French photographer Valerie Belin uses photography as a tool in contemporary art. She explores the topography of the body through abstract representations and layered transformations.
“For me, photography was an intermediary between myself and the world, real life. and that intermediary is the black box, the camera, which allowed me to engage in a relationship with the world to some extent. That was the first step, and then, of course, it became a tool that became more sophisticated, that became an instrument, the equivalent of paintbrushes for a painter and which became a fully-fledged medium.”
Artist Valerie Belin was born in 1964 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. She studied at the École Beaux-Arts de Versailles, the École Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Bourges and finally at the Université de Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne. Initially influenced by minimalism and conceptual art, she eventually turned to photography as her preferred medium. Belin conceptualizes the use of light, matter, and the conception of a “body,” referring to objects and beings in general. With these elements, she explores the photograph’s capacity of representation and transmutation. Thus, the artist’s aesthetic developed as subsequent series that used these tropes to explore contemporary society. She does this within the framework of her overall concentration on investigating photography and the “body.”
Valérie Belin has exhibited her work around the world. She was the winner of the Prix Pictet in 2015 (Disorder.) She became an officer of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2017. In this same year, the Three Shadows Photography Art Center in Beijing, the SCôP in Shanghai, and the Chengdu Museum co-produced a touring exhibition for the artist. In 2019, Valérie Belin unveiled a significant new series at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
For her work in the Super Model series, Belin creates photography imbued with the rich visual texture and conceptual depth that has become characteristic of her aesthetic.
Influenced by the evolution of previous series capturing mannequins and masks, Belin’s Super Models are projections that depict an unreal idea of the female body.
The figures represent the body as a physical form or a container not a human individual. These models point to idealized conceptions of beauty. The works in the series are entitled to reference mythological goddesses and television characters, such as Saffron and Ishtar, further reinforcing their intention as symbols of beauty, love, and sex. There is a uniformity from mannequin to mannequin in their underlying signification.
Valerie Belin’s use of mannequins or objectification of the body is a recurrent theme in her work. The mannequins become impervious surfaces looking away from the viewer. They represent figures that are to be seen but not engaged with, keeping the viewer from identifying with them.
Finally, vectorial geometric patterns counter the viewers gaze by transforming the image into a series of multiple layers. These geometric patterns are the building blocks of design. Belin artfully creates a push and pull balance by abstracting both the sculptural form of the body and industrial design.
As a result, the artist’s use of mannequins questions the action of seeing and being seen. It ponders the questions, what is real, and what is a fabrication?
“What is a photograph, after all? It’s something that brings life to something that is no longer there, that will give the illusion of a presence. And, therefore, finally, I’m extremely close to my medium in its very definition. This has been true since the beginning and still is today, despite the evolution of the tools. And I think it will remain so.”
“We live in a world where superimposition is part of our basic human condition… These photographs are like a broken mirror — perhaps they reflect that it’s easy to lose ourselves in the atmosphere generated by mass consumption. When encountering my work, I want viewers to question what it is they are looking at and maybe challenge their way of seeing the world too.”
Valerie Belin’s photographs question identity, the mannequin as a signifier of meaning, and the picture plane as a vessel of conceptual thought. These concepts are displayed throughout the evolution of her major series.
What is this abstract creation? What does it signify? Belin’s work is an amalgamation of contemporary ideas.
The abstract use of the human figure perfectly contrasts and questions the omnipresent imagery of our bodies posted on social media. In some ways, they predate the constructed realities of social media. In social platforms where users post not what “is” but what they want to be perceived as. These events ultimately becoming the performance of persona.
Valerie Belin’s Super Models series has an eerie and close relationship to the world of mass consumption, digital communication, and disembodied social interaction.
Photographs have altered public consciousness and influenced humanity throughout history. Photographic images have displayed the medium’s power to shape or at least comment on society. Apparent in the endless array of images and signs that predominate contemporary culture, Belin’s work is a significant example of art that questions the validity and complexity of its representations.
In the extreme of these altered projections, renowned photographic historian and critic Vicki Goldberg has noted:
“Photographs sign cruel pacts with youth and beauty and publicity. Lainie Kazan, the singer, and actress told a television interviewer in 1986 that she did not go out of the house for seven years because she could not live up to her airbrushed and retouched portraits. “I went to bed in 1969 and didn’t get up until 1976… I would not come out until I looked like my photograph.”
The Super Models, (Ishtar and Saffron,) are resplendent in form and color and kaleidoscopic in their suggestions of possibilities. In conclusion, they become dynamic compositions moving out of the picture plane. The digital photographs are akin to looking at nature through a macro lens in which reality becomes distorted and unfamiliar.
In a time when contemporary art has infinitely explored the myriad uses of the photographic medium, Valerie Belin’s work posits as an original and distinctive aesthetic.