Artist Spotlight: Mathieu Pernot | Jeu de Paume

Mathieu Pernot, The Crossing, from 11 February 2014 until 18 May 2014

I recently visited the Jeu de Paume  near Paris’ Tuleries gardens to see the work of 41- year- old French artist Mathieu Pernot.  Knowing nothing of his work before this visit, I was pleased to discover a new-to-me French talent. This show highlights 20 years worth of the young artists work (41 is young for a Jeu de Paume retrospect) however the artist is quite accomplished with a long list of exhibits and nine monographs.

Organized chronologically or by theme, Pernot utilizes the world around him making use of archival documents, photographic landscapes, portraits and longtime friendships with nomadic people. “The Crossing“ is Pernot’s personal narrative featuring characters who live on the margins of the very society whose story it tells as well as documenting the spaces where they live.

The exhibition starts with Photo Booths, Pernot’s first series of photos, taken between 1995 and 1997, of gypsy children in Arles, France ending with their portraits taken some seventeen years later, in 2013, for this exhibition.

The 2001 series The Shouters, I found formidable. It features characters from the first series in Avignon, France and Barcelona, Spain standing outdoors, shouting and communicating with family members inside prison. The images, unusual at first glance as they fill the Paris metro subways advertising the show, are more poignant when the story of the subjects act is known. “They are on the other side of the wall, in this intervening space that separates the carceral and the urban, a street, a wasteland, which is still part of the prison and not quite the town; on this outside track, the body bent towards the interior, they shout words of comfort and news to those that occupy a static stretch of time…”

More works in the exhibit also explore issues of human migration (The Migrants, Giovanni, The Afghan Notebooks), town planning (Le Grand Ensemble including Implosions, The Best of All Worlds, Witnesses, Windows) and incarceration (A Bohemian Camp and Panoptic), together with an installation (Le Dortoir) and drawings (The Last Journey) that echo his photographs. In Fire, a project created especially for the exhibition, the photographer portrays a Romany custom in which, following a death, the deceased’s caravan is burned. As the caravan burns, he photographs the family members, whose faces we recognize from others in the exhibition (during other moments in their lives) their faces lit by the flames.

Mathieu Pernot was born in Fréjus in 1970 and he currently lives and works in Paris. After studying art history at the University of Grenoble, he enrolled at the École Nationale de la Photographie in Arles, from where he graduated in 1996. His show  The Crossing  is on view at the Jeu de Paume from 11 February 2014 until 18 May 2014.

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