Damien Schoëvaërt-Brossault - Refuge existentiel (installation, Viry-Châtillon, 2011)

Notes by Damien Schoëvaërt-Brossault

Lecturer and hospital practician, Université Paris Sud

Nathalie Junod Ponsard’s light installations invite us to experience effects that are penetrating and long-lasting rather than brief, head-spinning flashes. Light acts upon the body according to two sensorial processes, the first taking variations in light as signs of a “presence before us”, the second involving the permanent background as a “presence-in-itself”. While the former (a phasic process) is a habitual trope for artists, the latter (a tonic process) has rarely been explored. It is true that there are few words to express this state where the luminous background is a presence-in-itself. In the installation entitled Waiting Area, the viewer, immersed in blue light, somewhat unsettlingly feels the effects of a timeless, penetrating background whose outlines cannot be defined. The colour blue enters within us, as if to more effectively receive flashes of singularity that never actually appear. Nathalie Junod Ponsard’s chromatic immersion, by erasing the legible aspects of the visible environment, forms a luminous expectation “in itself” of what can appear “before us”. The receptors involved in this « non-visual» perception were discovered recently. Cryptochromes—pigments under the skin that are photosensitive to the colour blue—and melanopsin present in the ganglion cells of the retina, bear witness to perceptions that might not only act as photic memory but also provide a background against which luminous forms are revealed. When Nathalie Junod Ponsard talks about a “second skin applied to space”, it’s because this extended immersion in light also operates inside the skin. This idea of a “body inhabited by light” takes on a special meaning in the installation entitled Refuge existentiel, where the illuminated interior signals to the darkness outside. This projective reversal of light is at the very centre of the question of perception. After all what is seeing if not projecting coloured ghosts in the place of objects?

“Everything comes from the background and returns there”, notes Joan Miro, and it is true that form only appears at fleeting moments. Neuronal networks, contrary to a widely held notion, do not preserve “mental” images but constantly elaborate forms that they project onto the exterior and interior background. The way the eye and the brain work together is not designed to elaborate representations in our minds; shaped by light, it reveals that which is visible “before us” and “within us”. Each act of perception is an introduction to the world, in other words an invitation to be luminously present with respect to the here-and-now of the world. The revolving projections in Refuge existentiel, from glowing white to dazzling beams, where the visible and the invisible alternate, rhythmically act upon our perception against a background of loss. To be present with respect to what light reveals to us, we need a background of absence that is not complete darkness but a motionless, penetrating background of light. This is precisely what Nathalie Junod Ponsard’s work gives us.