16 April 2021

Gup New – Portfolio; Talent of the week.
In Search of my Curls.

Hair is, and has long been, an important aspect of identity for many, with its historic significance varying across a myriad cultures. We can endlessly manipulate it, shape it, cut it, collect it, preserve it, and can symbolize many things: from health, wealth and status to a rebellion against conformity. Historically, the forced cutting or altering of one’s hair has, at extremes, been used as a means of degradation and humiliation: at its essence, its undertaking was a means of stripping one of their identity, their individuality. Past the individual, our hair is a source of our heritage, connecting us to the many that have come before us: it is from this root that visual artist Aurélie Sorriaux’s (1994) project ‘In Search of My Curls’ develops, as she, following the archive tradition, delved into her family’s visual and written historical artifacts in pursuit of traces of herself, and the heritage that came with her curly hair.

While many of Sorriaux’s previous projects involved a mapping of geographical landscapes, studying the visible traces of time left upon the earth’s surface, In Search of My Curls is a project, while continuing within the same vein of in-depth research, that maps out a far more abstract concept — the delineation of her family’s heritage across generations, and how this history culminated in her being. Indeed, Sorriaux appears to approach the project with the research-driven mindset of a geologist. As the only one in her family to possess a head of curly hair, this question of identity and its source seemed all the more pertinent to Sorriaux, who sought to understand the factors that one may use in determining our feeling of connectedness with our family. What defines the relationship of family, besides blood? Is it likeness, language, culture, or perhaps a set of presiding principles that come about from a culmination of all of the above? Can one find answers to such questions by looking into remnants of the past?

In an increasingly chaotic sea of information – due in part to the rise of companies offering services such as direct to consumer genetic testing and ancestral data – Sorriaux’s search for her roots took place within her family’s archive, in the form of tangible artefacts such as photographs, train tickets and the like. Yet, in involving her family members in her project, Sorriaux opens up her personal investigation and breaks from the more factual basis of the archive tradition. In forming a list of questions she would have wanted to ask her ancestors, and passing them onto her parents, the line between the hard “fact” of the archive, from which her project finds its source, and the “fiction” of the imagined dialogues, becomes all the more blurred, and highlights a seemingly central question in Sorriaux’s practice: how can the traces we are left with, in the form of artifacts and descendants, reveal truths about ourselves, and the world around us?

Sorriaux’s project goes beyond the expansion of her family’s archive in the creation of new artifacts — beyond the intimate photographs of her relatives juxtaposed with archival photographs, or cuttings of her hair, or the monument of her project as a whole, made physical in the form of a book. The project’s self-referential nature — an almost, but not quite, meta layering of the existing archive with new material, that directly alludes to the original archive’s scope and limitations — means that any reading of the archive by future generations, will be a reflection upon a reflection. While our insight into our own ancestral history relies largely upon the decisive, or sometimes accidental, preservation of history by our ancestors, Sorriaux’s decision to give form to her investigation into identity paints new traces upon the topography of her ancestral history, forming an altogether different kind of heirloom with roots in both the real and the imaginary.



AGALAB – Interview, Avril 2022

In the autumn of 2021 Aurélie worked with us in the studio for two months as artist in residence. And then she stayed. On Tuesdays, she works with Maarten mainly in the screen printing department and on other days you can find her in our etching department working on her own art. Aurélie and I (Barbara) as colleagues have wanted to have coffee with each other for a while now. I had already seen several beautiful works in the building and online and wanted to know more about Aurélie and her process. Last week we finally met.Last autumn you came here as artist in residence.Do you remember with what wish you came here? And did it come true?

I definitely came with a plan and that was a plan for screen printing. I am interested in the subject of time and the traces that time leaves behind. I am fascinated by how time expresses itself in geology, stones and mountains but also the line and meaning of time in human’s lives and ancestry. There are so many layers in time. You can see it in mountains and stones, but also in human lives through memories and specific behaviours that we carry with us for generations. Based on these two subjects, I wanted to work with layering and found the screen printing technique appropriate. It was fantastic, I thought and still think that but during my period here, I discovered another technique that suited my approach better. There was another artist in residence working in the studio during my period, who pointed out to me this different — and for me new — way of working. And that gave an enormous twist to my work and development.

Which way of working is that? And what did you find there?

Etching. I started with etching and why it suits me so well is mainly the difference in the creation of layers in the image. In screen print, I added layers to each other, it is a way of stacking. Through differences in shape and colour the different layers become visible. In etching, I work the other way around. I don’t put images on top of each other, but press them into the paper; in a similar and simplified way of rocks’ creation, being formed by an accumulation of minerals subjected to high pressure. These layers deepen because etching works with relief. I press the shapes into the paper, which causes differences in height to appear. This relief creates layering, layering built up from one image. That immediately appealed to me. These reliefs in the paper have their own tactility that is different from the surface of mountains, yet there is something recognisable about these textures. So during my residency, I unexpectedly found a way of working that fits in very well with the story I’m looking for.

In your work, I see mostly mountains. Why mountains?

Mountains are time travellers. Their legacy comes from far away and retains treasures. They will remain after us just as they where already here billions year before us. So, at the moment, I am indeed working mainly with images of mountains. The line with my ancestors is still present, as far as I am concerned, because these mountains are also good acquaintances. Almost every year, I went with my parents to the mountains in the South of France. And so there is a family connection. When I was in that area again recently, I saw the mountains differently. By being so attentive to the etchings of these mountains, my relationship with this landscape has changed. I am no longer passively involved, but look very differently. You could say that I now ‘read’ the mountains when I walk through this mountain landscape.

Do you have a favourite moment during the process of etching?

Yes, definitely. That’s the half hour, sometimes the three quarters of an hour, that I’m only busy with ink and my etching plate. I have no other thoughts, only the plate, the ink and my hands. I have no idea if it is going to be good, if it is going to work at all, what it is going to look like. All I can do at that moment is focus on the movement of my hands, the ink and the plate. That moment is simultaneously light and full, not comparable with anything else. Trying not to get any lines or dots is my only focus. The result is only there at the very end, which is why it is almost a blind process, something you do without seeing. It is most similar to analogue photography: you stand in front of something, take a picture, you know what will be in it. But you don’t know what the photo will be like when it’s developed. There is time and space in between. It is a latent moment. I put in a lot of effort and then have to wait, and then rediscover the image. And that is always surprising.