A conceptual exhibition of confessional art

Brought to life by Raglan conceptual and confessional artist Élisabeth Denis, “Cold Blooded Dermatographic Locutions” probes how words can cut us to the core, scarring us deeply. 

Through dermatographic writing (using their bodies as a medium), Élisabeth and six Raglan residents[1] reincarnated spells cast both by themselves and by others. Living portrayals of pain, the participants were photographed. The exhibition includes one photograph of each participant, printed on aluminum sheets.

Élisabeth hoped this would be a therapeutic way for the participants to purge the words written on their bodies. Untouched by time, the words have rambled through their heads since being uttered: they are “sticky”. Élisabeth also hopes that the exhibition will allow the words (which are usually invisible to our eyes) to surface, becoming visible so that viewers of the exhibition can see the scars left by words that people carry with them daily. This revelation may influence how we act, prompting us to be more careful about how we speak to others.

This conceptual exhibition has focussed on ideas rather than aesthetics. There will be a confessional-type interactive installation, so that the audience can record “the redundant incantations that keep on rambling in their heads, on their skins, in their stomachs, like some kind of turbine without an accessible way to execute aerodynamic braking”. Hovering over the exhibition will be a gentle, almost secretive, soundtrack of the “interlaced interconnected murmurs of the seven participants reciting the words that are constantly in their heads.” Attendees will have all of their senses activated. During the opening night a live model will be present to give the audience the chance to see, in flesh and bones, what is captured in the photos.

 Élisabeth Denis (elladoucira on Instagram) is a poet, a photographer, a potter, and a filmmaker. Thought provoking, inspiring, and unconventional, she uses innovative methods to explore territory some may prefer to keep uncharted. A French Canadian, Élisabeth has been living in Aotearoa for the past four years and has worked at local gallery The Monster Company, at the Old School and has transformed the Old School into an interactive art space with her Guerrilla Art Jams. 

Élisabeth’s previous exhibition, Geodynamic slumbers, was held in August 2021. It consisted of photographs of six couples’ unmade beds, onto which commentary from the couples (in red text) had been transposed. The photos perfectly captured the nature of human relationships. They brought to mind the inherent diplomacy and the subtle shifts in dynamics that occur as often as movements of our bedcovers. The color of the words evinced plate tectonics and the jarring toll that living in connection can take. Élisabeth crafted cracks and creaks from comments, and tension lines from text, to show how shared sleeping spaces become imprinted with the landscapes of our dreams. 

Cold Blooded Dermatographic Locutions, which took Élisabeth over 4 months to produce, only runs for one weekend. The opening is at 6pm on Saturday 19 February, at the Wharf Gallery: 92 Wallis Street, Raglan. The exhibition will be taken down during the evening of Sunday 20 February. Admission is free.

[1]Elisabeth is hugely grateful for the contribution of the participants (Teresa, Resa, Kiri, Fibie, Alina and Marten), and for the people who helped transcribe the words.

By Richard Potter