The Ambassadors


“I didn’t stay long in London, but I definitely wanted to see The Ambassadors ¹. I found it very disturbing. It’s beguiling and clever, and yet so enigmatic and mysterious that it actually becomes frightening.” Thus did Myriam Mechita describe to me her disquiet when looking at Hans Holbein’s painting, the worry she felt as she observed the famous anamorphosis, and her fascination for interpretations that slip away just when you are convinced they are in your grasp. She is one of the rare young artists in recent years to tackle this optical phenomenon. She uses it as readily in her objects, in models of gutted warships made from glass beads, and in wall drawings, but also in wall-hung hunting trophies covered with a new skin composed of satellite photos borrowed from NASA. 

While anamorphosis is one of her preferred devices, the artist looks at all available processes for unsettling the structure of images and sculptures; she is unconcerned with narration and keen to combine disparate elements and materials, as the surrealists wished. Autoportrait aux dents (“Self-portrait with teeth”) ² is a tapestry of pearls in which the artist, her mouth open, seems to be protesting. This portrait is then transposed, in a second work, into a gigantic floor-standing arrangement. The volumes are figured by wooden battens standing on their ends, from which emerge numerous polyurethane hares, partly covered by pearls that seem like thousands of eyes. 

More generally, Myriam Mechita considers herself a sculptor who creates installations and enigmatic forms. The animals that make up her bestiary – dogs, stags, roe deer, antelopes, hares – are devoid of detail and lose their orifices once given three dimensions. They have no ears, eyes or mouth, and deliberately stay in a primary form, while the only humans the artist represents are decapitated. She also makes plentiful use of sequins and fragments of mirror and aluminium as decoys in order to create shifts in perspectives, to give the illusion that objects appear and disappear, and so that the spectator is unable to exactly locate the work in space. 

Many artists claim their work as polysemic, i.e. subject to a layer-by-layer interpretation mode. Myriam Mechita prefers polyphony, blending the senses so that meaning remains elusive.

Alain Berland
Translated by Paul Jones

Alain Berland is an art critic. He is a member of Particules editorial board.

 ¹ Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533, oil on panel, 207 x 209 cm, National Gallery, London
 ² Myriam Mechita, Autoportrait aux dents, tapestry in glass pearls, wood, 190 x 130 cm, 2002 and 2005