Jamais Vu, Déjà Vu

© Courtesy of Elaine Stocki, Night Gallery and cadet capela
© Credits photo: Thomas Marroni

Elaine Stocki

November 25, 2023 — January 13, 2024

54 rue Chapon, 75003 Paris

Memories are clouds. They form and disperse, gather all at once, loom large, pass by. To know anything of the past is to commit oneself to some version of these strange patterns, fundamental to our interior lives yet random, unfixed by nature. Desire for understanding wanders between experience and recollection, the mind grafting partial images onto one another. What materializes is a loose facsimile of textures that keeps us close to reality while the imagination does its slow work of abstraction. This is the miraculous and banal effect of time; a simultaneous exposure and estrangement that, somehow, makes self-knowledge.

Seen is a declaration of the absolute: something has been encountered. But when the link between memory and perception is broken—even briefly—we lose the stability of what we know. Western psychology borrows jamais vu (never seen) and déjà vu (already seen) from the French to describe such a feeling as one of misplaced recognition. Though oppositional, both phenomena invoke a state of amnesia, where we might slip around the certainty of the past tense and into a realm of interlaced possibility. When the parameters of reality are cleaved apart, what can be said about seeing, of meaning as it emerges?

This question is one of several running through Elaine Stocki’s Jamais Vu, Déjà Vu. Across her practice, Stocki works in an intuitive register of material-as-metaphor, placing the tactile qualities of linen, watercolor, velvet, oil, and canvas into vivid experiments of color and composition. The braid surfaces as an apt motif; independent threads coalesce only to come apart, again and again, in rhythmic prediction and reaction. Evidence of the artist’s hand appears in stitches and seams. The mind flickers, the seasons turn.

Stocki’s aesthetic interests perhaps most strikingly converge in “December.” Based off of a photograph taken by the artist, the painting captures an elderly woman lying in bed, swathed in quilts. Her placid expression falls somewhere between the viewer and a lamp bulb. Memories could reside in the lines on her face and within the naked source of light, as if she is at once gazing forwards and back in time. This woman in the winter of her life is contrasted with “May,” in which exaggerated feminine physicality finds formal agreement with the archway shape of the canvas. There is certainly a photographer’s logic at play in both paintings. Seemingly disparate images coax significations from each other, a dual memento mori.

“Late Summer” distills an arrival and a departure. The surrounding velvet and canvas pieces function like an aperture, working in conjunction with the central scene to evoke the relentless motion of time. This cocooning effect is made eerie in “Night of the Hunter.” To my eye, the opacity of black velvet aims to obscure rather than frame. Stocki narrows the visual field into a scene of solitary enclosure, imbued with the narrative potential of a film still.

There is a sense of mystery shared by Stocki’s process and the final paintings. Themes and images often reveal themselves to her through creating the work, one painting giving rise to the next. Looking, then, is to participate in the making of meaning, that quiet act going on all the time. When might a memory reveal itself in full? Never, already, Stocki calls from the gloaming.

Jayne Pugh