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Object at Hand

Visages 1 and 2, by Jean-Luc Degonde –

When you grab hold Visages.1-Visages.2, by Jean-Luc Degonde, you realize that you have quite a phenomenal object at hand. Then when you take the book for a spin flipping through to rotate its two heads one is caught up in a delightful experience of perceptual perplexity. On the simplest level, the eye brain coordination plays tricks on you. The faces, disoriented in space and disassociated from surface tension, rotate in a seemingly random manner. Is it left to right or forwards then backwards? But the real discernment takes place when one recognizes how each physiognomic profile contributes to the whole. Every stop frame is a portrait in the most classic sense.


Degonde asks us to identify with the question of who we are more than the assembling of the fact. We negotiate faces daily and more and more the idea of individuality, of identity is obscured by technology. We now have an abundance of representation options ranging from playful avatars to the deadly serious facial recognition systems that can quantify full body data for security processes. It is actually this abundance that Degonde puts to test. These are not mapping systems designed to capture the prodigious detail required to simulate an appearance, but instead stripped down slices of an affectionate assembling of just the necessary information needed to find the expression of resemblance.

The impulse to produce Visages came from the desire to give the viewer a tour around the larger original sculptures created by Degonde. The sculptures are produced adhering to the most classical of methods. Using a live sitter Degonde first fashions a clay model from which a waste mold is made. Then plaster is placed into the waste mold creating a reproduction of the clay original. The plaster model is then fitted with the wood branches of a Chinese Willow tree, sometimes referred to as a “Tortured Soul” because the way the twigs grow in a spiral, twisting manner. The pieces are chosen for their ability to best describe an accurate resemblance with the least amount of information. The branches create a continuous contoured likeness that calls into question the corporeal nature of sculpture. The once solid object becomes a fluid circumscribed path that holds close in its relationship to the line drawings of Visages.


Degonde uses the words sentimental, modest and accessible when talking about his work. The portraiture of Visages surely thrives on the simplicity of the concept, paired exquisitely with its execution. Published by Editions Manucius, the edition of 100 books – including 40 in 4-color prints (quadrichromy), numbered and signed by the artist, measures 3.875″ x 3.125″ and includes 52 hand drawn faces. In his introduction to Visages, Jean-Jacques Gonzales notes each drawing registers “fifty successive points of view of a single portrait”and “none of its faces can see the others simultaneously”. With every flip of the book a new unique portrait is created, never to be repeated. Every person will flip in a different manner. The appearance of each face changes with every run through. Our habitual perceptual structures, charged with constituting a fixed personae, breakdown giving way to non-fixed identities. Even as we grow to know and recognize these faces as familiar the question of the who we are grows more elusive. Indeed a flip book is a modest and a sentimental vehicle, but a powerful instrument with which to explore the fragile nature of identity.

Jean-Luc Degonde is an artist and educator living in Paris, France.
Contact: jeanlucdegonde@gmail.com



  1. For me, this is a haunting, metaphysical statement about human identity, the passage of time, and—on the other hand, about physicality and corporeal transformation. I am amazed and fascinated. What makes it even better, is the way that Times Quotidian has presented the Visages. Many thanks for this, and I will return again and again.

  2. Thanks so much Frank. You really get it! I love the idea of something seemingly so simple being able to speak to far greater concepts.

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