b. 1987

lives & works in Paris





Each society has its way of sculpting its own bodies, once wrote Claude Lévi-Strauss. Brice Chatenoud gives us the feeling ours is faring rather badly. The human bodies he photographs are severed, arms and legs amputated, or simply split up into parts. And yet they are not horrifying pictures; rather, the idealized beauty of his beheaded torsos or isolated limbs calls to mind the ruins of antique figures.

His obsession with annihilating the body or, at least, every distinguishing feature of human identity conveys a serious concern for our society. Confronted with a world that is obsessed with its own image and that is threatening to dissolve the individual by favoring virtual reality and ideal looks, Brice Chatenoud questions the impact of the current social conditions on man's mortal coil, through depictions filled with dark humor.
Themes such as the loss of identity appear especially strong in Pantin aux membres, a picture showing a body broken up into its essential parts, waiting to be reassembled with the help of strings, as if it was a simple kind of puppet. Reduced to no better than a manufactured good, this split up body appears as a doll with standard measurements, deprived of all distinctive features. If Génie coulant literally symbolizes the disintegration of the being, it does so with a touch of wittiness – as the title alludes to an ethereal creature from fairy tales – while the image shows a body made of flesh in the process of being liquefied.

When most of the time Brice Chatenoud's characters are the subjects of dismemberment in the closed and neutral space of a room, two of his photographs toy with the idea of a clash between humans and the forces of nature, in which the former is always defeated. In Extrait de naissance, a hand is swallowed up in quicksand, while in Doggy bag, an oversized flesh-eating plant appears to have just devoured a man, of whom only a leg remains. Both of these images infer that the vegetal and mineral realms would play an active part in the destruction of human race in the event of a cataclysm nurtured by nature’s will to revenge.
The fear of degeneration and disappearance appears as a constant concern in Brice Chatenoud’s work. It was already pervading his previous Monsters series, where the monster figures – depicted in an even more radical way – had lost even their last glimpse of humanity. Their flesh was sagged as though their bone structure had dissolved. They were laid exposed on the floor or, in some pictures, on pedestals, in rooms with bare walls. Body disintegration was there taken to its limits and only pathetic props remained, such as a sock, a blond wig, or male genitals, ridiculously adorning what was left of a crushed being.

The fact that genitals are continuously preserved in Brice Chatenoud's photographs questions the artist's understanding of sexual desire. His characters take part in a dialectical discourse on sensuality. This approach is dual; we witness bodies that are uneroticized – because of their crumbling, the fact that they are smoothed out, the sanitized setting that they are in and the straightforward lighting that exposes them – but yet they are sexed.
At the same time, however, these characters are more probably appearing as consumer goods rather than desiring or desirable bodies. Within the way they are cut up and in their conventional looks lies an attempt to make them more compact, easier to handle or store. And so is the meaning of props such as life-sized cardboard boxes in Emballages, a pedestal on which a torso is exposed in Oeuvre de chair II. Same thing in the scene depicted in Buste en main, that features a hand grabbing a miniature body as if it was a simple toy.
There is another aspect at stake in these pictures. Sometimes submissive and chained, some other times set up as trophies, torsos or feet waver between being possessive and being possessed.
Hence, you find a levitating arm brandishing a whip, threatening to thump at any moment in Le bateleur III. Conversely, wouldn’t the miniature torso firmly grabbed by a hand insinuate a possessive relation?

Though the absence of faces and the general anonymity of the subjects imply the artist's withdrawal, other elements hint at his active involvement. From this perspective, the bodies he submits to destruction may in fact symbolize his own self. In Joli coup de pinceau, the brush stuck in the leg might therefore be interpreted as a sign of self-destruction of the artist through his emblematic tool. In Œil pour œil, two eyes pulled out from their sockets are facing one another in a closed room, recalling the inside of a skull. Only a mutilating act has made such an angle of vision possible. This particular gaze is nothing but introspective, staring deep into the artist's inwardness. Such a set of symbols offers an interpretation grid for the rest of the images, the reversal of the gaze making them appear as a series of mental images haunting the artist's imagination. The link to surrealism is clear enough. Between the wars, Breton had already theorized the preeminence of « the photography of the mind » as an ideal medium to represent, in a concrete way, « images one has in mind ».
Referring himself not only to surrealism, but also to fantasy and science-fiction, Brice Chatenoud makes the real world converge with the imaginary one. Through his radically pessimistic prophesy of what our society is driving at, he pushes us towards realization in an urge to prevent these visions from coming true.


Fédora Parkmann