top of page

THE SKIN OF TIME

Claire Artemyz is a photographer who explores both what could relate to “Nature”, in the sense of “natural sciences” and to “Culture”, in the sense of the modifications made by the hand of Man and the questionings underlyings. Beauty, here, is sought in its most subversive aspect, voluntarily erasing any defect, roughness, disorder, to achieve an intriguing appeasement in its strangeness, in response to the frantic evolution of the world.

As under a giant microscope, the subject is isolated from its context, most often on a black background, with no other external element than the light which makes possible the photo immortalizing in a frame the trace of reality.

WHAT THEY SAY

Aurrélien Simonet - prehistorian and archaeologist at the Landes Departmental Council. The author particularly thanks Delphine Haro-Gabay, Claire Artemyz and Jean-Claude Merlet, thanks to whom this project was made possible.

For more than 10 years, Claire Artemyz has been imaging prehistoric pieces from museum collections of the Musée de l'Homme (Paris), the Institute of Human Paleontology (Paris), the National Archeology Museum  (Saint-Germain-en-Laye), the Musée des Confluences (Lyon), the Musée d'Aquitaine (Bordeaux) and the European Center for Prehistoric Research (Tautavel).

 

By exploring the universe of prehistory, his artistic research questions us about the origin and identity of the human species.

In 2019, as part of the creation of a new permanent exhibition space, Claire Artemyz was invited by the Landes Department to discover and photograph the prehistoric collection of the departmental site of Arthous Abbey. An invitation that gives rise to the exhibition “Au grand Galop, Duruthy and the art of origins”, open to visitors in June 2020.

 

The collection includes 20,508 archaeological pieces from the shelters of Sorde. 26 pieces were selected as part of this project: ornaments, animal representations, fish vertebrae, human skull, etc. The jewels of this collection consist of three horse sculptures in stone and mammoth ivory dated to around 17,000 years ago.

The photographs express their full evocative potential thanks to the assemblage imagined by the artist (for example the large friezes presented in this exhibition) or else suggested by the bringing together of the images. Claire Artemyz takes a singular look at objects from Prehistory, and her technique, based on tight planes, a meticulous use of light and chiaroscuro, sublimates the choice of materials made by Paleolithic artists and reveals the vitality of their works of art.

Photographs of emblematic Magdalenian works (Isturitz, Lourdes, Mas-d'Azil, Bruniquel) kept at the National Archeology Museum, in the Paris region, are also presented in the exhibition.  

This dual approach - artistic and scientific - highlights the reciprocity of their influence. The gray areas of scientific discourse can leave the field open to creation. In return, scientific thinking relies on the imagination to come up with new hypotheses.

The two approaches enrich each other and remind us that, since its birth in the 19th century, prehistory has been at the crossroads of art and science.  

Etienne Dumont, art critic

"At a time when photography wants to be infinitely large, both in the objects represented and in its prints, Claire Artemyz is not afraid of the very small. Her methodical gaze scrutinizes things like a microscope. Everything resides for her in detail. Suddenly becoming almost abstract, her colorful images invite us to discover living things up close, or what was. There are in her work, with distinctly archaeological tones, a lot of dead skin and bones Fossils Earth existence sometimes, but sometimes only, leaves traces in the ground...

 

Over the years, Claire Artemyz has thus archived a memory of the world, from saurians to man via ammonites. All branching, as a scientific tree can be in a book, his computer is full of body fragments. Grouped together, they would not give birth to a new animal, or to a human from prehistoric times. This set of photographs would show, by simple observation, what has disappeared from the origins of life and what remains among us. Aren't the birds the survivors of the dinosaurs?

 

These highly composed shots therefore constitute the pieces of a gigantic puzzle. The observer feels invited to assemble these elements, some of which will inevitably remain missing. What would their meeting look like? Hard to say. The overall image produced by these accumulated shots would appear in certain precise places. Has others blurred. The so-called natural history is not as easy to tell as we would like to admit. Even dead, the living slip away. He eludes those who want to pin him like a butterfly to a cork.

 

Developed in what could only constitute series slowly built, the adventure turns out in fact to be twofold. There is intellectual research, of course. There are also aesthetic choices. Each framing, each lighting, each sequence of images in an album constitutes a bias. This is an articulated language, with what it presupposes of choice in sounds and words. Others than her would no doubt have photographed each object in its entirety, placed under a neutral light. These scientists would have refused any involvement. They would have stayed out of things. Claire Artemyz does include herself in her work.

