Feb 012010

Dear readers,

It is with my sincerest apologies that I return to you now.  In the past few weeks, I have been entrenched in reading at the Bibliothèque Mitterand, at home, and in various libraries, as well as visiting the various asylums of Paris, and creating a new sculpture in the studio (images coming soon…).

This latest post is a primer for those to come.  Those previous, concerning investigations into art brut and la folie, have lead me to my current fascination with the life and work of Aloïse Corbaz.  I’ve posted, on the text portion of my website, a link to an essay drawing parallels between the lives of Cassavettes/Kaprow.  It’s admittedly not the finest thing ever written, but it should help to elucidate my interest in the fantastical worlds of Aloïse Corbaz.  The following, is a brief biographical account of her life gleaned from various sources (bibliography below):

Aloïse Corbaz, was born 28 June 1886 in Switzerland in the Canton de Vaud. She attended a general school for girls, where she excelled in all subjects, but took a particular interest in music and languages. After finishing, it’s written that she attended a trade school and learned needlework and clothing design.

From the post-humus documentary about her life (by Liliane de Kermadec), one sees that she was a precocious youth, keeping to herself often, and while enjoying the formalities of her family’s life, at a disadvantage for the absence of a mother-figure. Also in this film, and in Jacqueline Porret-Forel’s essay for les Fascicules de la Compagnie Art Brut, there is introduced the figure of a “first lost love,” specifically, Joseph Sauvage. In this account, Sauvage was a theology student living with Aloïse’ brother during Aloïse’ late adolescence. The romance between them was short and mostly communicated in lengthy, sensuous, and flamboyant love letters. Aloïse’ older sister Marguerite apparently intervened in this love affair and effectively put an end to the blossoming romance, scarring Aloïse for life.

After this abruptly terminated love affair, Aloïse’ concept of romantic love takes on an impossibly fantastical quality. It’s thereafter displaced onto the notion of unrequited longing; d’une image lointaine. As evinced later in drawings, amorous feelings were reserved for and projected onto entirely inaccessible men: kings, popes, etc. She explained in one interview, with Porret-Forel, however that she never had any children, or a husband, or lovers because she was too fragile and never learned to kiss.

At age 25, Aloïse moved to Pottsdam, Germany, where she worked and lived as a private instructrice for the chaplain of Guillaume II. There she fell in love with him, the children, and I’d infer, her role as the cornerstone of an adopted family. Also, it should be noted that they lived a fairytale existence—in a castle, with three beautiful young children, away from the reality of an impending world war. When the first world war began, Aloïse was sent back to Lausanne, where things for her began to fall apart. At first, she spent her days as an anti-war activist, though quickly began to exhibit early signs of schizophrenia.

21 February, 1918, Aloïse is interned at the Hôpital Clery. In Dubuffet’s essay for Compagnie l’Art Brut, fascicule 7, he proposes that Aloïse was such a gourmand of abstract ideas, thoughts, transfigurations, signs, symbols, and allegories that it provoked in her a profound disinterest or ennui with the social rules and workings of everyday life. She ceased to cultivate her liase to reality and its social strictures.

It was at Clery that Professor Hans Steck (of the University of Lausanne) first found Aloïse, and took first interest in her work. In these first few years in the asylum, Aloïse was prone to fits of anger, jealousy, lustful advances on the hospital staff, and violent outbursts. Though, it was also during the first two years she was interned that she began to write and sketch in pencil on salvaged scraps of paper. Prof. Steck lost contact with Aloïse for sixteen years, during which time she continued to work, though mostly unnoticed and unencouraged by the hospital staff. In 1920 Aloïse was transferred to Hôpital de la Rosière à Gimel, CH, where she was to spend the remaining years of her life, dividing her working time between ironing (sheets, shirts, etc) religiously, and drawing. Unfortunately most of what she produced, in the way of images and writing between the years 1920 and 1936 was given away to hospital staff and patients, and subsequently discarded. With her rediscovery by Prof. Steck, and introduction to Porret-Forel, and later Jean Dubuffet, her artistic production was better preserved and flourished.

Fascicule #7 . Publication de L’Art Brut “Haut Art d’Aloïse

Porret-Forel, Jacqueline . ALOISE et Le Théâtre de L’univers . (Geneve: Skira, 1993)

de Kermadec, Liliane.  “Aloïse” . film from 1975, french language.

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