DEBORAH FARNAULT, BY SAM BASU, 2007
Farnault's large photographs present settings within which people observe that same landscape in various ways. Her works represent a return to romantic subjects, but undermine and challenge those notions that have survived into our era. Romanticism was a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified classicism.
It has been accused of Irrationalism and of being Counter-Enlightenment. But perhaps more importantly, our heightened belief in individuality and our strong sense of an internally verifiable judgement, survive from that period. Farnault's scale and subject often remind one of Casper David Friedrich's Wanderer above the sea of fog, a quintessentially romantic work where a black clad figure stands, facing away from us, looking out over a sublime mountain landscape. There is a dense fog covering the entire terrain below where travellers would be unaware of the breathtaking view just above them. But where as we identify with Friedrich's figure and are granted entry and communion with the landscape via this individual, Farnault's portraits are of people attempting to capture the image they stand before and thereby excluding themselves from experiencing it directly. We are watching the creation of a photo probably not unlike the photo it is represented in, where the process of affirming ones presence in relation to this scene both marks you outside it, and destroys its sublime effect.
The other particularity of the works is that they show people in groups. Whether they have a relation with each other or not, human experience is show in its communal form. Our awareness of ourselves as individuals makes it seem logical to have the individual be the basic building block of all humanity. But, our lives as cultural agents, means that the landscape is far more complex. Languages and customs of presenting oneself, all mean that there is a shared element to the functioning of the human mind.
In Farnault's photographs, people are never presented as recognisable individuals. Their backs are turned to us they are too small, or they are presented in silhouette. All these people with their localised individual experiences become interchangeable, as would their tourist photographs. For that matter, the works that Farnault shows in the gallery might easily have their doppelganger in a family album somewhere else in the world. The relationship that we as art viewers have with our unique encounter, does not escape inclusion in the dilemma.
Published by Treignac Projet, France