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Rue du Page 15, 1050 Bruxelles
Tuesday to Saturday

10.01.2024 | 10.02.2024
12AM to 6PM


i cried when i washed my first bone is the first solo exhibition of Iris Marchand in Belgium. It brings together her most recent set of paintings, drawings, and ceramic works made during the last months of 2023. By pushing her affinity for figuration and bodily forms even further, Marchand exposes here a corporeally new vocabulary—the skeletal, spinal, that which remains, and most importantly, bones. Against the humble materiality of bed sheets, cardboard, and ceramic, she articulates an intimate body of work that moves us and itself through the space. 

As a title, I cried when I washed my first bone is a confession of sorts. An emotionally charged disclosure through which we are given access to a distant memory of tears, bone, and cleansing. A saline and soapy voice…is it the artist? does it matter?…which binds the viewer to a pre-pictorial world. A self-determined original sin or a pivotal scenario that affects its change in everything that follows. Here, there is an undeniable indebtedness to the first bone. A moment, which even as privy witness, we are folded into as we attend to its unfolding.

In the paintings throughout this exhibition, Marchand works on three layers of figuration—landscape, body, and bones. Layers which can commute between the foreground and the background and, by doing so, each time offer a new filter to read their interrelation. Her bones have a sculptural presence, almost carved from the gesso. At times acting as a support for the resting body or tensing hand, and at others, almost hovering over the image, shielding a sternum, the contour of a cheek, or a set of lips. The figures, on the other hand, arrive through bold gestural lines that exaggerate the corporeal shapes—wrinkles embedded into the skin, pliable hands, the movement of contorting flesh. Landscapes full of texture are meaningfully made from the same inky substance that forms body.

These paintings importantly take place on antique bed sheets, whose beige chromatic spectrum participates in the image. Through this humble choice, the stale romanticism of canvas, which prides itself on a blankness, is exchanged for a differently loaded material and corporeal history. Bedsheets are carriers and receptacles for the body, its flesh, sweat, and substance. A linen draped over the sleeper, warming it as it clings to nightmare or dream. Cotton ceremonially wrapping its corpse. Not only do these painted sheets give refuge to the bodies represented here, but they also softly call to the bodies they once held.

Following the trace of gesso and ink, propped up against the wall is a series of diptychs called Attitudes Anatomiques 1, 2, and 3. Landscape-less arrangements of bones and bodies against the matte dark gold of cardboard. There is a strikingly different rhythm to these works. One that almost captures the cadence of thinking. As the diptych formally sets up a coupled organization of sense, sensual faithful figures are held together with stacked bones like a spine to the flesh.

The sculptural quality of gesso takes on another material dimension through the presence of ceramics—small mosaic portraits or bone-like relics variously displayed. Evoking the possibility of eternal combination and recombination, undoing the fiction of fixity. And there will be spines or ceramic pieces vertically and intermittently stacked on metal chains. Descending from the ceiling, rising from the ground—offering another more cosmic choreography within the space. At times jagged and sharply cut, at others curved and molded by hand, a block of clay is dismantled by multiple techniques and hung on display. As such it is both an obstacle and a guide for the viewing body.

If the ceiling marks the first cervical vertebrate, then there is also the lumbar dark downstairs. Here on black paper is a series of pastel portraits in double frame—one casually protecting the image and the other jaggedly creating the stage for a series of grand hands and melancholic faces. When Iris was previously asked about the importance of hands and their compositional disproportion, she explained to her interlocutor that hands were always a figure of study for her. When you start to paint, before standing in front of a mirror and meeting this confrontation, you sit with your hands. They are a part of the body that can stand apart, that one can look down at and describe as if it were other. It is the glorious site where self becomes tool, where body meets brush, both part of the movement of singular expression and autonomously regulating the external material world that is specifically not body. Not dissimilar to the hand of a writer at the service of language. It is here, in her hands signature largeur, that we are offered a generosity of lines that can account for their double strangeness and familiarity. A reason to linger in their carpal intimacy 

A last note: Many of the bone figures in this exhibition are derived from Iris's most recent book Bones and All. It offers a compilation of scanned ceramics, bones, and chains - capturing their movement against the glass of her at-home printer.

- Exhibition text by Bryana Fritz

Exhibition Details