She is there, and the viewer feels her presence.

 

Therefore, whether it is a matter of reflecting a modern body modification, also stemming from a desire to change the species, or whether it is a matter of showing the steps of a dinosaur who ran ages ago millions of years, Claire asks the public to collaborate in her work. He must embrace the whole image, then slowly decipher it. Sometimes offering some resistance, his photography must be discovered. Reveal yourself. Normal after all for an art, the eighth I believe, which has long offered itself to the gaze after having undergone a revealing bath.

 

Nothing is therefore simple, nothing is therefore certain, with these "Flush of skin", this "Eclipse", these "Memories" or this "Feather", where the feather evokes by heritage the bodies of the sometimes colossal dinosaurs of the Secondary. But the word "science" no longer necessarily goes hand in hand with that of "certainty" for a long time. What does it really matter? For the fascinated observer, seeing does not imply knowing. After a century of abstract art, the subject has in any case almost disappeared from consciousness.

 

Thus located at the limit of comprehensibility, a photo can therefore speak as much as another. Better than another, no doubt. Because to interpret, as the artist imposes on us, is also to appropriate oneself. We must make our own the trepanned skulls and the shattered basins. The drop of blood gushing from an incised skin. The abyssal bottom of an unknown eye. The light feather, which has nevertheless finished flying. Claire Artemyz's world is made to be shared. Offered to the gaze, it suddenly gives itself as a gift. You just have to take the trouble to receive it."

 

Dr Alain Froment, Anthropology Collections, Museum of Man

"When Lucy's skeleton was discovered in Ethiopia in  1974, we realized by studying her pelvis and her leg, that she was bipedal, and Yves Coppens drew a book from it, Legenu de Lucy, inspired by the title of the famous film by Eric Rohmer released in 1970, Le Genou de Claire. Contrary to what many people think, Lucy's remains do not rest in the Museum of Man, but in the National Museum of Ethiopia. However, our Museum contains the most important collection of fossil men in the world, about sixty, certainly more recent than the Australopithecines, but very emblematic, such as complete skeletons of Neanderthal men, in particular those of La Ferrassie and La Chapelle. -aux-Saints, and that of our venerable ancestor Cro-Magnon Man, as well as his major artistic productions, such as the Venus of Lespugue, so refined and so timeless. Today, to stay in the Rohmerian analogy, it is Claire's gaze that is in question.  

Because when Claire Artemyz, whose approach had particularly interested us, set her lens in our collections, what she captured on her film transfigured the bones and objects that were so familiar to us. The use of macro-photography and ghostly lighting revealed to us a very singular reading of our prehistoric heritage. The smallest cranial suture becomes a crossroad connecting us to an earlier humanity, the smallest anatomical detail, highlighted by the camera, sends us back to our own constitution, and each detail of a tool or a sculpture on bone or on mammoth ivory restores to us the sure gesture, and a scrap of the thought, of its author so long gone. There is a visual incarnation of what one of the greatest anthropologists of the Musée de l'Homme, André Leroi-Gourhan, subtly analyzed in a work that has truly marked anthropological studies, Le geste et la parole.  

 

It is that Dr. Artemyz is not only an artist, she is also a clinician and a researcher who has deeply probed the human mind, and it is this neurobiological experience that gives her photographs this original and original perception. , abstract and somewhat psychoanalytical, anagogic and dreamlike, of the human adventure."

 

Amélie Vialet, paleoanthropologist.

"There is a kind of stubbornness on the part of the researcher to understand, of the scientist to break down the world and of the paleoanthropologist to disarticulate the human being to grasp the essential.  

It is also the work of Claire Artemyz, who in a much more poetic way, by a subtlety of pose and lighting, by a singular look, accounts for this determination to pierce this timeless mystery, that of the meaning of humanity. .  

It is also the “after” time that is frozen by this talented photographer. When life is no more, the object becomes a study support for the researcher, an inanimate dry bone.  

But the artist succeeds in prolonging it, making it dialogue with his fellows, bringing it back to life “in film”.  

And provoke the viewer with real paintings of vanities where the evanescence of butterflies recalls the breath of life that has passed so quickly!"

