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Lélia in Wonderland: A journey through the exhibition “Back to Books” at Lélia Mordoch Gallery

Work by Pétra Werle

It all began when Alice started reading with her sister on a bank, almost falling asleep: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Alice asked, just before her attention was drawn by a white rabbit showing her the way to unexpected adventures in Wonderland.

Alice’s sister didn’t know the answer. But Lélia Mordoch probably would have started an animated conversation with Alice (who is her son’s age) about the power of words and poetry in conjunction with images; she might have taken Alice to her book printer showing how words are born next to pictures, and taken the girl by the hand to jump jointly into the rabbit hole…They would have drunk tea with the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat and met with many other creatures, without even swallowing one magical candy or potion. Because Lélia would have taught Alice that you can experience Wonderland everyday through art and poetry.

Only one year after opening her first gallery in Paris in 1989, initially dedicated to abstract art, Lélia Mordoch decided to also launch her own art book publications: simply names, the Lélia Mordoch Gallery Editions. “When you want to publish a book, you need to be either already known, or ready to waste your time”. So why rely on others when you can do it yourself? Lélia Mordoch likes it easy.

Lélia Mordoch’s motivation for her own publications was driven not only by a strong pragmatic flair and a natural draw for independent and free decisions, but also by her two passions, art and poetry. Lélia wrote her first poems at elementary school. Today, “everything inspires [her], even a Champagne cork”. Of course: Blup! the noise of the cork, the bubbles, the spark, the taste, the smell…the words just naturally flow to her poet’s mind and senses. Lélia would have the Mad Hatter serve Champagne in tea cups if Alice was 21.

Writing about artists and about the artwork that inspired her is naturally part of Lélia Mordoch’s work which aims at highlighting and appreciating emerging artists. But many galleries today stick to online articles or booklets, for obvious economic reasons. For Lélia Mordoch, publishing a catalog on an artist has something ceremonial, almost magical. “Books are respected objects”, she says. But there is more. In Lélia’s world, books are alive. Like the Champagne cork, “there is a sensual relation to the paper”, she adds. You can touch them, feel them, smell them, before you put them back on a “bookshelf, where they live their own lives”.

Alice would have loved the art books Lélia Mordoch recently published – in English and French – on several French and international artists (see names below), whose art work is presented in the exhibition “Back to Books”, opening on August 23rd at the Lélia Mordoch Gallery in Wynwood, Miami. Not only because those books reproduce many pictures, but because the artists’ world brim with magic and wonder.

Why did Lélia Mordoch chose to represent those artists? “100% intuition”, she asserts. No choice is based on art market premonitions, price speculations or commercial trends. And what about the personality of the artist? For Lélia, there has to be a natural connection and mutual understanding with the artist. But, “it’s only after being inspired by the art work that you realize you actually have a lot in common with the artist”. This is promising. Will we meet with the Mad Hatter or the White Rabbit again with those artists?

Let’s jump into the gallery hole for a new journey through the “Back to Books” exhibition…:

No White Rabbit. But a Big White Cube. We are first offered a piece of soft bread. Shall we taste it? Will it make us grow or shrink? Taste it with your fingers, would say Pétra Werle, who sculpted bread when she was bored working as a cashier in a movie theatre in Strasbourg. From soft bread, she started to shape little creatures and fairies, like reanimated from a Midsummer night’s dream theatre, dressing them progressively with sea shells, insects, feathers, butterfly wings, so that they be free to swim or fly as they please. Pétra Werle was the daughter of a bargee father, while dreaming of flying the world. Deeply rooted with nature, those little creatures know how to ride on animals – all animals – and how to talk to them: bears, raindeers, giraffes, elephants and imaginary animals… And like the elfins, Werle’s animals are forever free...


…So free and independent they could walk away and decide to drop of their bread shell and replace it by some wire, to step into the next Wonderland. Let’s follow them…“Next stop Utopia”, writes Lélia Mordoch about James Chedburn’s universe. The elephant and his friends are still here. But made of wire, surpassed by a flying human. Icarus won’t fall in Chedburn’s world. His wings are not made of wax or dead insects, but created by a former engineer, who used to design wheel chairs for those who can’t walk. Icarus is safe, Chedburn has an eye on him. Or is it Jules Verne, the French author from the 19th century who imagined giant animals and machines and a trip Around the World in Eighty Days (a few years after Lewis Carroll gave birth to Alice)? Who are the two heads watching over the fountain in the Lélia Mordoch Gallery? Are they watching the animals and Icarus embarking on a trip around the world, around Wonderland?

