Trois jours pour avoir osé voler une rose
Ondine Bréaud-Holland
2016

Three days for daring to steal a rose
Ondine Bréaud-Holland
2016

De la confusion spontanée du savon dans les eaux tranquilles
Catherine Macchi
2016

Nous savons...
Alain Amiel
2015

Etre d’aplomb. devenir intranquille
Ondine Bréaud-Holland
2012

Crânes d’enfants et os iliaques
Ondine Bréaud-Holland
2010

An artist in the garden of
Epicurus

Jacques Leenhardt
2010

Une artiste dans le jardin
d'Epicure

Jacques Leenhardt
2010

Neery Melkonian
2008

L'inventrice
Ondine Bréaud-Holland
2008

Quelque chose de Pompei mine de rien
Sophie Braganti
2006

La disparition du modèle et sa reproduction
Enrico pedrini

2006

Pensées en cours
Frédérique Nalbandian
2006

Current thoughts
Frédérique Nalbandian
2006

Jeune liane en bande velpo
Joseph Mouton
2003

Le corps de sentir sous la coupe de voir
Joseph Mouton
2003

Le baiser, Saint Jean Baptiste et la femme assise
Dominique Angel
1999

Latence
Josph Mouton
1998

 

Frédérique Nalbandian in the "Jardin des Cordeliers".

An artist in the garden of Epicurus

By Jacques Leenhardt

In Paradise too there are four gardens, defined by the rivers that flow across it. In Digne, the "Jardin des Cordeliers" is also divided into four areas, bearing the names of our senses : smell, which operates in the aromatic garden ; taste, which is flattered by vegetables from the market garden once they have passed through the kitchen ; the medicinal garden at the entrance, serving as wisdom for the body ; and the sensorial garden, extending an invitation to touch and hearing.
Many years after the Persian poets who imagined Paradise had disappeared, around the year 306 B.C. in Attic Greece, Epicurus settled in Athens and acquired a garden there. In this place for meditation and sharing, he dispensed his teaching for the rest of his life. Just as there had been Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, there was thus also the Garden of Epicurus. The rest of the tale recalls the great names of Lucretius and Gassendi, who passed on to us this philosophy which starts with things that comprise our world and the sensations they arouse within us. And even a joyous disbelief in anything that does not reach us through the enchanted channels of our senses.

When installing her work in Les Cordeliers, Frédérique Nalbandian inevitably rediscovered this wise philosophy amidst the garden's trees and herbs. And if the teaching of Epicurus is indeed the pursuit of happiness and the ways of securing it, Frédérique Nalbandian is perhaps a happy artist. Not entirely carefree, however, as her work, however beautiful in its form, and however pleasant our tour of her garden, does not fail to sollicit our attention and reflection.
A certain attentiveness, first of all, an open-mindedness towards anything that touches us, for everything begins with our dependency on sensations, as advocated by the great tradition of empiricism. Attentiveness to the materials which comprise these works, to soap, so paradoxical in its infinite variations. Touch and smell are called upon, just as much as seeing and hearing. In Frédérique Nalbandian's work, one rediscovers a focus on matter which was introduced into painting by Dubuffet. A fascination with matter which is constantly evident in this body of work addressing itself, might one dare say, to the eye's sense of touch.
But art would not be what we have wanted it to become in the modern era, a master of joy and thought, if it didn't also accompany us as we meditate on its forms of expression and their uncertainties. Criticism has long been made of errors induced by our senses. Yet, quickly recuperated by contemporary physics, poets have taught us, as Aragon said, that errors of the senses lead to strange flowerings of reason. And it is thus together, in a movement that makes no attempt to distinguish between them, that they constitute what we call our world. Let ourselves be carried away, in sheer enjoyment, on the wings of these fruitful and dreamlike wanderings.
That's how far my meditations had taken me when I entered the garden. What a surprise to meet, perched on an antique column, a brain. Grey matter, oversized, as clear as triumphant reason, carved to show in detail its lobes and convolutions. Homage to Gassendi, one says to oneself, but also, one suspects, a nod-and-a-wink to

the medicinal and psychotropic plants that surround it in this enclosed space. The master of all forms of reasoning and as many vagabond errors, this brain is as ephemeral as the truths it pretends to let us glimpse. The soap of which it is made will suffer the same erosion as the mountains, its decrees will drift like the continents. Frédérique Nalbandian is amused by our misapprehension and we soon realise that the imposing fluted column on which our cerebral organ is enthroned in fact denounces itself for what it is : the trivial moulding of an ordinary trash can.
Art is usually presented in the long-lasting guise of its material. Marble or bronze are its legitimate purveyors. Here, it's quite the contrary : form comes from the kitchen and material from the bathroom. Intrigued, the spectator has lost his bearings. An everyday memory scrambles the noble message handed down from the traditions of sculpture, which this example yet seems to respect to the letter. The whole history of an art-form is overthrown by this object, and the viewer begins to wonder what will become of it when it starts to rain. With the sense of humour that is constant in her character, Frédérique Nalbandian never lets go, playing on shifting meanings and false pretences with a diabolical subtlety that is far from innocent.
On the far side of the medicinal garden with its hallucinatory virtues, you now find yourself in the vegetable garden. Like a delicate piece of ceramic with a glaze one might think had been prepared by Luca Della Robbia, a still-life with fruit stands on a sturdy tripartite base. Probably a tribute to the gardener. Behind the pile of apples and pears, to which three aubergines add their elongated shapes, this carefully arranged accumulation makes you think of a portrait in Arcimboldo style. Maybe that of La Quintinie, designer of the King's Kitchen Garden, in Versailles. But suddenly you think of all this in the great drought of July, followed by the stormy showers of September. These delicate shapes will fade and the imagined portrait of La Quintinie will probably look as if it has passed through the hands of Giacometti. A ruined cheekbone will not, however, suffice to eradicate its meaning. There will be just as much human truth when erosion has disfigured these fragile forms !

