In his famous painting, The Enigma of William Tell, Dalí represents the Helvetian hero kneeling, half-naked, in front of his own funeral monument, disguised by a cap whose enormous visor is supported by a wooden pitchfork.  His right buttock is equipped with a long phallic appendage, also kept horizontal by a wooden pitchfork.  To this very dense painting, the painter added a psychoanalytical interpretation: “The Enigma of William Tell is maybe one of the paintings that describes one of the most dangerous moments of my life.  William Tell is my father, and I am the small child that he holds in his arms who, instead of an apple, has an uncooked chop on his head.  That is to say that William Tell has cannibal intentions: he wants to eat me.  Then people must also notice that next to William Tell’s foot, a small nut, that contains a kind of cradle and this cradle holds a small child who is the image of my wife Gala.  She is always threatened by this foot, for if the foot moves just a little bit, it can crush the nut, the cradle, and thus also kill my wife.  Sigmund Freud defined the hero as he who revolts against paternal authority and finishes by defeating it.”  Psychoanalysts have at length looked at this painting and some have deciphered a form of exorcism of incestuous urges: an “incesticide,” one could say …

Laurent Belloni’s most recent works led me uncontrollably to think of this painting by the eccentric Catalan.  Not because of the soft forms that he uses, but because of the way he builds his waxen excrescences.  The comparison stops there, Belloni’s structures are firm and well built, just like solid bones, not flaccid skin requiring an external support to keep them horizontal.  His Demi-Cage, 2009, for example, assembles wood, metal, and wax together in a volume reminiscent of half a slab of ribs of a slaughtered animal with all of its skin removed.  For Belloni, cannibalism is somehow off screen.  When the artist intervenes, the flesh eaters – humans, mammals, insects or worms – have already done their work and leave us only with the remains of their action.  The drama has passed.  The tension subsided.

Belloni is interested in “relics,” in the etymological sense of the word – what remains -- of an action that we can imagine, as we wish, as gory or calm, accidental or natural, quick or slow.  He puts us in the position of paleontologist, called upon to give our opinion on the structure of an extinct species from one of its fossilized fragments.  The new Cuvier, we must ask ourselves about the nature of these relics in an attempt to reconstruct their properties, the appearance of the original owner … Yet, despite its animal form, the answer is obvious: they are branches stripped of their bark, sometimes re-cut or completed by exogenous elements, partially coated by flesh or bone-colored wax.  The plant is stated, but the animal is suggested.  We are in the domain of some kind of misguided transubstantiation from living plant to dead animal … Belloni’s work is thus the reverse of Christian liturgy, which makes the Eucharist the transformation of a dead plant into a living body …

One of the recent series of Belloni’s works using the wood and wax technique, is entitled Clavicles.  No need to look for a comparison with human anatomy.  Their form has nothing to do with the S-shaped elongated bone of the so-called anterior thorax.  At most, we might see a connection with a bird’s furcula, the fusion of two clavicles that our winged friends share with  their ancestors the dinosaurs.   Rather, we should look for the origin of his works in the etymology of the word clavicle: little key.  Belloni’s pieces form the boundary of a virtual space that they lock to the point of suggesting their petrifaction.  Presented in groups, the Clavicles challenge the viewer’s notion of transformation, of evolution, in the Darwinian sense of the word.  They encourage us to transform ourselves in keeping with evolutionism and to try to decipher the new laws of species transformation, psychic species, and materialization of the artist’s mental and obsessive impulses.

In the same spirit, his series of variations on the theme la Dent noir (the black tooth), the last remaining tooth of an elder’s jaw, despite the animalization of the mandibles’ bony structure, very clear adds themes of passage and human decadence to the reflection on evolution.  Are teeth not central to our human condition?  We suffer to have them, to keep them, and to lose them.  Their state, much more than other more visible external features, tells us a lot about their owner …

Recently, in his series of Helmets, Belloni assembled some of these bony structures, like exoskeletons, on casts in the form of skullcaps.  Their almost shocking pink flesh forms crests that bring to mind African Art, without, however, being directly inspired by them, even though comparison to the Bambara antelope (tiwara) of Mali seems inevitable.  The reference to Dalí’s painting is two-fold: in the over-sized visor of the crossbowman’s cap as well as in the chop sitting on his son’s head.  In a way, Belloni offers us a solid reinterpretation in contrast to the soft structures of the painting, one that is stripped of flesh, in that all that remains of the meat are the bones.  In certain pieces, two of these crests are coupled, in an almost perfect symmetry, to evoke, according to the viewer’s state of mind, doubleness or otherness.  The most spectacular piece of this series assembles, on the ground, six of these helmets in a proliferating tangle that would be terrifying if the color did not belie any morbid tendency.  We thus think about Bellmer’s changes to his double jointed and reconstructed Doll, except that there where the Silesian-turned-Parisian toyed with joints, kneecaps and skin, Belloni favors long bones and subcutaneous structures.  In both cases, nevertheless, it consists of variations – in the musical sense of the term – on a man-made creature with multiple anatomical possibilities.  The eroticism is latent.  There is, here and there, a question of the mechanics of desire, along the lines of Duchamp’s Nine Malic Moulds of The Large Glass, with the revelation of an subconscious physique restrained by social conventions, the repression of perverse, violent, destructive, sadistic impulses.  There may also be the artist’s desire to see his creation surpass its strictly material status to reach a creative vocation – like a sort of experimental Genesis.

