Essays & Publications

Nathalie Rey's Approach to Critical States


by Isabella Woldt

At a first glance, they appear like ordinary stuffed animals, but on closer inspection, the viewer realises that the cuddly monsters are different - they have lost their eyes or limbs and are tightly sewn together or disassembled. Rey has transformed them into monsters, carriers of thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

Millennium Monster I, 2018, stuffed animals sewed together, 127 x 75 x 75 cm

Stuffed animals are witnesses, collectors, and mediators of our childlike emotions. They are friends and companions that convey and suggest feelings, attraction, and warmth. They are the recipients of love but also of anger and dissatisfaction. Sometimes, looking at them as an adult, memories return to us. They live their own life, indepenend free moving in our memory (Meteorites, 2016). The submerged, seemingly forgotten, becomes alive again. Above all, the touch of the material, but also the round fairy-tale forms, just as they are attractive for children, attract us again and rekindle our thoughts (Tetris, 2016). Rey processes the material the way we process our experiences and emotions; she decomposes them to re-connect them. Rey's animals are deliberately destroyed, condensed, and then recompiled in order to create a new life and a new form but also to overcome the sources of fear in connection with new experiences. When Rey fragments the stuffed animals and places parts of them on the canvas, as in Composition I (2018), or Composition III (2019) the work becomes the projection screen of these processes.

The forms reflect the psychological processing of our thoughts, they are expression of internal critical state, Rey's micro-perception of critical states: We remember, reconstruct, deconstruct and recreate in these processes (Untitled 12, 13, 14, 2017). But above all we condense the thoughts and the experience, especially those of fears and relationships - we displace them to revive them.

In the Igloo of Barneo (2019), Rey expresses her reflection on our fears of climate change. Polar ice caps are now melting at alarming rates; thus the igloo symbolises the threat of this loss: when the ice has melted, we have lost with it our home. The cuddly toys in this piece also reflect the ambivalence of society: just as the stuffed animal is a positively charged object, it becomes a monster in Nathalie's work. Rey's title refers to a scientific camp in Barneo in the Arctic, where research is conducted. It is, however, also a place that is the starting point for adventure trips for the wealthy. Such trips reduce purpose of this research to absurdity. The stuffed animals in the Millennium Monster I (2018) cling to each other as the children cling to the mother in the symbolic figure of Caritas. And here, too, Mother Earth is well thought out.

The Igloo von Barneo, 2019, stuffed animals sewed on fabric fixed on metallic structure, 90x 160(diameter)cm

While in the Fukushima (2016) drawings where small colorful drawn animals attract the attention, Nathalie faces another threat from today's industry-nuclear energy, which is the next threat scenario for the future generations. Nathalie's work embraces and expresses a macroscopic view of ourselves and our actions by critically examining environmental issues and extensive industry, but these global fears are the fears of each of us as we contemplate the old stuffed animal of our childhood. These textiles are our memory.

Without title n° 10 (Fukushima), 2016, pencil and acrylic on paper, 33x46cm (from a series of 13, each unique)

Most recently, Nathalie concentrates on an art project that has been going on for several years, in which she deals intensively with the pollution of the seas by the intensive industry. She titled her project, which already consists of several parts, "Shipwreck", because it roots in the reflection about an accident that led to the leakage of thousands of plastic ducks from a ship.

Twenty years ago, a large group of plastic ducks "escaped" from their container during a violent storm. Carried on ocean currents across the globe, these emblems of childhood quickly captured the public's attention. So much so, in fact, that these ducks soon became popular in the contemporary art world, and, in one particularly avaricious case, a company manufactured imitations to satisfy the demands of thousands of collectors. But not all the interest was purely artistic or capitalistic. Scientists realized that, as the ducks were often found on distant and unexpected shores, they could perhaps teach us much about the complexities of ocean currents. Environmentalists, too, saw in them a conspicuous example of the permanence of all the plastic refuse we dump into the sea. For me, however, the ducks symbolize our globalized world, a world in which economy, ecology, science and art are all juxtaposed. In this way, toys, which often have the appearance of small animals, began to invade my drawings and my paintings. Like the stories of La Fontaine, these toys allow me to tell fables about the human race.I started a series with toys - more specifically my sisters' old and damaged stuffed animals - of very small format, painted on wooden blocks that resemble the blocks we played with as children. In parallel, I superimposed these stuffed animals into pencil drawings of various images of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Here the intention is multiple: to revive the tragic content of these images, unfortunately made commonplace by excess media coverage; to introduce the idea of the fragility of the human condition; and also to express my singular vision of the world from the only point of view bearable for me, namely innocence (Nathalie Rey, 2019).

Shipwreck I, photographic series, 2012, © N. Rey

Shipwreck I (Variation), 2019, Bathtub and 1500 rubber ducks, 120x90x50cm, © N. Rey

The ducks are not biodegradable and so they landed on the beaches as yellow toys, which, however, similar to stuffed animals - in the sense of an inversion, became the motif and symbol of the crisis and critical condition. 

published 23 April 2020