Catherine James

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Une part de vanité/A Share of Vanity

Vanities were a popular genre in Baroque times, a special category of painting with high symbolic value. Their message is an invitation to reflect on the uselessness and futility of worldly pleasures in the face of ever-present death. However, they were neither an academic nor a religious genre, and, unlike History or Religion, were not a noble theme. Neither did they affirm salvation as the answer. However, whatever the medium, vanities have been undergoing a revival since the mid-20th century and proving astonishingly relevant. Vanities expose the relativity of knowledge and the vanity of mankind, which is subject to the passage of time and death. Again, it is the locus of confrontation between our animal and human natures. I decided to create a kind of memento mori of human beings and animals in our time, in the light of the paintings of past centuries – to contemplate a hypostasis of the flesh as a kind of temporary state.

Series of 22 colour photographs taken in 2005 and 2006.

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Le Silence Nu/Naked Silence

Ange'Hell

Vésanie

Grunewald Issenheim

Corps mémorables/Memorable Bodies

Les yeux du monde/The Eyes of the World

Narcisse et le voyeur/Narcissus and the Peeping Tom

Pietà

Ecorchés/Flayed Carcases

Depicted by Rembrandt and many others, flayed carcases fascinate me, as they are at the very core of man’s animal nature. Flayed carcases have had their skin removed, and so I decided to cover a man’s and a woman’s body with slices of air-dried ham, endeavouring to follow the outlines of muscle and ligament, although with no precision. As a result, the bodies now appear to be dead and now alive. Time eats the illusion of a shining eye, of a dead mouth. This is not a heap of inward-contracting dead meat, but the intimate discord between the world and the earth which is the very essence of the relation between man and animal, the meat that we are. I picked bodies apart, the better to display their heads. “Where each body seeks its lost one*”, confronted with the passion of its own flesh.

Series of 16 colour and black-and-white photographs taken in 2004 and 2005.
* Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones

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Sacer

Animalitas

The prolegomenon to this series is an eschatological tale from the Jewish Bible. The story takes place on the last day of humanity, when only four men with animal heads remain. They are about to kill “Leviathan” and “Behemoth”, the fish and the ox, and eat them at a banquet known as “The Banquet of the Righteous”. In the ten famous verses from the Book of Job, “Behemoth” is described as the greatest of the wonders of God. However, as God had made it, God destroyed it.
My purpose was not to illustrate this text, nor yet to debase or falsify it, but on the contrary to appropriate it so as to deal with the subject of man and animal. My story begins on the last day of humanity, during which women with animal heads kill the last surviving androgyne, both frail and strong in its persistence of being. The women finish it off, bone it and devour it at a banquet known as “Animalitas”. Archetypal bodies, naked bodies, devoured, bloody or wide open, desiring or carrion, celebrate a banquet between “blind opening” and “creation of worlds”, a hiatus of man and animal.

Series of 9 colour photographs taken in April 2004.

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Animaux anthropophores/Anthropophoric Animals

Rendez-lui Arletty/Give it back Arletty

Various photos