Valérie Belin: Yohoho / Reviewed by Alexander Montague-Sparey / 17.06.12
In Michael’s Hoppen’s elegant ground floor galleries hangs a tight show of unusual work by French photographer Valérie Belin.
Celebrated for her surreal, otherworldly portraits, Belin takes a big risk with her recent body of work, which at first glance does not comply with what has worked for her so far: people – stylized men and women – unadorned, naked, posing in a Dutch-realist-meets-the-digital-age-fantasy-world of her own making. Instead, in the present exhibition at Michael Hoppen Gallery, we are presented something more complicated. The result: contemporary, cutting edge, clever work which reminds us of Robert Longo landscapes of charcoal in their ability to engage the audience with a fine, painterly quality. Not unlike her portraits, however, the series projects a sense of mystery – a psychological disposition concerned with loss.
Empty stages of the Lido and the Moulin Rouge achieve in the end the same fascinating and compelling atmosphere. Iconic locations which she had shot previously as populated places are now turned into spaces of emptiness that are self-sufficiently beautiful through fantastical choreographed happenings. Her process of layering two negatives together in each image adds a welcome complexity – again lending a signature clean, sharp aesthetic that has her name all over it. Michael Hoppen is very talented at finding powerful female artists who depict powerful women. This trademark has been achieved though the representation of Alex Prager and Desiree Dolron – where piercing eyes and an overwhelmingly haunting presence have become a benchmark aesthetic in the industry today.
The mystery doesn’t stop there. Belin adds another layer of originality by opting for black and white, whilst working digitally. By moving away from a nude palette of intense colour, this body of work appears as pure as Untitled, 2006 (illus. left), but not simply again through its achievement in colour or sharp focus. It is always in the end for Belin about playing with perceptions, simply in different ways: “photography offers me the possibility of probing the evanescent frontiers between reality and illusion, to reveal the profound supernaturalism of my work.” The surreal quality in this body of work is indeed profound: in stunning tonal contrasts where the blacks are deep and inviting, yet dangerous, the whites, glorious and heavenly. The Mirage, 2011 (illus. left) for example, contains all the signature elements. A feminine quality achieved through elegance, a subtlety and grace which makes the work very decorative too. Subtle heart shapes and jewel-like forms wangle their way into the layers of these landscapes, which seem plucked from her inner being, from a dream she might have had last night.
Belin has done it again: A leading lady in a medium full of options and surprises. It isn’t often a photographer manages to do a 180 to then land, firmly on her feet.
Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 3TD
+44 (0)20 7352 3649