In praise of silence
Thibaut de Ruyter
(published in weiß obskur, Cécile Dupaquier / ArtInFlow, 2019)

The first book that comes to my mind when looking at the works included in this publication is In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, one of the classics of Asian literature. It is a beautiful introduction to the art, culture and architecture of Japan (alongside The Empire of Signs by Roland Barthes and the films of Yasujirō Ozu).

In 1932, when Tanizaki begins writing In Praise of Shadows, he is already an established author who has been observing and describing the modernisation of Japanese society and is now tempted to return to the roots and traditions of his home country (a 46-year-old man speaking not only of his native country, but also of himself). In this text, imbued with tender nostalgia, he contrasts the shadow in traditional Japanese houses with the dazzling brightness of electric streetlights that have already taken hold in Europe and are now gradually invading Japan. He discusses space and building materials, emphasises the importance of traditional kitchen and theatre, and describes a world modernizing itself in a brutal manner.

There is something, though, that Tanizaki does not mention: it takes light, sometimes too much light, to create shadows. In the works of Cécile Dupaquier, they are numerous, playful and complex. Her tableaux live in the White Cube. (Yes, they even need its excessive illuminance for their existence). The tableaux are machines made for creating shadows around and on themselves. Their making requires the craftsmanship of a luthier: a thin sheet of wood that is slightly bent and glued to a frame to stiffen it. (Have a look how a violin is made). This procedure lends Dupaquier’s tableaux a strange status: they are three- dimensional objects, sculptures that are hung on the wall. The artist carries on the tradition of American Minimal Art, first and foremost Donald Judd, while still maintaining a relation with pictoriality by calling her works tableaux and playing with frontality. Her constructions are covered with several layers of white paint, applied with a palette knife, and sanded multiple times to create a particularly smooth finish. The slightest ‘fold’ in the volume becomes visible as the work absorbs the light more than it reflects it. The white turns into an infinitude of whites and creates shadows of countless hues. And while most of the time, these tableaux are displayed in the all-over artificial light of art galleries (at the risk of disappearing into the whiteness of the walls and making their documention one of the most difficult things), it is incredible to see how, when they are hung in a private space and lit by natural light, they become changing objects, living forms, unique works yet always different according to the season and time of day.

In Praise of Shadows Tanizaki recurringly describes the notion of contrast between shadow and light. He never explicitly uses this word, but evokes the shimmer of gilded Buddha statues in dark rooms or the custom of women blackening their teeth in order to make their faces look whiter. This notion of contrast is essential to Dupaquier’s work. As a matter of fact, she occasionally switches from immaculate whiteness to black, mainly in graphite drawings on paper, but also in concrete tableaux to which she adds pigments in order to obtain various shades. In these works, too, she manipulates the nature of the surfaces to intensify their interaction with light. (The graphite is shining softly, the seemingly varnished concrete is simply poured into a casting mould lined with plastic). In her drawings, Dupaquier also plays with the notion of exhaustion – be it the wear of her ‘Mars Lumograph’ pencils, or the fatigue of her own body caused by the repetition of a simulated mechanical gesture. Rather than seeing these dark concrete tableaux in opposition to her white works, then, we should consider them as an opportunity for the artist to create contrasts.

But let us get to the root of the matter: There is a contemplative dimension in Dupaquier’s works that cannot express itself in any image you see in this catalogue. As I have already mentioned, light plays a vital role in the very existence of the tableaux. It is impossible to reproduce white works on a white background (think of the paintings of Yves Klein, Mark Rothko or Agnes Martin reproduced as tiny vignettes in art history books). In a modern age that gets flooded with instantly shared digital snapshots, creating monochromes whose slight inflections create delicate shadows and constant changes is nothing short of an adventure. Therefore nothing can replace the direct confrontation with the artist’s works that put one into a state of contemplation. The gaze loses itself on the surface while unsuccessfully trying to follow a line, a fold or a curb. It hangs by the thread of an optical illusion without recognizing anything, before discovering a shadow, a figure, a space again. This contemplative dimension is similar to that encountered in the music of Éliane Radigue, a composer who, for several decades, has been exploring the micro-variations of several minutes lasting sounds. Listening to Radigue is, first and foremost, a physical experience that implies a loss of control and of oneself, a dissolution in time; hers is a demanding oeuvre that requires the listener to do as much work as the performer. In Dupaquier’s case, this auditory experience is turned into a visual experience capable of taking place in both space and time.

