Nathanaëlle Herbelin: Perhaps It Was Never So
Curator: Ofra Harnam
Nathanaëlle Herbelin's solo exhibition at the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery is her first solo in Israel. Herbelin’s painting practice may be compared to a one-woman-crew documentary filmmaker—low-tech and homemade. She takes her inspiration from her immediate surroundings, observing and capturing subtle moments of everydayness that might otherwise go unnoticed. Despite their seemingly unremarkable nature, her images provoke identification as they oscillate between the personal and the universal, the intimate and the political. In almost all of her works at this exhibition—portraits and paintings of interior spaces and objects—one can detect allusions to Herbelin's attraction to the odd and the other. She documents the world around her frankly and straightforwardly and produces delicate and sensitive images of people whom she knows or have drawn her attention. She contemplates her surroundings with the gaze of an intrigued guest, putting every marginal experience through several metamorphoses and translating it into a world that, while rich in detail and bursting with vitality, is also sometimes lonely and estranged.
The ambitus of themes that pique Herbelin's interest in her portraits is broad, from formalistic concern about the shape of a face or some other physical attribute, to an emotional interest or an intuitive connection with the emotional state of the person facing her. Herbelin's interior spaces may be termed mental voids or landscapes. She builds a stage and mounts on it scenes lacking in people but abundant in content. Sometimes one can sense the presence of people in these scenes via the objects that are strewn across them or the atmosphere that envelops the moment described. The gallery walls are covered with a profusion of works that depict daily artifacts and objects such as a towel rack and laundry on a clothesline. Even into these humdrum items, however, Herbelin manages to breathe mystery. The mingling of color and its application on the canvas express a sense of time and depth in the manner of layers of an ancient fresco. Herbelin organizes the world in an order of her own. Her willingness to reveal her emotions through her works makes every moment that she documents into an intimate but impersonal experience. By setting the events above time, however, she maintains the boundaries between herself and the viewer.