method prompts inquiry into the relationship between these human [End Page 110] and geological timescales, attesting Foray's remarkable ability to capture brevity and limitlessness in tandem. Of equal note is Foray's repeated, self-reflexive wink to art's mediation of the world through a "framing effect," as she regularly makes the protective screen of a work or staging of an exhibition space integral to the artwork itself. This is her own means of drawing attention to the conditions in which the work of art is encountered, both exaggerating the distantiating function of the frame in classical art which "served to make [artwork] discontinuous with its surroundings" and building upon the "readymade" tradition's abolition of the barrier between viewer and artwork.3

Foray's pieces, composed from an amalgam of natural matter and industrial or household waste, operate as self-contained ecosystems that are akin to stumbling upon a diorama that has escaped from its box, or a snowglobe whose glass sphere has been shattered and from which the liquid has drained away. In La Mer (see pages 34/35), the background's glitter and the iridescent blues...

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