Anonymity and Angularity
Tom by Franck Allais was at Triskel Arts Centre, 27 Oct - 23 Nov 2000
Review by Alannah Hopkin
The cork-based French artist Franck Allais has participated in Triskel's annual multi-media event, lntermedia, and in various group shows. This is his first solo exhibition. The work is presented as three large, wall-mounted black and white photographs, and a large-format artist's book on a stand, consisting of another seventeen or so large-format prints (112cm by 72cm), mounted on card, which the viewer turns over. The photographs feature details of domestic interiors, with a man glimpsed, as it were in synecdoche - a foot, an ear, the top of a head, a hand on a sofa arm, knuckles opening a kitchen drawer, a hand holding a shower head. While the scale is grandiose, and subject matter consists of closely observed moments in everyday life.
At once a dialectic is established that challenges the conventional relationship between subject matter and scale. Traditionally large-scale prints deal with monumental themes - landscape, architecture, formal portrait. Here the large-scale is contradicted by the intimacy and incompleteness of the detailed image. The three wall pieces introduce both the range and the modus operandi of Allais' project. The first photograph divides vertically into two halves, the left-hand section consisting of an out-of-focus curtain, while the bottom right-hand corner contains the rear view of the left-hand side of a man from shoulder-line to neck, and about three inches of flesh below. The body is shown in sharp focus, individual hairs on the top of the shoulder standing up against the light, the skin marked by an irregular pattern of freckles. An interplay is created between anonymity and angularity - the impersonal, unfocused, straight-up-and-down curtains - and the rounded, personalised contours of the human body.
The second photo contains a stretch of carpet as unfocused foreground occupyrng about two thirds of the space horizontally, while the upper one third is punctuated by an aerial view of a sharply focused chair leg and a foot with crooked toes. ln the third image the knuckles of one hand are seen opening a drawer in the corner of a kitchen. The interplay of visual planes created by the right-angled corner and its reflections create a dramatic and complex composition out of a normal, 'found' everyday situation. Close study of these three images allows the viewer to become familiar with the pictorial language that Allais explores in the book: a slice of foot descending a stair, a man's ear on top of bed and bedclothes seen in side section, the play of round heels on a diamond-patterned bathroom floor. The photographs are as remarkabre for what they are not as much as for what they are. Allais avoids the temptation to create abstract compositions, and he avoids any suggestions of narrative or documentary. Neither are these portraits, as the subject is only ever viewed partially.
The domestic interior is neutral, verging on unattractive; typical of cheap accommodation anywhere in the western world. From this unlikely material, Allais studied compositions and his use of unexpected viewpoints create memorable images of our interaction with the everyday enivronment. The simplicity of Allais approach, and the drama of his juxtapositions of human and material elements reveal the beauty that resides in the most unlikely and banal places.