Delphine Pouillé’s world is a universe of soft forms that appeal to the sense of the tactile and the corporeal. Between drawing and sculptural language, the work of this artist could be read as kinaesthetic structures of free signs that seem to want to escape from the place assigned to them. Halfway between the pictorial and sculpture, her installations struggle between the fragility of the paper and the rotundity of the form represented. Such is the case of the work entitled Inquietud in which a stylised figure refers to primitive forms and prehistoric schematic signs that the artist has arrived at spontaneously and more specifically from her recent interest and research into Levantine cave art, and also to a whole scenario of symbols more related to intuitive and gestural processes than to certain formal precepts. The title chosen in Spanish by the artist, Inquietud, becomes here a word with evocative literary reminiscences that alludes to two very different meanings : on the one hand, to nervousness and unease and, on the other, to curiosity and interest in something. A term that thus harbours the possibility of generating various semantic fields and different possibilities of reading, as occurs in Pouillé’s own work. Specifically, this piece offers the possibility of finding, more than disquiet in its form, a disturbing interest when observing its ethereal strangeness. Nor is this the first time that the artist has used these schematic graphisms in relation to the innate act of drawing, as they are repeated in some of her works from the last three years, such as in the work Tatami (2021), with which she also alludes to the world of sport and certain gymnastic elements in direct allusion to the body and physicality. Her canvases thus become expanded places that she herself designs and fills with different materials that she crushes, moulds and tramples. Because in the work of this artist there is something artisanal, a vindication for that which is touched and manipulated when constructing a large part of her installations, which seem to become prodigious domestic totems.

Just as Eva Hesse discovered the changeable and mouldable possibilities of liquid latex, the chromatism of fibreglass, textiles, rubbers and elastins that allowed her to give her pieces versatile nuances and infinite spatial possibilities, Delphine Pouillé has been using polyurethane foam for years as a material of reference, precisely because of all the plastic effects that this industrial foam rubber offers in its results, always close to the incident, the deformation and the unexpected. With it, she manages to create strange organisms, almost prosthetic or extensions of other bodies —A Jaco? (2003) or Artificial Creatures (2013)— using it in some of her early work. Over time she has moved on to other techniques and languages, perhaps because they have been used in the past. That is what Pouillé is interested in: starting from one place to get to another. Nor can we overlook the performative dimension that has been present in all of Delphine Pouillé’s work since the beginning of her career, because if in some of her actions the artist has already mixed sculptural language with the corporal and physical dimension —Umbilical Parade (2012) or Rolling up Parade (2013)— perhaps it is now, starting from the work Inquietud created during her Casa de Velázquez residency, where the artist is more aware of the performative identity she gives to almost all her pieces, not only when conceiving them, as a physical part of the process, but also when exhibiting them: proposals to be used, experimented with and even altered, in which she displays a subtle sense of humour.

The artist has explained on more than one occasion how, in the working process of her plastic art, she attaches great importance to the fortuitous encounter, to the magic of chance that occurs in the studio when reusing waste materials; leftover elements that she uses to invent new plastic reconstructions. This search for and fascination with the discarded leads us to think of the sculptures made since the late sixties by the artist Cecilia Vicuña, small altars reconstructed with materials found in nature and which she herself calls precarios. In them she displays a whole original language of emphatic forms made with simple and discarded materials, because using found materials —what the Chilean artist calls basuritas— is a way of underlining the possibility of unearthing the meanings and strengths of those elements marked as disposable by the accelerated logics of consumption and profit.

Many of Delphine Pouillé’s proposals also appeal to a sense of verticality and horizontality when it comes to displaying them, to focus on the use of more evocative materials and on conceptual features based on emotion and sensuality through more open and poetic forms. This is reminiscent, on the other hand, of many of the artists who in the 1960s began to use a sculptural language marked by an interest in the investigation of more ductile materials or, rather, by the separation between material and form. The result was a body of work in which the emphasis was on imagination and sensory experience, although many of them —Louise Bourgeois, Lynda Benglis and Yayoi Kusama— also alluded to serialisation and geometry, but through more spontaneous languages that emphasised process as part of the result. These artists used new materials and objects that referred to everyday elements and even to the body and its fluids, with which they evidenced a process correlated to intuition and memory, in favour of the use of malleable, changeable materials which seemed more vitalist and closer to the spectator.

As we can see, Pouillé’s works go beyond mere objecthood in their form to create organic effects through a material so flexible that it allows expressive traces to remain after moulding it, as is the case, for example, in Enough for Today (2021). A structure made up of three elements that the artist conceived for an outdoor space where the air hits the textiles in the form of original banner of some ancient and unknown civilisation. In this way, the artist highlights textures, colours and shapes that appeal to tactile and sensorial properties. Materials capable of definitively breaking certain categories to become strange anthropomorphisms that play with the correlation of appearing soft and finally being hard.

This return to the investigation of sculptural language through matter has today become the axis around which many of the works of different artists revolve. Proposals with resonances to that current initiated in the sixties, but with all the different nuances that the passage of time entails, for it is not even a matter of re-reading, but of generating free, dispersed and transversal forms that arise from a fluid contemporary thinking. Like that of Delphine Pouillé, who starts from of the simplest of things to recompose a universe of infinite optical material and there is, in her work, a desire to transgress the basic principles of plasticity and a certain nonchalance in the attempts to create forms that appear to be one thing and are something else. Stretching, cutting, sewing, painting, pressing... these are some of the actions present in her experimental process, as if the infinite possibilities of the imagination will adapt to each of your circumstances.

Tania Pardo, The Expanded Process of Delphine Pouillé

Text featuring in the Casa de Velázquez - Académie de France à Madrid 2023 catalogue

Tania Pardo is a curator and the deputy director of the Museo CA2M, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid