The Fragile Beauty of Existence | Mathilde Rosier: Necklace of Fake Teeth | Camden Arts Centre | London

Text by Matt Swain

Camden Arts Centre hosts the first solo exhibition in the UK by French artist Mathilde Rosier (b. 1973). Renowned for creating visual embodiments of dreamlike objects and haunting animal presences, here Rosier creates atmospheric environments drawing on her interest in ancient rites and rituals. The gallery is transformed into a series of rooms, containing paintings, sculptural assemblages and film, representing the journey between conscious and unconscious states.

Rosier’s work addresses the fear of death particularly in western society and it’s rejection of rituals because of their link with religion. She frequently uses archaeological objects as a metaphor for the human mind and there is a clear exploration of the human psyche and a search for material that is repressed. Deeply buried objects or memories are brought back from another time, another world.

It is no surprise then that influences for the work include Sigmund Freud, Howard Carter’s excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb and Jean Rouch’s controversial film Les Maitres Fous (1955). Freud interpreted dreams as unfulfilled wishes or unconscious desires and Rosier recognises the paradox that you cannot dream and fulfil your wish in the same realm of consciousness. If we assume however that we are viewing the unfulfilled wish, then as the viewer we are also the dreamer becoming part of the installations.

The watercolour and photo collage that is animal mask Regard, dont le jaune (2011) possesses an avant garde minimalism that is soft but startling, revealing an uncertainty in the way that it is presented. There is a strong link to nature although it is troubled and destabilised and there is a sense of the unfinished or unresolved.

In Présentation des ronds jaunes (2011), and Plié, dressé(2011), two dancers interact in a dreamlike sequence, attempting to place time in a timeless state where technology does not exist. The muted colours in Figure rond noir 1 (2011) and Figure rond noir 2 (2011) contain elements of desire and intrigue rather than pure, ritualistic beauty but the impact is the same.

Corps vitrés (2011) is the most dramatic visual display of Rosier’s other-worldly consciousness. This mysterious figure dominates the exhibition, cloaked in a dark gown with branches replacing the head and arms which protrude from a glass case as birds rest hidden beneath the branches. A framed but broken photograph of moonlight on trees sits in an armchair close by adding to the mystery and providing a sense of the occult.

The filmed performance Cruising on the Deck (2011) is part of a surreal social experiment. The opening night of the exhibition saw a performance by Rosier in which participants were invited to wear masks, becoming part of a mysterious ritual ceremony. It is these conch-shaped masks that are in the exhibition film as a relic of the performance. The audience chat with each other while wearing the masks, a ritual ceremony resembling, in Rosier’s own words, a “secret society”.

There is no doubting the conviction with which Rosier has absolute belief in her ideas. There is a sense that the darkness could be darker – at times it is almost tainted by the dreamlike beauty – but then not all dreams are nightmares and it does give the feeling of being mid-state between the waking world and whatever lies beyond. Taken as a whole, the exhibition seeks a new visual language for dreaming and the unconscious and succeeds in doing so. Most significantly it gives a new perspective on death and the concept that death is not necessarily about dying. It is about moving through phases and losing a sense of space and time, which is all part of a learning process. In doing so it forms a unique connection with the outside world, highlighting the fragile beauty of existence.

Mathilde Rosier: Necklace of Fake Teeth continues at Camden Arts Centre, London until 25 September.

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Mathilde Rosier Find Circumstances in the Antechamber (2010)
Installation view at Musée Jeu de Paume, Paris
Courtesy Galerie Kadel Willborn and Galleria Raffaella Cortese