At the Transpalette in Bourges, Jean-Luc Moulène is presenting, with "Disjunctions", the first of his photographic series, with the same exacting approach underpinning all of the artist’s latterday work and, in particular, his photography. The "Disjunctions" are enigmatic and not easily accessible. They were taken between 1984 and 1995 and aim above all to deconstruct a certain number of habits with respect to the photographic image, which the artist inventories while simultaneously steering his images in a different direction, clearing the way for a new visual grammar. On the face of it, the series is surprisingly disparate:
we strive in vain to identify the author’s style, the way we’d expect to in a traditional photographic exhibition. Therein resides one of the great strengths of this exhibition, which assembles and juxtaposes the forty-two photographs for the first time, simultaneously assuming the role of the retrospective of a work completed around twenty years ago, and as the invention of a photographic series as a complete corpus.
As during the time when he placed it “in the arena” under the convergent gazes of the Filles d’Amsterdam, Jean-Luc Moulène likes to make the spectator tense, obliging us here to come to look for the image, rather than that it impose itself on us: having chosen to frame them with plain glass, the artist integrates the reflection of the space within the works themselves. The materialisation of interpretative difficulties in terms of both the content and form of the images, this detail reveals an essential direction in the work of Jean-Luc Moulène, that of enabling the photographic image to lose its obviousness. In an interview with Régis Durand conducted during his exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, Moulène used the term “decalibrating” in this regard: each photo in "Disjunctions" only belongs to one or several photographic genres in order to more successfully decalibrate them. These genres, while continuing to remain identifiable – hence we recognise in the exhibition a number of portraits, urban landscapes, nudes, photographs of gardens, etc. – no longer operate as the key to interpreting the images. They are the result of meticulous work on displacements, errors and evasions, a good example of which is the non-symmetrical and un-aligned view of a little French garden, frozen in its artificiality (French Cultural Landscape, Paris, Spring 1987). The great disparity of the series thus results from this powerful negation, which is also what holds it together as a whole (this is also how we might understand the term “disjunction”, the logical construction with “or”).
Moulène has often been compared to Benjamin’s flâneur of cities, or of nature, in the figure embodied by Rousseau: indeed, in this series, beyond the attitude of a reporter on the lookout for the right moment, there is that of a botanist bringing back a special herbarium from his walks, comprising rare specimens. Plants in particular are used by Moulène to extend photography to its technical limits: this is the case with Shading, Javerlhac, Autumn 1989, the view of a little plant whose leaves are turning from a deep green to a transparent yellow, and whose appearance seems to result from a photographic effect. But what undoubtedly best characterises the series is that Jean-Luc Moulène does not compose his images; even the most intimate (his body, that of a naked woman, or his everyday life, as in Grocery Shopping, Paris, Summer 1989) seem to stem from the same surprise, the same absence of control. “My focal points are for fasting [faire maigre],” he declared to Régis Durand in the same interview; photography precipitates an image (in the chemical sense), but does not create it.
The "Disjunctions" seem to exist at the point of intersection of several images. They sometimes contain a direct citation: a woman given a halo by an advertisement for wine; a man whose sweater bears the number 5, and who is surrounded by exactly five people; a photograph in which the source of a rainbow appears to be found by the sign “Pont Louis-Philippe”. But it is also the omnipresence of signs, acronyms and other symbols that the artist carefully identifies in his everyday environment and that betray the underlying existence of social norms, state violence, the control of bodies and movements: from traffic lights to police signs, to the recurrent presence of advertising. Whether it’s explicit (the BNP logo, a big poster for Whiskas) or more surreptitious within the reality (the GTX initials on a car), advertising is shown by Jean-Luc Moulène for what it is: a parallel visual order, belonging to the regime of mental imagery. The dilapidated wall, which an ideal view of a garden and a tin of catfood are stuck to (Untitled (Whiskas), Rue Neuve-Saint-Pierre, Paris, Summer 1990), echoes the theses of theorist John Berger, who wrote that “advertising explains everything in its own way. It interprets the world.”
In the face of this authoritarian control of images by the powerful of this world – a poster by De Gaulle bearing the mention “Long Live the Republic” seems to respond to the solitary statue of César, in the Tuileries Garden – the photographs of Jean-Luc Moulène produce riddles: the gaze gradually detects clues for interpretation in them, like a black mark on frozen ground, a suspended movement, or a lack of light. They recall the thought of the philosopher Vilém Flusser, for whom images belong to the world of magic. In the magical world, writes Flusser, the sunrise and the rooster’s cry signify the same thing, since they happen at the same time. In the world of images, all things contribute to the meaning of the image: hence the portrait of the woman holding her pendant in the shape of Palestine, and a rock in the shape of Corsica (“The stone made these lines...”, Cap Corse, Autumn 1989) through its obviousness, abolishes the notion of chance, placing the stone, the pendant, the woman’s face, and the mountain within a magical network of meanings.