There is a crack in everything – Joan Ayrton

There is a crack in everything

Joan Ayrton

Florence Loewy gallery/books

07.01 – 06.03 2021



Three Times The Same Mountain


After returning from holidays, a friend told me of her stay in the Hautes-Alpes where she spent several weeks. Having experienced a state of ecstasy before the landscapes’ beauty, she confided in me to reveal the dangers specific to the region. Many stories of walkers who have died during dangerous expeditions, sometimes causing rescuers to fall to their deaths, circulate in the village where she stayed. As she told her story, I imagined and fantasized about the harshness of a life both isolated and confronted with an acute awareness of catastrophy. 


Several weeks later, I discovered Joan Ayrton’s analog, black and white photographs that she took from the Grande Dixence dam in the Swiss Alps, the highest gravity dam in the world built to date. Since 2016, she has developed a practice starting from different sites to explore concepts of boundaries, retention and restraint. As a continuation of her research in geology and seismology, she has become interested in how these sites always – announce a disaster to come. During our first encounter, she asked herself aloud, “how much pressure is put on an object before it gives way?” and added “how much pressure is put on a person before the spark ignites?” Following our meeting, I took a first aid course at the Red Cross– a course that brought us to think about what disaster means to us. A series of images was presented: destruction of buildings, burning trucks, deported populations. I thought of Joan’s work and wondered if it is in what the image does not portray that the coming disaster is hidden. In the three images exhibited at the Galerie Florence Loewy, the dam gradually dissolves to give way to a white halo of light. The technical error produced by the camera becomes a pretext to escape the frame.


In parallel, a series of paintings is exhibited which is a continuation of research conducted on marbled paper and previously carried out in Iceland and Japan. Joan was interested in the accidental nature of the appearance of a marbling effect due to the mixing of ink and water. Loosely inspired by this technique, she created abstract paintings that are both glossy and liquid. In them, she reveals what was “voluntarily” erased, as if the image preceded her gesture. Functioning as pairs, the abstract marbled canvases are often associated with monochromes made with the same pictorial technique. They are absent images. Only a color photograph of a woman in traditional Japanese kimono taken from behind disrupts the inanimate ensemble. With no rational explanation, the body of the woman was split in half by a ray of light while the photo was taken, dividing her identity forever. The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen song “there is a crack in everything.” In Joan’s work, it is through the rupture that something happens, and sometimes through a luminous appearance that recalls the spiritualist obsessions of the late nineteenth century. She always seems to be searching for ghosts hidden in the images she makes. Just as one must dig a hole deep enough inside oneself for ghosts to appear and light to return, one must constantly search for what she has tried to hide from us in the image.


In one of her famous texts, Donna Haraway evokes the cyborg as a being that is not scared of being polluted. This force drawn from an acute awareness of the world allows it to reverse the paradigm and transform the violence endured into an emancipatory energy. Between geology, nuclear power, photography, water and light, Joan uses forces and fears in order to better shift them around. If Joan depicts the human presence solely in its absence, it is because it is in perpetual mutation, like an image impossible to fix.


Marion Vasseur Raluy

Exhibition view, There is a crack in everything, Joan Ayrton, at Florence Loewy gallery/books, Paris, 2021 / Photo : © Aurélien Mole