Anne and Patrick Poirier Biography

Anne Poirier - Marseilles, 1941

Patrick Poirier - Nantes, 1942

The work of the French artists Anne and Patrick Poirier is an extended rumination on the nature of time and decay. All of their artworks - whether photographs, drawings, objects, installations or monumental public sculptures - deal with memory. For the Poiriers, memory is the sole and vital recourse before a constantly degenerating world.

Anne and Patrick Poirier are explicit about their concerns. 'We believe,' they state, 'that Memory and the knowledge of cultures is the basis of all understanding between people and between societies; that ignorance or the destruction of Cultural Memory brings in its wake every sort of oblivion, falsehood and excess ... and that we must, with all the modest means at our disposal, oppose this generalized amnesia and destruction.' Their art, which is threaded consistently with the concepts of ruins, archaeology, decay, memento mori and disintegration, aims to visualize the remembered past, and to offer it to the viewer as a source of knowledge.

Both Anne and Patrick Poirier were born in France, in Marseilles and Nantes respectively, during the Second World War. They grew up surrounded by the crumbling evidence of systematic destruction, the accelerated ruination of cities and communities brought about by bombing and invasion. The implicit sense of loss accompanying such an experience informs all their work; a key image in their oeuvre is a blurred photograph of a Nantes street, dated 16th September 1943, showing isolated figures amidst a landscape of rubble and exploded brickwork, gutted buildings and burnt-out windows. It seems to be a starting point, encapsulating subjective experience, memory, cultural erasure and the role of photography in freezing and preserving a moment in time.

Over the years, in search of photographic images to convey the sense of a moment caught, Anne and Patrick Poirier have moved across a variety of subjects: 60s glamour girls in dated swimming costumes; 70s tourists posing in front of ruins; empty, cobbled avenues lit by street lamps in Rome; the buckled and eroded remains of antique civilizations in Greece, Burma and Cambodia. Often their prints are hand-colored or overwritten with texts, to signal, as with their own memories, the artists' subjective and personal relationship to the image.

In the 90s Anne and Patrick Poirier made a series of photographic still lives: lush, formal arrangements of dying lilies, rotting fruit, blood-red fabrics, children's toys and crumpled, deflated plastic globes, variations on the theme of vanitas which combined a Surrealist sense of the uncanny with a modern sheen. Another series, 'Fragility', expanded on the subject of decay with color photographs of dried petals inscribed with tiny punctures to spell out words: SEX, RUINS, WOUNDS, BLACK ASH. The 'SiScle Infernal' series shows red petals, also inscribed with words, which seem to be rotting as they dry, in the manner of flesh. The subject matter is mournful, but the richness of color suggests also a luxuriance in the inevitability of entropy.

As self-styled archaeologist-architects of memory, Anne and Patrick Poirier draw parallels between thought and architecture. History, in the sense of individual experience, is an endless building to be constantly toured and explored. In 1992 they began to literalize this notion in a series of large- scale sculptures entitled 'Mnemosyne', a conceptual city whose three- dimensional architecture was placed within the dimensions of a human cranium. They achieved a similarly disorienting effect with a series of perfect marble columns which were toppled and broken in mimicry of classical ruins. Like Cecil B de Mille's colossal film sets for Cleopatra rediscovered beneath the sands of the Los Angeles desert, these conspire to be both ancient and new, real and unreal, unseen but remembered.


