BY Laurie Attias in Reviews | 05 MAY 98
Featured in
Issue 40

Fabrice Langlade

BY Laurie Attias in Reviews | 05 MAY 98

Back in the early 1900s, Freud began his passionate collection of antiquities, which were strewn about his office near his famous couch. These remnants of the past might be seen as metaphors for buried memory and fantasies, with Freud as an archaeologist on an excavation, uncovering the various layers of the psyche.

Fabrice Langlade's recent show similarly explored the realm of memory and desire, of fantasy and sexuality. His sumptuous new works, installed in this newly-inaugurated gallery in Maxé's large, comfortable loft, are luminous, seductive, and highly poetic; sensuous and personal, they bathe the room with pale-pink and creamy hues.

Far more explicit than Freud's statuettes, Kama Sutra (all works 1997) is a concrete representation of passion and seduction. The work, which looks like erotic wallpaper, is in fact a series of thin, delicate objects with a translucent alabaster colour that seem to float in space, although in reality are lightly pinned to the wall. Made from an industrial plastic that recalls milk, crystal or semen, Kama Sutra consists of 69 couples (the number is deliberate), each about the size of your palm, in a variety of acrobatic sexual positions. A similar technique is used in Roses, a wall covered with flat-looking plastic flowers, which also takes an ephemeral symbol of 'love' and renders it permanent.

In both sculptures, the figures are semi-transparent, like fairies, and by carefully orchestrating their cast shadows, Langlade accentuates this fragility. The silhouettes of these couples and blossoms perpetually change in the mutable light, their shadows shifting, shrinking, swelling to mirror the life cycle, the transformation giving the works themselves a sense of life.

A series of rectangular canvases, built up from interpenetrating layers of translucent wax whose beige and ochre colours represent flesh, Langlade's Skins records the gentle traces of a caress. Scattered on this voluptuous surface is a clump of subtly indented marks, the imprint of his fingertips. The fingerprints take on a slightly reddish colour, breaking up an almost monochrome surface that recalls the work of Lucio Fontana. Meticulously fabricated in permanent modern waxes, these works make fleeting gestures and tactile pleasures as eternal as Egyptian Fayyum portraits. Their colour underlines their combination of natural and unnatural materials, resembling both real skin tones and the pretty pastels hues of cosmetics.

Sensual pleasure also comes into play in Ma Cherie in which three white fingertips emerge from a flesh-coloured, wax surface, lightly grasping a small cherry. Underlining Langlade's obsession with lust and appetite, the work resembles a luscious pastry - the white trio of fingers is whipped cream, the apricot-coloured background, crème anglaise. Ma Cherie also recalls the Louvre's well-known Gabrielle d'Estrée and One of her Sisters, in which two sylph-like women gaze serenely at the viewer while one daintily reaches out and pinches the other's nipple.

Humour, pleasure, erotic love and the sublime also come together in Langlade's La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way). The constellation on the wall consists of a group of shiny cone shapes, forms that are actually small, stucco breasts attached, but not quite touching, the wall. Since the backs of these forms are painted with fluorescent red pigments, each is surrounded by a glowing reflection, which creates a luminous rosy halo. This strange, unnatural galaxy, somewhere between a Fellini-esque fantasy and a star-studded sky at daybreak, evokes images of regeneration and reproduction, and the life force, represented by the nipples, and by the colours of blood and milk.

Completing this delightful artistic orgy, Langlade has also created a series of crystal champagne glasses. Made from actual plaster casts of women's breasts, Langlade's glasses are inspired by French legend, which relates that the saucer-shaped champagne glass was originally modelled for the king from the perfectly formed breast of Marie-Antoinette.

In a powerful rejection of the disturbing, disquieting images that reflect death, pain, anxiety, and decay, Langlade teasingly and shamelessly confronts notions of sexuality and openness, and in so doing, brings everything back to sex and gratification. But for all his explicit imagery, his vision is suggestive and ambiguous rather than erotic - less about sex itself than about desire, fantasy, and pure romance, about history, fragility, and tenderness. His elegant champagne glasses do just that, presenting very adult receptacles that also provide a reassuring memory of mother's milk.