 

Claudine Cohen, Director of Studies at EHESS, Paris

Anyone who has held the original of a Paleolithic female figurine in their hands knows what emotion can arise from such an encounter. Meeting of the hands with the sculpted material - with the smooth softness of ivory, the polish of steatite, the roughness of limestone. Encounter of the gaze with the curves and angles of these naked bodies - opulent forms, abundant breasts, bulging belly, deeply marked vulva, outline of legs and arms, tiny feet and hands. Often the head is absent or reduced to a smooth ball, without drawn features, or lacerated with a grid pattern. But it also happens that a face looks at us: a slender, graceful oval neck framed by hair tied in pigtails or tightly curled in a net. The traces of pigments, the fractures of the ivory, the intentional breaks or those which resulted from the unfortunate blows of the pickaxes of the excavators, inscribe these figurines, at the same time, in deep time and in history.

What intention presided over the manufacture and use of these objects, between forty and ten thousand years before the present?

What was the condition of women in those times? Women exploited, reduced to slavery, eternally dedicated to reproduction and waiting for the conquering male? Or goddesses, matriarchs, mature women revered for their wisdom?  

Did these statuettes play a role in the religions and rituals of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers? Were they linked to a religion, a fertility cult, a celebration of sex? Were they rather portraits, toys, or amulets intended to protect pregnancy or childbirth?

Rather than declining these hypotheses, Claire Artemyz tells us the story of her own encounter with some of these figurines. She describes the fleeting and moving intimacy she shared with them, during a photography session in a museum. She tells us about the feeling of beauty that escapes from them, the dreams they give birth to.  

In Baudelaire's poem to which the title of this book refers (To a passerby), the forms of the woman are compared to those of a statue - here it is the statuette that embodies all living beauty. As if the stone or the ivory suddenly came to life, as if the static, hieratic figure once again became a woman, and beautiful, under the gaze that contemplates her.

Photography, caressing the forms, indeed gives a strange and enigmatic life to these objects. Four series of figurines are privileged here: the Venus of Lespugue, the lady in the hood of Brassempouy, the statuettes of Grimaldi, and that of Laugerie Basse, the most recent and the first discovery, baptized “Vénus immodique” by its inventors. Claire Artemyz's photographs give us a woman's look at these images of women, the look of today's artist on these works of art from the deep past. They add mystery to mystery, a whole spectrum of shadow and light to these enigmatic figurines. They allow us to discover, beyond the mineral nature of these objects, beyond the abstraction and stylization of their forms, a whole life that springs from the most remote of human prehistory.
 

Catherine Schwab - Chief Heritage Curator Paleolithic and Mesolithic Collections UMR 7041 ArScAn - Prehistoric Ethnology National Archeology Museum and National Estate of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Far behind the abstract motifs – signs – and animal figures, human representations are rare in European Paleolithic art (between – 40,000 and – 10,000 years approximately). In addition to some sixty sexual representations and half a thousand handprints, there are only 1,500 works, including 700 parietals, on the walls of the caves, and eight hundred movables, decorated tools or objects of art. These human representations are most often asexual in Western Europe, female in Central and Eastern Europe, while male figures remain exceptional everywhere.

Unlike animal figures, human representations are neither realistic nor naturalistic. They do not seem to be faithful portraits of human beings, but rather abstract translations of a certain idea of humanity. These evocations can be segmental, such as hands and sexes, or partial, such as bodies and heads; some, on the other hand, are quite complete, whole.

 

It is to this third category that the Gravettian “Venuses” belong. These female figures, discovered throughout Europe, from the Pyrenees to Siberia, are attributed to the Gravettian, a culture that extends from approximately -29,000 to -22,000 years ago. The rare well-dated pieces come from the recent Gravettian (between -25,000 and -20,000 years ago), but the discovery of an Aurignacian "Venus" (-35,000 years ago), in the cave of Hohle Fels, in Germany, sows confusion. doubt… Initially compared to ancient masterpieces with a certain irony, Paleolithic statuettes are no longer derided today, but admired for their technical and aesthetic qualities.