Alain le Boucher is ready for a trip around the universe. But he has no time to wait for Icarus or the animals (the White Rabbit is always late!) because he wants to move as fast as the light. The light he observed twinkling on the sea where his father worked as a marine radar specialist. On his trip around the universe, Alain Le Boucher keeps the brass wire and may only take on board fireflies, lucioles in French. Luchrone is the name of his first sculpture of light created in 1978. The Luchrones sculptures sparkle like fireflies guiding our dreams when we face darkness, guiding the fairies in the Midsummer night. In 1975, the Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini worried about the Disappearance of fireflies due to environmental changes. Was Le Bocher worried about them too, so as to immortalize them through light and wire to guide us in the dark? Le Boucher is way ahead: if the fireflies disappear, we’ll have the stars as night radar. With the help of astronomers, Le Boucher designed an interactive astrolabe calculating the positions of the stars and planets

When the world shrinks in Alice’s eyes, stars seem further away though, desperately unreachable. Carolina Sardi’s world shrinked “to the size of a few suitcases” when she was forced to exile her country, Argentina. She had to start another journey far from home. Again, flying creatures, insects will fill the hole of loneliness and nostalgia: neither butterflies nor caterpillars, but bees. Fascinated by the buzz of beehives, she builds installations and sculptures of abstract iron swarms, symbolizing the pollination of a new life in a community. Now that she has embraced her new community, that the suitcases turned into a new home, and the world seems bigger again, Carolina Sardi is ready to reach out to the stars. Sculpting constellations on walls, she explores the cosmos with iron, according to the vision of her world.

So Alice has grown bigger. And older. She has travelled the wonder-world in 80 days like Jules Verne told her to do 7 years later. But exploring the stars and travelling the universe at the speed of the light with the Luchrones added almost two centuries to her age. Meanwhile, concrete objects have turned into archeological curiosities, mummified by Daniel Fiorda in white plaster on white walls in a White Box series called Archeology of the 20th century. Machines like typwriters, light flashes of photo cameras and phone wires are buried under a thick layer of unconscious and virtual lives. Alice doesn’t know what these objects are yet (the typewriter and photo camera are invented only a few years after Lewis Carroll’s publication), but we need to help her unearth them – to unearth the future for her, the past for us, to be able to experience the present.

We need to help her (and us) understand our virtual Wonderland. Alice can see trees, flowers, shapes in all colors and sizes and directions, but she can’t touch them. Did Alice eat the wrong side of the mushroom again? In fact, she just stepped into the Fabrika, Miguel Chevalier’s world and studio. His work is best appreciated in giant spaces, projected on cultural heritage buildings in France like operas or castles, where history and digital modernity coexist without anxiety. But Alice, even when grown older and much bigger, is anxious. She somatizes. Chevalier’s videos constantly moving make her head turn around. She needs to hold to something papable, concrete, existant…

A wire! Here again, not a brass wire this time, but an electric cable, blinking and flickering in flashy colors, thrown by Pia Myrvold like an anchor to reality. For Pia Myrvold keeps wandering from the virtual to the real world, interpreting and reflecting her Self into a Digital Other, her female body into a 3D Venus. The cables are the link from one to another, often articulated in colorful sculptures responding to digital animations. Accustomed to Norway’s damp and cold winter, Pia needed, like Alain Le Boucher, radars to shine in the dark. She chose lively and joyful lights, giving birth to “a world (…) where women are queens and goddesses”, according to Lélia Mordoch. In Pia’s world, Alice and the Queen of Hearts might have been girlfriends. A land of powerful Venuses.

Goddesses are also dominating in Miss Tic’s art work. Her Birth of Venus, reproducing Boticelli’s masterpiece through graffiti, brings powerful women out into the public, into the streets of Paris, just like several other pieces in her series “Muses et Hommes”. With this project, made possible with the support of the city of Paris, Miss Tic tends to democratize art history, in an inhibited way. The link with all previous artists? Poetry and Freedom, of form and content. Miss Tic echoes each painting and graffiti with a poem reflecting social and political issues concerning women nowadays: homosexuality, sexual abuse, colonization, terror…always claiming the image of a free and independent woman, fighting against prejudices and any form of domination. “Miss Tic is the mirror of the woman that I want: free”, says Lélia Mordoch.

Today, Alice, who fled as a girl from her home and her sister to experience the unkown and strangers, would have agreed as a woman: you have to step out of your comfort zone and fall into a black hole to experience the magic of life.

This is Lélia Mordoch’s world, or at least a tiny part that she accepts to reveal to us: a wonderland animated by sparkling and moving lights and fantastic creatures and free beings, connected with their minds through wires and creativity, enchanting our everyday lives, turned into poems.