Mike Simms

Bankside Bulletin

Strange Fruit

Agathe Sorel ARWS RE launches her artiste book,
Catalana Blanca during the RE Annual Exhibition in May.

The book is of a peculiar and unsettling sensuousness - and its origins are equally extraordinary, as the artist explains.

'In Lanzarote, Catalana Blanca is the local name for a large cactus, a prickly pear which bears white-fleshed fruit. For a long time two of these giant plants dominated the view from our house there, standing amongst the stone and lava in front of a windswept volcano.'

'When they died and dried out, all the human quality they had had while they were alive seemed to disappear. However the ossified fibres were interesting, and I began to experiment with them as the raw material of prints, using first a photocopier and then a large and extremely sophisticated copying machine in an architects' office on Lanzarote. The results were totally surprising and unexpected; it was almost as if the human qualities were resuscitated by the process. Those that I had covered in canvas (to hide them from the staff of the pristine photocopying shop) resembled classical sculpture, others captured the fissured lava landscape of Lanzarote - something I had been trying to do in 27 years of painting there.'

'The selection process took a long time - I had huge bags of off-cuts of second and third generation photocopies, and all kinds of things suggested themselves that I didn't want. It was like the automatic working of the Surrealists, but through modern technology. Eventually I settled on the images I wanted to use based on collages of the largest available pieces.'

'I then started to look for a text - I thought the images needed a parallel in creative writing. A neighbor suggested Lorand Gaspar, well known as a poet and as a photographer, who responded almost immediately. He provided two new poems in his own handwriting and gave me permission to use fragments from a previously published work, Sol Absolu, published by Gallimard.'

'It's not just photocopying. The distinguished writer and print historian Pat Gilmour calls the results digital aquatints because the carbon baked or melted onto the archival quality paper in the heat process is similar to the process and tonality to the traditional aquatint. It has been a very exciting project.'

Catalana Blanca will be launched at Bankside Gallery on 30 May 2000.