Emilie Cognard

Traces of flowing transience

Emilie Cognard works with ink, water and paper, using these simple means to create highly complex drawings of marked depth.  With her works she questions the concept of emptiness; even more so, she questions our homogenized outlook on the world. The results are exceptionally fine compositions that are highly concentrated, flowing, amorphous, highly dynamic and yet almost contemplative.

by Felix Brosius, March 14, 2022
Die Künstlerin Emilie Cognard
Emilie Cognard in the studio

There exist phenomena that are incomprehensible to the human mind: eternity, infinity, or utter emptiness, for example. We all know that an »empty space« only appears to be empty to us, when in reality it is filled with air up to the last cranny; it’s merely barely perceptible to our senses. But what would remain if there were no longer anything at all? What is there where there is nothing? Emilie Cognard searches for an answer to this question in her scriptural ink drawings. The starting point of her informal abstract works is always the emptiness itself, represented by a blank sheet of paper. In our oversaturated world, which seems always to strive to exploit every resource and play on every silence, a blank sheet of paper is almost tantamount to a provocation. For Cognard, in contrast, it is a window into a hidden world of countless possibilities that she wants to explore, uncover, and render visible.

»For me, a white page is not lifeless and empty. It’s the gateway for diving into an otherwise invisible world, to bring it into the light. The possibilities that arise are infinite, and so really the void is, essentially, much denser than we commonly perceive in our overloaded world.«

Graphein – writing as drawing

The worlds exposed by the artist are literally inscribed on the paper. It all begins with a single line that Cognard draws in ink on a sheet covered with a film of water. The line quickly begins to dissolve, to blur, leaving traces that Cognard follows in her further drawing strokes. »The lines and their progressions guide the entire further work,« as she puts it herself. And so a complex world gradually reveals itself on the paper as one of the numerous possibilities that the blank page had already held in store as a possibility all along. Evoking Schrödinger’s cat, through her tracing Cognard decides which of the possible worlds on the sheet of paper will be made manifest.

»The drawn stroke is an act of opening onto an elsewhere, an attempt to discover the tucked-away, to let the invisible become visible in the moment when my hand withdraws.«

The works remain abstract until the end, do not represent anything, and merely follow an intuitive idea. And yet they are just as concrete as the written word. Without context, each letter is also only the image of an abstract sign, and any meaning arises only from the convention about the interpretation. Cognard does not draw upon existing structures, signs, and elements in her works; she creates her own pictorial means, working her way forward from the single stroke, tentatively looking. Drawing and writing are one for her: merging into the same action, they leave traces that can be read in many ways – a way of working quite in line with Derrida's reflections on painting. And so her first series of works, in which she pursues this idea, bears the title Graphein, a verb in Greek that stands equally for writing and drawing and that in Derrida's work becomes the basic element of pictorial design.

Emilie Cognard - Graphein vu/3c
Graphein vu/3c, 2021

Obsession with silence

Emilie Cognard, born in France in 1983, studied art, scenography and architecture in Paris. Now living in Berlin, the artist is also active in all three fields, whose boundaries blur in her work. Still, no matter which discipline she is following, she is always drawn on by the same questions. For her, the empty stage is just as much a realm of possibilities to be explored and played with as the blank sheet of paper; the silence at the beginning of a theater performance, a window that invites an interpretation of a play to be performed.

Again and again she seeks out and creates spaces of emptiness as a cornucopia of opulent possibilities. For her, this is essentially an attempt to »solve the riddle of silence« that already marked her childhood. Intuitively she sought a technique to recognize the void as a wealth of possibilities, to grasp the unspoken. Her work notes from 2020 read: »When I look at my drawings, it seems to me that my childhood runs through them. I believe that the void and the irregular have pierced my retina and my soul.«

The traces of traces

And so the emptiness itself also leaves its traces, from which new worlds grow. For Cognard, these traces are an echo of the past and yet are themselves quite ephemeral, dissolving as soon as they emerge, yet not without leaving further traces that again open up a whole universe of new possibilities. Cognard follows these traces in her series of works Impression Papier Peau, created on multilayer cardboard: After making an ink drawing on the outermost layer of the cardboard, she peels off that top layer of paper and continues to work with the traces that this drawing has left on the underlying layer of paper; and so, following their patterns and gradients, she works these into a new and complex drawing. What emerges are exceptionally fine, filigree, almost fragile compositions of great elegance, flowing forms arrested in movement, as if hovering irresolutely on the threshold between dissolution and manifestation.

Emilie Cognard - Impression Papier Peau vu/13cc
Impression papier-peau vu/13cc – Traces under the outermost layer of cardboard

This approach could now be perpetuated further and further; one could follow not only the traces of the traces, but their traces too. Emilie Cognard, however, turns and heads the opposite way: she places another layer over the first drawing and imprints it with the imprints of the preceding one. In this way, she creates a series of works in which she covers the top layer of the cardboard with a page of obituaries from the newspaper Le Monde, carves out the individual letters of the ads with a scalpel soaked in ink, then again removes the newspaper and the top layer of cardboard, presses them together with the second layer of paper that has emerged underneath onto another layer of cardboard, and finally simultaneously reinforces and covers the resulting impressions with graphite powder. Through this technique, the deceased have left their mark via the obituary right down to the lower paper layer, that has now been imprinted over several layers: The life lived becomes a story. Translated into language, written down in the newspaper and transferred to the cardboard, it seeps through to the sheet underneath, on which a new image is composed from it. It almost seems like a graphic translation of the film idea of Inception – a simultaneous progression over several intertwined worlds, which influence each other mutually, inseparably interconnected and each for itself to the highest degree fluid, amorphous, already in the process of dissolving again immediately on being created.

Emilie Cognard - Qui précède la page météo et jeux, détail
Qui précède la page météo et jeux, detail – Traces of writing under the outermost layer of cardboard

An act of resistance as an invitation to experiment

Emilie Cognard's works are enduring, and yet in expression they are fleeting. In this they follow the idea of the French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who mostly illustrates human figures from the past and the fleeting present in public places such as house walls or, earlier, on telephone booths; unauthorized images, they are transient from the start, yet still leave lasting impressions. Cognard too wants her art to create a resonance with the viewer, to reach him emotionally, to convey the idea that the reality we perceive is only one of countless possibilities. In this sense, she understands her art as an act of resistance against a homogeneous, one-dimensional world, as an attempt to widen the field of vision, to make us conscious of the richness of possibilities out there – and as an invitation to experiment precisely with understanding silence and emptiness not as wastelands, but as windows onto new worlds.Art.Salon

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