I must confess that Tanizaki is one of my favourite authors, and his works have taken up two years of my life. I also consider Radigue one of the most important composers of our time – whether electronic or acoustic, her music fascinates and accompanies me every day. That I should be thinking of the two of them while looking at Dupaquier’s works is neither a coincidence nor a pretext to examining a work or art via literature or music instead of art history. (One could write pages over pages on the connections between Dupaquier and Charlotte Posenenske, François Morellet or Thea Djordjadze). Evoking Radigue and Tanizaki is first and foremost a way of admitting that I am deeply moved by these works, and of sharing my sensation. Anyone who has been in the artist’s studio or has had the chance to see her works in an exhibition – provided one agrees to dedicate a little bit of time and concentration – will see something different in them than I do. Spending more words, justifying, explaining, or analysing to me seems a vain endeavour in view of works that carry silence within themselves.

But thankfully, once more Tanizaki comes to my rescue to conclude. In the middle of In Praise of Shadows, he writes about the shōji, the wooden and paper partitions in traditional Japanese houses: ‘Have not you yourselves sensed a difference in the light that suffuses such a room, a rare tranquility not found in ordinary light? Have you never felt a sort of fear in the face of the ageless, a fear that in that room you might lose all consciousness of the passage of time, that untold years might pass and upon emerging you should find you had grown old and grey?’1 Even though Tanizaki preferred the shadow, Cécile Dupaquier would certainly have made him love the light — provided he respected a bit of her silence.

1 Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, trans. T. J. Harper and E. G. Seidensticker (London: Vintage, 2001), 35.


Notice Cécile Dupaquier
Text: Anne Giffon-Selle, 2021 
(Exhibition Prismatiques, stratégie des petites faces, Le 19 Centre régional d'art contemporain, Montbéliard, France)

Les titres que Cécile Dupaquier donne à ses œuvres restent génériques et distanciés, réduits au minimum : « angle », « trait », « archive », ne revendiquent aucune singularité, ne retiennent guère l’attention, comme décrivant des œuvres entrevues de loin. Les matériaux eux-mêmes – papier bitumé, placoplâtre, contreplaqué - ne sont marqués par aucune histoire spécifique, sinon celle de leur usage ordinaire par les métiers du bâtiment. Les tonalités sont restreintes au noir, gris, blanc et beige. La réalisation des sculptures in-situ tout comme celle des dessins réalisés en atelier paraît également se résumer à deux gestes simples : trait (de coupe et de graphite) et pli. Enfin, la présence même des pièces reste incertaine : seules les ombres donnent une consistance aux tableaux-reliefs en les détachant du mur et seul l’effleurement de la lumière rasante laisse percevoir la vibration des traits des dessins sur papier noir. Quelle qu’en soit l’échelle, tout semble donc mis en place pour que nous assistions à une discrète résistance et fuite de l’œuvre.

Pourtant, la disposition des pièces et leur rapport à l’espace environnant laissent deviner que cet éloge de la discrétion peut servir d’autres desseins : même de guingois, le monumental Angle (obscur) épouse étroitement l’angle du mur pour y creuser son trou noir ; la répétition du trait sur le plan du papier des grands Strich creuse également un espace en profondeur ; Tableau et Archiv 40-47 tendent à fusionner avec les cimaises, et les tonalités gris brun et blanc de Fragment 1 se fondent également dans l’environnement (sol et murs). Les œuvres de Cécile Dupaquier se rencognent, rasent les murs, se fondent avec le décor, se roulent en boule sur le sol. Elles font « figure de », elles font corps sans avoir recours à la représentation. Si la figure semble s’être absentée, c’est précisément pour mieux laisser place à une disposition corporelle et psychique, à un état de l’être pensant et sensible auquel le retrait apparent des œuvres, leurs jeux d’optique et leur échelle, leur géométrie anthropomorphe proposent un équivalent plastique – visuel et matériel.