Numerous – about a hundred, the “Venuses” are engraved or sculpted, in relief or in the round, in a wide variety of materials. The stones range from white limestone (Willendorf, Austria) to brown or green soapstone (Grimaldi, Italy), via amber calcite (Sireuil, Dordogne). Hard animal materials are not left out: bones, reindeer antlers, mammoth ivory... If ivory statuettes are common in central or eastern Europe, regions where the mammoth steppe is found, they are much rarer in West. The Pyrenean statuettes from Lespugue (Haute-Garonne) or Brassempouy (Landes) are therefore particularly noteworthy. Finally, in Dolni Vestonice (Czech Republic), we know of a statuette modeled in clay and then baked in a combustion structure: the invention of ceramics… more than 15,000 years before the beginnings of agriculture!

Most female representations are small, especially the statuettes. Some are so small that they look like amulets, which could be worn as a pendant around the neck. But there are parietal “Venuses” which can reach a monumental format, such as the bas-reliefs of the Laussel shelter or the engravings of the Cussac cave, in the Dordogne.

 

The "Venus" testifying to a great formal and stylistic unity. They are generally representations of naked women. Indeed, the clothes are rare: belts, loincloths or suspenders, as well as the elements of adornment: bracelets or necklaces. However, a grid, deeply incised on the head, seems quite often to indicate a cap or a hood, perhaps a mesh of perforated shells – we know of some in certain contemporary burials –, unless it is the hair styled, probably braided. The “Lady in the Hood” or “Lady of Brassempouy” (Landes) is, of course, the most famous example.

Standing, the female figures are designed to be seen from the front or, sometimes, in profile. From the front, very vertical, the silhouettes fit into diamond shapes (Grimaldi, Italy). In profile, leaning forward, sometimes with folded legs, they look like sinuous patterns, almost like signs (Tursac, Dordogne).

The sexual and maternal characteristics, such as the chest, thighs, stomach, buttocks or vulva, are accentuated to the detriment of the arms, legs and head which are atrophied or even absent. Some statuettes seem to represent women with generous forms, others clearly represent pregnant or parturient women, that is to say in the process of giving birth.

The “Venuses” are therefore often considered as representations of femininity and motherhood, of fertility and prosperity. One thinks then of “women-mothers”, which is not without evoking matriarchy, or of “goddesses-mothers”. A cult of procreation, of reproduction is perhaps essential, in the eyes of the Gravettian populations, to the continuity of the group and to the survival of humanity...

But the appearance of the "Venuses", very bulky and very adipose, which we can even qualify as obesity, can also refer to notions of rarity and beauty, among populations of hunter-gatherers for whom food is not not always abundant. The image then becomes seductive, even erotic… Certain painters of the 17th and 18th centuries wouldn't contradict us!

 

In the Magdalenian culture, which covers a large part of Western and Central Europe between approximately -17,000 and -12,000 years ago, there are always certain representations of pregnant women. The monumental bas-relief sculptures, located in one of the shelters of Roc-aux-Sorciers (Vienne), are an example of this for the field of parietal art. While for that of portable art, we can cite the bone engraving from the site of Laugerie-Basse, in the Dordogne, known as the “Woman with a Reindeer”. This association, one of the strangest in Paleolithic art, superimposes a pregnant woman lying on her back on a standing, huge reindeer, of which only the legs and belly are visible...

Magdalenian art also produces very animalized female representations which, without the presence of the chest, would not be considered as such: the "Immodest Venus" also from the site of Laugerie-Basse (Dordogne), the woman sculpted in a horse's tooth, discovered in the cave of Mas d'Azil (Ariège) or the two women engraved on a rib, from the cave of Isturitz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). The latter give the impression of crawling one behind the other, hence the name given to this scene: the “Amorous Pursuit”. In the same way, the very schematic “Immodest Venus” of Laugerie-Basse would not be qualified as feminine, without its deeply incised vulva.

It should be added that at the end of the Magdalenian, around 12,000 years ago, many sites yielded a whole series of female figures, much more slender and stylized, until they became geometric silhouettes. They are known from Périgord (Lalinde site) to the Rhineland (Gönnersdorf cave) and are grouped under the name “Lalinde-Gönnersdorf type”. They are generally depicted in profile, with a slender waist, emphasized by the chest and above all, the pelvis, with generous buttocks and thighs. This variety of Magdalenian female representations bears witness, like the Gravettian “Venus”, to the particular situation and the complex significance of the image of women in Paleolithic art.

Finally, one last question torments us… Who sculpted these women? Did they represent themselves, in a sort of affirmation? Were they depicted by men who feared them, respected them, admired them? Or who loved them? The feeling of a loving gaze comes to us so naturally, so spontaneously, when we look at the Lady of Brassempouy… But we have to accept, cautiously, that these questions remain unanswered.

