La soif de la montagne du sel

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LA SOIF DE LA MONTAGNE DE SEL 2015

(THE THIRST OF THE SALT MOUNTAIN)

Photo

The title Paolo Topy has given this series of five photographs, La soif de la montagne du sel , is a reference to the work of the same name by the Rumanian author Marin Sorescu (1936-1996). Published in 1974, the trilogy explores the mysteries of solitude, or rather of mankind’s solitudes, its questions and quests. Walking past the nightly “Nuits Debout” assemblies, weaving between the silhouettes of men and women with their backs turned to him, Paolo Topy began to consider why that sort of spontaneous protest takes place, and what the people’s reasons and motivations were. He decided to work on this singular, emblematic pose. An outlandish, “tourist-trap” type visit to a salt marsh in the south of France was a kind of revelation to him. Confronted with an imposing salt “mountain,” he knew he had found his next subject. Seeing the mountain acted like a catalyzer on his thoughts. Rather than an actual mountain, it was in fact a mind-boggling accumulation of salt, a huge mineral heap. That heap is the subject of the first image (which is oversized compared to the four others). The almost perfectly conical shape is like a caricature of our idea of a mountain, a Hiroshige Fujiyama of salt, you might say. And the salt-pile mountain does indeed seem to have stepped straight out of a Japanese engraving. Standing alone in an otherwise flat landscape, it acquires a unique dimension. Its isolation grants the image the status of an icon, i.e. a sign that has a relationship of similarity with outer reality. Here, that sign symbolizes a mountain, even if, in geological terms, it is a far cry from what that type of elevation, with its telluric origins, can be. But that only makes the image all the more efficient/potent. In every culture, mountains symbolize journeys of self-discovery. “At all times and in all traditions, wise men and mystics have seen mountains as images of the journey of self-discovery. Could there be a better symbol of elevation for those who wish to add verticality to the world’s horizontality, and who, in order to achieve that, face the ordeals implicit in climbing towards the absolute? The mountain, a place of effort and initiation, of solitude and universality… but also of wonderment and awe, is indeed the royal path leading to the land of self-discovery, to the spiritual summits of wisdom.” Those few lines, drawn from Marie-Madeleine Davy’s magnificent book “Désert interieur” (Inner Desert), neatly express the importance the image of a mountain has in mythology and other mystical or philosophical traditions. That human solitude, which was handled so stunningly by Marin Sorescu and is evoked so subtly in Paolo Topy’s title for this series, refers us back to Marie-Madeleine Davy’s Désert interieur. That solitude, which each of us has experienced, as well as the desire to fill our “inner desert,” is also what pushes people to come together in cities to discuss and debate other ways to imagine the world. In this series of shots that have a photojournalistic feel, Paolo Topy deliberately used the whiteness of the salt and the sky to create a diaphanous, muffled, seemingly suspended atmosphere that is surprisingly ambiguous, and radiates a strange, subtle poetry. For a brief moment, we think we’re at a ski resort. That wink to modern contemporary life, to a certain kind of impiety – one that seems sacrilegious – reveals the loss of bearings and values in our era, which is more inclined towards mercantilism and consumerism than contemplation or deep reflection. The choice of this salt mountain is a particularly interesting one. Since time immemorial, salt, in addition to its symbolism, has always had high market value, due to how difficult it was both to extract and to transport. The multiplication of industrial production and processing sites in the modern era has swept away that value and caused us to forget salt’s worth, leading to its being used in an excessive, irresponsible way. Salt has become a mundane and even insidiously lethal consumer product. As lethal, in fact, as our hunger to accumulate mountains of “valuables,” i.e. of useless consumer goods and services. It makes for a powerful image. This salt mountain, a representation of our feeding frenzy of accumulation, becomes an image of our own insanity and of that strictly human capacity for blindly producing ever more constraints that we then need to free ourselves from in order to attempt to conceive of other horizons, other options. Mountains always seem to be overwhelming, insurmountable barriers. Being confronted with one is both an impressive experience and a tough undertaking. Climbing one (they always symbolize obstacles to overcome) requires force of will. You have to outdo yourself in order to transcend the difficulties and reach the summit, then be able to explore and to try a different path for the way down. The journey is often akin to a quest, one that seeks new perspectives and offers the time needed to reflect and come up with other ways of embracing the world. Creating a different relation to it becomes conceivable. The idea is to elicit unsuspected landscapes, new possibilities, a different future for and within oneself. In the final image in the series, men and women come together after a shared experience. Despite their differences, they seem to be motivated by the same desire. This image reflects the attitude that inspired Paolo Topy to create this series. They are standing, turning their backs to us; they are all looking in the same direction, or talking to each other. Of different origins, having come from different places and arrived via different paths, they have come together only to realize that there is still a long way to go before the distant horizon before them can begin to resemble what they sincerely hope for, for both themselves and each other. Each of them will follow their own unique itinerary to try to get as close as possible to the goal that is seemingly still so abstract, will face choices that are strictly their own, will advance at their own speed. And while they all learn that they are still far from what may seem to be what they were seeking – a certain form of truth – this shared, communal experience is itself undoubtedly what comes closest to it. In this work, Paolo Topy, ever attentive to events going on around him, was able to go further than a simple representation of a news item. He invites us to consider the forces at work behind these movements that have been multiplying in western society, and which, lacking the courage to become involved, we have all been witnesses to. The poetical dimension he was able to enhance this series of photographs with also participates in inviting us to transcend our reticence, to reflect in turn, and even, in a way, to participate in these movements. They are moments to stop and think while changing ourselves, precisely by allowing new inner landscapes – harbingers of a different world – to emerge. Our own perception of things, of the world and its issues, will participate in drawing the outlines of those landscapes.

Yves Peltier

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