Solo Exhibition Wall Works at Daniel Marzona, Berlin
Text: Thibaut de Ruyter, 2017

The art of Cécile Dupaquier is a question of the material. It is about sparseness, simplicity, and the beauty of Styrofoam sheets, acoustic insulation boards, and variations of plywood from ordinary do-it-yourself stores. The drawings, in turn, are done on paper with a standard A4 format, which can be bought around the corner in low-priced packages if one urgently needs to print a computer file. The artistic gesture thereby is always minimal (a cut, a fold, a facing, or the mounting of a hinge) and serves to plumb the formal possibilities – and physical limits – of the material in space. The artist’s works play with surfaces, but also try out the possibilities for creating volumes (this also recalls the formal research of the avant-gardes of the early 20th century, Gerrit Rietveld and Katarzyna Kobro, and recent artist figures like Charlotte Posenenske, Joachim Bandau, and Thea Djordjadze).
At her exhibition in the Daniel Marzona gallery, Cécile Dupaquier is showing new works that she calls “Tableaus”, developed in a long process of fabrication. For them, she forms fine wooden boards the way a violinmaker builds an instrument, and, without any preliminary drawing, gentle curves and waves gradually emerge in the material, creating in the end a subtle motion. As soon as the object is built, it receives several coats of matte white paint. The volume exists actually only by means of the shadows it casts, and the precision of its production makes it an object of contemplation. As viewer, one sees pure surfaces that constantly change with the change in light in the course of the day and that continually reveal themselves anew. Even if the process is complicated, the proportions of the works – in the formats 210 x 146, 60 x 43, or 43 x 30 centimeters – play with the simplicity and absolute rigor of an A4 sheet of paper.
Canvases without canvas, sculpture to be hung – the status of these “Tableaus” is peculiar. The relationship between the gallery’s white wall and what hangs on it, actually a kind of wall sculpture, has seldom been taken this far. (In a prior exhibition, with a gesture reminiscent of Claude Rutault, Cécile Dupaquier even painted the wall with the same white paint she uses for her works!) One could speak here of Minimalism, although the point is rather simplicity and humility – terms that hardly exist anymore in our world of the roaring spectacle and that are needed precisely for that reason.


Group Exhibition raumbestandserhebung, Kleine Humboldt Galerie, Berlin
Text: Conny Becker, 2014

Cécile Dupaquier’s sculptures are minimalistic interventions into space, referring sometimes more, sometimes less directly to their surroundings. Starting points for her works can be banal or even neglected everyday objects. Folders, doorstoppers, or the paneling of heater are adapted in new materials and dimensions. Rarely massive, often at the border of two-dimensionality, they appear like materialized drawings.

In contrast to most of her work, the sculptures made for the glass staircase in the north wing have relinquished their optical lightness. Exceptional for her work, both plywood objects are varnished in dark brown, as a reference to the heavy oak furniture in the lecture hall next door. For this reason, they hardly stand out from the dark ground, thus regaining the unpretentious quality of Dupaquier’s œuvre. It seems as if the architecture had a Latourian « agency »: The objects lie lazily on a bench or hide in a corner, commenting humorously on their surroundings: be it ornemental décor of the stair-rail or the heterotopic site itself that seems long abandoned. This non-place is also referred to in the title of the works: Stilllegen (shutting down/laying down).