Frédérique Nalbandian has been working with this very special material, soap, for several years. In the Galerie des Ponchettes in Nice, she addressed the phenomenon of erosion in reverse : first there was a bath of shapeless soap. But gradually, throughout the exhibition, evaporation left behind a hard and mysterious entity. This obscure, bituminous matter then became a "tableau".
Soap is the form of matter with which we are most intimate. It shares our lives on a daily basis, under the shower. By a kind of mimicry, as it gradually decomposes, soap takes on the form of our bodies, the curve of our hands. It becomes human in the process of disappearing, which explains why, for the spectator, soap can never be cold or anonymous. Whence the symbolic power it conveys in this garden : an industrial product made of a natural product, it is like us, a tightrope-walker balanced between nature and culture.
And precisely on the subject of rope, in the third garden of Les Cordeliers, Frédérique Nalbandian makes a friendly gesture to the monks, to their ample robes wrapped around their bodies and secured by knotted ropes. A powerful column, of a man firmly entrenched in his faith, has been installed at the edge of the garden ; just as in the old days, the voluntary Franciscan beggar remained on the sidelines of secular activities. This piece contrasts with the others, firstly because of its colour. The robes worn by the Cordelier monks were grey : blue dominates here. And blue is always surprising in a garden, as it draws down something from the sky into matters of the earth. Furthermore, these ropes recall the sea-faring world - and azure-blue waves soon set us adrift ! Rather than putting our trust in prayer, we already believe we're out at sea, and this mast wound with slack ropes conjures up some kind of Ulysses yielding to the sweet song of the Sirens, despite Circe's' warnings, shrugging off the bonds that were supposed to hold him back. All of which opens up an ironic and Mediterranean horizon on the hills of Digne.

The column in the aromatic garden is the tallest of all. Or at least, it was, for inclement weather has accomplished its task of sapping its strength more quickly than one would have imagined. So here it is today, lying softly in a bed of flowers. When I saw it, it stood in the midst of white and mauve irises, giving its erection an air of spring. With this column, Frédérique Nalbandian was no longer thinking of either Gassendi or Giacometti. This time, she was conversing with Brancusi. In fact, from the first piece in the medicinal garden - the brain whose whiteness contrasts with its pale ochre base -, we realise that the artist is leading us towards issues which are not solely symbolic. The confrontation of a brain with a trash can is one thing, but that of a sculpture with its base, offered to us in a unique flow of sensation, is quite another. We know that, in his studio, Brancusi liked to move his sculptures from one pedestal to another, just to see how each one of these forms would react to the other. For him, the idea of the relationship between the sculpted form and its base was so fascinating that he even went as far as to place a base on a base. Which produced another sculpture. The relationship between two volumes one to the other is the very essence of sculpture, as Rodin well understood. His improbable assemblages were only discovered very late on : he had kept them secretly hidden away for himself in his studio in Meudon.
Frédérique Nalbandian is so imbued with this truth that, in each of the four Gardens, she presents assemblages composed of fragments, different volumes that she articulates one with the other. The arrangement offered to the viewer makes him think that he is faced by a Greek column bearing a sculpture, though he quickly realises that he is mistaken, and is then confronted by the much more radical issue of the composition, the mounting of the various elements. The column in the romantic garden is no longer a column bearing a sculpture, but a sculpture, from top to bottom, as when Brancusi installed the Endless Column at Tirgu Jiu. Frédérique Nalbandian's column could also rise towards infinity, by means of repeated superimposition of inverted trunks of cones, artfully stacked pieces of soap, whose fragrance would drift in the wind and be ruined by the rain ; and the fact that the catastrophe has already happened changes nothing in the deal. Though the infinite aspect of the column only makes sense in relationship to the vastness of the space in which it stands. However, the spatial layout of the aromatic garden is in no way comparable to the one in which Brancusi was working. In the Jardin des Cordeliers, the space brings one's gaze earthwards, back towards the material that has been used, the everyday memory conveyed by the mould, towards the elegant and ironic assemblage enabling it to rise upwards. This column would thus not be capable of reaching the sky ; it is totally earthbound, because of its material and its deliberately limited size - and, I would add, by the too hasty accomplishment of its destiny. Finally, there would thus be no point in rebuilding it, proceeding with what archeologists call an anastylosis, replacing it block by block to restore its verticality. It has come back down to earth in the very logic of its pre-assumed fragility.
One finds a pleasing consistency in the aromatic garden, rather like a string of vivid metaphors.

 

.