The series of Heads, in cement or in wax, carries on this practice of variations, even if in these pieces, the variation turns into a slow, formal drift.  Starting from a realistic mould of a human skull, Belloni, through his successive molding, progressively evolves towards an almost abstract form whose nature and the sense.can be questioned by the viewer, who is unaware of the process behind it.   The parallel with Fautrier’s series of Hostages is evident.  We can thus apply here Ponge’s comments about the elder: “Do we not see a sort of heroism, heroic lie, similar, – and divine, of stubborn resistance, opposition to horror through beauty’s affirmation …”  The human skull is, in Western painting, associated with the Vanitas, to Momento Mori, reflection on the relativity and ephemeral nature of human life.  Here, in Belloni’s art, the head, that of a loved one, slowly, but inexorably turns into a shapeless ball, unrecognizable, object of no particular attention.  The artist encourages us to ask ourselves about the issue of conservation, as if they were shrunken heads of the Jivaros tribe or, even more so, medieval reliquary skulls or Polynesian artifacts formed by molding over skulls.  The double question posed is that of conservation of bony skin, in its external form, but also the possible use as a recepticle and, thus, able to conserve.  What happens when what is supposed to be keep becomes an object of transformation, of annihilation?  Memento quia pulvis es. Quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris . 

In a completely other register, the series of monumental Seeds, in wood, plays with the theme of the envelope, of skin transformed into carapace – another exoskeleton! –, contained in the seed of a plant that we can only imagine as massive.  Some of them are split in half, lengthwise, revealing a series of compartments, of pockets and partitions, as if they were the archaeological remains of a vanished city.  The mysteries of the reproductive energy of the seed are laid bare, revealed, the point of no return that simultaneously crystallizes the ultimate voyeurism and the height of introspection.  Belloni wants us to put our finger on the genesis of life and on the latent energy that it holds.  All of this without ever falling into the trap of sensationalism, the ostentatious, or the declamatory, a little like the way a weed can, inexorably, ignorant of all contingencies, braving the concrete and the asphalt to pave its way to the sun.  The simplicity becomes, upon reflection, terrifying, in that it returns man to his original position, minor, in a natural world that ignores him and knows well how to do without him.  All expressed with an extreme sense of modesty, as if in passing, as if nothing had happened … Nature is thus indifferent to the despair of the world … Which makes it good … And the sculptor is there, to bear witness to this existential, essential, ontological incomprehension … This seed, we find it in Dalí’s painting in the form of the nutshell, which houses Gala’s image.  However there where the painter placed it in an uncertain, perilous situation, ready to be inadvertently crushed, the sculptor makes it impressive, conquering, dominating, and proliferative …  

The pieces of the series Growth, all in wood, resonate with the sock suspenders that, in Dalí’s painting, Tell prominently displays on one of his bare legs.  In both cases, it is a question of tension, of elasticity, of support, or torsion.  The material is the same as in Clavicles, but without the wax, crude, just rough-hewn.  We can imagine rudimentary catapults, slingshots or bandaged crossbows.   These are also the tendons of muscles that have been removed or devoured, designated in space, the place of the missing flesh.  This charnel absence is experience as monstrous, as a severe shortage that the viewer’s imagination tries to compensate for.  The effort of filling in the hole generates a new form of tension, not in the three-dimensional geometric space of the plastic forms, but in another space, which is that of the effects.  

One must not forget that Belloni is also a remarkable bronze sculptor.  It is probably in his series Insects that his mode of expression in this material finds its plenitude.  His insects are endowed with carapaces, in the style of crustaceans, like huge mites.  They are often presented upside down, on their back, their feet in the disorder of agony’s dismay, what we observe, for example, when we put a spider on its back and it desperately tries to regain its balance.  Here, the bronze’s materiality and its patina emphasize the external surface.  However, we don’t forget, this exterior is also, in the case of crustaceans, a skeleton – an exoskeleton – like a very Dalí-esque lobsters transformed into telephone receivers … Belloni shows them with a relish not devoid of mystery, opening large, flat drawers in which, the pieces are stored in the style of samples in the storeroom of a natural history museum.  All different, but all the product of the same mould, these insects constitute, too, a series of variations on a generating theme.  The universe is cruel and merciless, the praying mantis devouring the locusts.  Through this metaphor, Belloni does not fail to remind us what Voltaire, the pessimist, declared in Zadig – “Men are insects devouring each other on an atom of mud.” – but, he adds to this a touch of hope that Mauriac, the optimist, expresses so well: “The human insect is never discourage and he starts to climb.”  His work is likely to eradicate, to exterminate this black depression that all too often eats away at us. 

Have you notice, there are also insects, pecked by birds, in the right portion of Dalí’s painting … We have come full circle: the incesticide becomes insecticide …


Louis Doucet, September 2009