Solo Exhibition Extension! Réduction!, Espace Arts Plastiques de Vénissieux
Text: Anne Giffon-Selle, 2006

CECILE DUPAQUIER est de ces artistes qui se déplacent beaucoup : installée à Berlin, elle ne compte plus ses aller et venue entre cette ville, la Suisse et la France, au gré des expositions et des commandes publiques. Et ses œuvres ont, depuis longtemps, cette même bougeotte : ses sculptures, les personnages de ses vidéos, se meuvent, frénétiquement, aléatoirement, comme le fait encore le tout récent Accumulateur autonome (2004).

La mobilité exige de voyager léger ! À cet effet, bien des œuvres se transportent sur le dos ou les épaules : comme le poids du monde, serait-on tenté de penser à la vue de ces volumes encombrants... Et pourtant, le poids n'est que, par exemple, celui de l'air gonflant le parachute/parapente d’Accumulations n° 1 à 44 (2003), accroché au dos de l'artiste en train de courir... Ou encore le poids plume de cet énorme bloc de mousse blanche constituant l’Objet de restructuration mentale de 2001, dont les sangles permettent, là encore, le port sur le dos et qui, une fois ouvert, révèle en creux une figure dans la position du Penseur de Rodin. Récemment, l'artiste a opté pour la fabrication in situ de grandes structures en papier, vouées à la destruction en fin d'exposition ! Exit, ainsi, le problème de transport et de stockage !

Pour autant, cette mobilité-là ne fait nullement l’apologie d’un nomadisme dans l’air du temps. Pour l'artiste, la mobilité est avant tout une esquive première, l’agitation d’un corps et d’une pensée en proie à l’indécision, réticents à se fixer sur un objet précis, à opter pour une voie unique. C’est ainsi que l’Accumulateur autonome cherche sa place dans l’espace, ne s’en contente jamais, va voir ailleurs, hésite indéfiniment.

Ses œuvres nous projettent paradoxalement très en amont du processus créatif pour donner forme à ces moments peu extériorisés mais empreints de pression, de questions et d’hésitation qui constituent les premières étapes de la création. Non sans ironie quant à la condition et au statut de l’artiste, l’Objet de restructuration mentale, Etêtement et Entêtement essayaient vainement de répondre à l’obligation d’originalité et de renouvellement s’imposant à tout créateur. Les plus récentes “ accumulations ” abordent l’étape suivante, son devoir de “ remplissage ” de l’espace d’exposition : que mettre, où et comment ? Accumulation ! Extension ! en suggère toute la dimension physique, voire sportive, avec ce titre résonnant comme une injonction à exécuter quelque exercice de gymnastique.
C'est ainsi qu'à l'Espace arts plastiques de Vénissieux, l'artiste proposera une nouvelle occupation de l'espace en nous mettant – littéralement – la tête à l'envers, en inversant les composantes du lieu qui l'accueille.

Sous forme de fausses solutions, disproportionnées et parfois fort encombrantes, les travaux de Cécile Dupaquier posent donc la question de leur propre (ir)résolution. En tournant autour d’elles-mêmes, autour des règles et des critères qu’une histoire a progressivement imposés à l’artiste, les œuvres se jouent de l’agitation du monde pour lui proposer en retour une esthétique et une poétique de la gratuité et de l’indécision.


weiß obskur, Cécile Dupaquier
Soft cover, full colour, 64 pages, French / German / English, 24 x 17 cm
Publisher: ArtInFlow, Verlag für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Berlin, 2019 www.artinflow.de


Vrac Wrack II, Cécile Dupaquier
Soft cover, full colour, 28 pages, French / German, 21 x 14,8 cm
Cécile Dupaquier / Espace Piano Nobile Genf, 2012


Vrac Wrack I, Cécile Dupaquier
Soft cover, full colour, 28 pages, French / German, 21 x 14,8 cm
Cécile Dupaquier / SEPR Lyon (Madart), 2011


Extension! Réduction!, Cécile Dupaquier
Soft cover, full colour, 54 pages, French / English, 13 x 18 cm
Espace Arts plastiques Vénissieux / Editions la passe du vent, 2006
Text: Marie de Brugerolle