Some maps only exist in our minds. They are impossible to locate. They cannot be pinpointed on the globe. The artist drawing these mental maps tries to capture something with his hand, like Gérard Fromanger, one of Deleuze’s friends, who tried, in the series Splendeurs, to capture a face - a network of lines from which meaning could be extrapolated.
Something somewhat similar happens in the series of portraits of exiles named Cartographie de l’exode (Exodus mapping) by the young visual artist Clément Denis. Except that he is looking for something without ever settling down. These faces, taken from old photographs of exiles from the Second World War, overlap without any of them clearly emerging and assuming an identity. In this series, people themselves become ontologically elusive, like the figure of the exile - this uprooted individual who does not stop moving; for whom, as Victor Hugo said “no corner of the world is any different from the others”. Of course, the current situation of migrants springs to mind, but let us not see them as being the only exiles - the truth is that contemporary humans are also, in some regard, wanderers.
On this topic, Clément Denis’ series Purgatoire (Purgatory) is extremely evocative. Here is what you can see: men and women waiting in an indeterminate dark place, and in front of them, or sometimes behind them, is a white door. One immediately thinks about the Catholic ideas of purgatory and atonement but that is not what this is about - or at least, not exactly. It is about something else. It does not have a religious dimension. Thanks to the denotative power of painting, these people represent humans in general, or at least an abstract idea of mankind. And as viewers, we are probably the judges. It reminds me of what Camus wrote in La chute (The Fall): “You were speaking of the Last Judgment. Allow me to laugh respectfully. I shall wait for it resolutely, for I have known what is worse, the judgment of men” and then he finishes: “Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day”. These men and women, who are prostrated before us are probably waiting for this Last Judgment, ours, which is often merciless. At this ecological and maybe “post-human” age, humans are increasingly presented as being in the margins, as something with which we definitely do not know what to do. As the object of anthropology studies, they also are in this indeterminate area, in the margins, just like the places where migrants are crammed together - until we know what to do with them}}.
The artist succeeds in showing us this distinctive feature of our time, i.e. the creation of new areas at the margins where the place of humans is gambled again and again. This is why Clément Denis’ work is so evocative, because it resonates, especially with today’s world. I looked at it and it took hold of me. This text is only a reflection of how interested I am in the keen observer that is Clément Denis and in his work.
— Chris Cyrille