There remains the emotion, which crosses 15,000 years, 25,000 years and reaches us from the depths of these times. This poetry, so distant and so close, that we find, precisely, in the eyes of Claire Artemyz, and which touches us...

 

PERSONAL EXHIBITIONS

 

2020-2021

"At full gallop, Duruthy and the art of origins", Abbaye d'Arthous, Landes department

2019

"Bestiaire et Cie", Ulis Media Library, Science Festival, Paris-Saclay

"The dance of the caves" House and Archeopark of the Lady, Brassempouy

“The Dance of the Caves”, PhotoChoreographies, Maison de la Dame and ArchéoParc, Brassempouy

 

2018

"150 years of  the discovery of Cro-Magnon » Library of the Museum of Man, Paris

“Lazaret Excavations” Institute of Human Paleontology, Paris

“Les Vénus” CCIC, Cerisy, symposium “Paleolithic art at the risk of meaning” organized by Marc Avelot and Jean-Paul Jouary

“According to your Word” Church of Saint Nicolas des Champs, Paris

2017 

"Objects of study" Avallonais Museum, and University of Nanterre (MAE)

“With all your heart”, Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais Church, Christian Marais, Paris

“According to Your Word” Sanctuary of Ile-Bouchard

2016 

“Au Bonheur des Dames” Town of Montignac and Gallery of Montignac-Lascaux

2015 

"Mother Nature and Mother Culture" Pornic, Society of Friends of the Museum of Man, ocean branch

“A Gift of Love” Saint-Nicolas de Tavant Church

2014 

“Once upon a time…”, House of the Lady, Brassempouy

“Memoirs of Tautavel”, Tautavel, Fiftieth anniversary of the excavations

2013 

“Of bone and stone”, National Archaeological Museum, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

"Peccata Mundi", Church of Saint Polycarp, Lyon

2012 

“Bestiary and Co.”, National Archaeological Museum, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

“Memories of the Oceans” Galerie Le Cerisier, Month of Photo-OFF, Paris

2011 

“THE SILENT WITNESSES”, Saint-Germain des Prés Photo Festival,

Roof of the World Gallery, Paris - France

“MEMORIES II”, National Archaeological Museum, Saint-Germain-en-Laye – France

"MEMORIES", Archeoparc, Val Senales - Italy

"LOOK ON A MASK", Roof of the World Gallery, Paris – France

 

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2019

"Prehistory and Contemporary Art", Atelier du Hézo - contemporary art

"By the light of the fire", Galerie Le Cerisier, Paris

2018

Participation in “Expo Neanderthal” Museum of Man, Paris

"The Warp and the Weft" & "Over the bone" Galerie Le Cerisier, Paris

Magazine Corridor Elephant “Beyond this limit, please be silent. »

2017

“Prehistory and Shamanism”, Galerie Le Cerisier, Paris

2015

“ZAN PAR”, Curator François Pannier, Ici-Magazzino del Caffè, Venice, Italy

2014

"The Echo of the Caverns", Gallery Le Cerisier, Paris

2012

"The smallest of all things", November, MAC PARIS

“Aluminium, intrusion into art”, Curator François Pannier, Fondation de Watteville, Switzerland

2011

“SUPER-NATURAL”, Gallery Le Cerisier, Paris – France

“Memento mori”, Berliner list, Berlin – Germany

2009

“HABEAS CORPUS”, MAPRA, Lyon - France

"I PRESENT MY BODY TO YOU", Festival of Other Images, La Rochelle - France

“XTH NORTHERN INK XPOSURE”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto – Canada

PRESENTATION AT CONFERENCES

2018 

“Paleolithic art at the risk of meaning” CCIC, Cerisy, organized by Marc Avelot & Jean-Paul Jouary

Prehistory and Contemporary Art, an underground passage? Seminar at INHA, Paris, organized by François Jeune.

2016 

Paleolithic and Mesolithic International Conference, British Museum, London

Evolution of the brain and cognitive abilities of fossil hominids, international conference, Tautavel, France.

2013 

“Ice Age Art” Poster presentation at Ice Age Art exhibition and symposium, British Museum, London

 

2010 

“Art in Translation” International Conference on Language and the Arts. “Tattoo as a language” University of Iceland and the Nordic house, Reykjavik

bottom of page