From landscape to landscape, from ruins to gardens, our work consists of a series of wanderings. This voyage, without maps and without a compass, this slow voyage to the country of Memory and Oblivion, began without our being aware of it in 1966. At the time we did not realize the length of time nor the distance this voyage - which is still in progress - would take us. During this voyage we have gradually discovered the sites and the traces of our cultural memory. In the course of this voyage, like stubborn archaeologists, we both gather the traces, the notes, the documents, the photographs, the books and notebooks. Little by little, through successive stages and accretions, we have constituted and constructed the different chambers of an immense Library- Museum. We are its archaeologists and its architects. We do not know how many rooms this labyrinthine Museum contains, nor how much time we shall need in order to explore and build it: each stage in our work, in our voyage, is a new discovery, a new step into this mental geography - the maps of which have long since been lost. For more than 30 years, at the risk of losing ourselves we have persevered in such physical and mental wanderings, stimulated by an immense curiosity, not for the past, like so many others, but for that essential faculty which constitutes our Humanity and which is called Memory. We believe that Memory and the knowledge of Cultures is the basis of all understandings between people and between societies; that ignorance or the destruction of Cultural Memory brings in its wake every sort of oblivion, falsehood, and excess; that hate and violence between peoples, intolerance in all its terrible forms, all begin with ignorance and the voluntary destruction of Memory; we believe, too, that in the contemporary world, the destruction of both Cultural memory and Nature has quickened; and that we must, with all the modest means at our disposal, oppose this generalized amnesia and destruction. Memory, we believe, is basic to what we are today, is stratified in the subconscious of 20th Century Man.

Together, therefore, we try to understand what we have discovered about this Memory. We share everything we have gathered separately, each abandoning our own ego, in favour of a double and, we hope, richer ego.

Our curiosity for our own culture, and for other cultures, is dictated by a desire to understand the world around us, though of course such an understanding is too complex ever to be attained, except in tiny fragments. The voyage, in any case, is adventurous and unpredictable. It's not one of those organized trips the modern world (including the world of Art) is so fond of, not one of those trips with obligatory sights, itineraries marked by arrows, built-in guides and gurus, air-conditioned buses and hotels. No, it's a real voyage, with its storms, risks of shipwreck, and dead calms, but also with unique experiences and unforgettable discoveries.

Speaking of philosophy, Plato said it was 'a beautiful risk to run'. This is what we think about Art, and about our life as artists, it is a beautiful risk to run. And we run it together.

Photography was, and still is, one of our constant techniques. It allows us to fix the memory of a gaze one poses upon things, a gaze which intends to be objective and documentary, but which we transform - through coloring and other techniques - into totally subjective images. Thus we attempt to restore our own experience, our own subjective vision. Thus, through years of explorations, we have collected hundreds of these photographs of ruins, of architecture, of fragments, of statues whose gaze fascinated us.

Anima Mundi. Memoria Mundi

The Soul and Memory of the world change. They are transformed, and tend perhaps to fade away. We live in a period of extremely rapid and unprecedented development. We are the observers of this turning point, of this fin-de- siecle, of the end of certain values. We see entire civilizations disappear, or change completely. Our own civilization is in the process of spilling over into another philosophy, another conception of life and of the world. We will have been among the last solitary voyagers of this century, among the last who have strolled alone in the fin-de-siecle. We are the products of this fin-de- siecle, of this turning point in our civilization, and what we have to show are tattered rags of its memory. We wait, with open eyes, curious and sceptical, for the birth of new values.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

'The Shadow of Gradiva', Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 1999

'Memoria Mundi', Fondation Mont Blanc, New York, 1999

'Sculptures', Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, 1998

Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal, 1996

Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1995

Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, Austria, 1993

Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1988

Newport Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1985

The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 1984

PS1, New York, 1980

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1978

'Projects', MOMA, New York, 1978

Selected Bibliography

La Cantatrice Assente (Les Rencontres Rossiniennes), essay by Renato Barilli, Galleria Franca Mancini, Pesaro, 1997

Naufragis, essay by J'r"me Sans, Tinglado 2, Tarragona, 1993

Jardins d'artistes, essay by M. Cox, Abrams, New York, 1993

G. Danto, Art News, October 1992

L. Vergine, Corriere Della Sera, 26 August 1992

Lost Archetypes, essays by J'r"me Sans, Stuart Morgan, Artsite/Bath Festival, Bath, England, 1986

A. & P. Poirier, Architettura e mitologia, Electa, Milan, 1984

A. & P. Poirier, Voyages etc, 1969-1983, Electa, Milan, 1983