“I saw nothing and yet there is something” (Jules Verne)
Virginia Bianchi Gallery is excited to share Necropolis, a solo show by Léa Porré and the second collaboration between the gallery and the artist. A new milestone in Porré’s practice and historical explorations, the show focuses on a dreamlike journey through the Parisian St Denis Basilica and the profanation of its necropolis by French revolutionaries in 1793-94.
In her artistic practice, Léa Porré delves into the realm of digital art as a way to reimagine and redefine the history of France. Her production involves a critical re-reading of the History of her native country through the lens of mythology, deeply rooted in her cyclical vision of time. Subverting conventional narratives that define historically iconic events and personalities, Porré composes alternative realities through a mystical, almost spiritual approach that causes a disruption of events as widely accepted. While distancing her practice from traditional historical research, she employs a transhistorical approach to connect events of the past and possible futures to worldwide mythological structures, creating a fluid, cyclical relation between what has been and what will be.
Necropolis is Porré’s latest digital experience that explores and reinterprets the events that took place in the Basilica of St Denis, the mediaeval abbey of the eponymous suburb in the northern area of Paris. From August 1793 to January 1794, the bodies of more than 170 tombs in the royal necropolis of the Basilica were profaned by revolutionaries and upon order of the government in place. The tombs were opened and desacralised, the royal bodies exhumed, the bones stolen and disseminated, and some buried on-site in a mass grave. This event is also said to have been accompanied by a series of on-site macabre celebrations with banquets and parties, during the revolutionaries’ occupation of the Basilica. Years later, in 1815, under a new monarchy, the bodies in mass graves were again unearthed and later inhumed in one single tombstone, since the quicklime had rendered the bodies unrecognisable.
Following her long-lasting exploration of French monarchy and royalism, Porré digitally reconstructs and inhabits the Basilica, which becomes a memory palace for the new divinatory tale: through 9 singular scenes, the visitor gets lost in this historical maze where history loses its temporal linearity and reality gets mixed with dreamlike hallucinogenic visions. These otherworldly landscapes also speak of Porré’s cultural influences: dividing her time between France and the UK, for the past ten years, the artist continually experiences a mixture of necromantic architectural choices: on one hand, Porré has been inspired by the gothic, monolithic structure of the Basilica of St Denis, she also got captivated by British cemeteries, such as the Magnificent Seven in London, and their contrastingly lively vines and weeds that blanket the tombs.
These two elements of influence converge in the Basilica of Necropolis, which becomes the centre stage of death and body fragmentation, shown only indirectly through the presence of a vast amount of fungi, the principal decomposers in ecological systems. The cycle of the bodies being inhumed and exhumed in the Basilica of St Denis reflects the pattern of life, death and rebirth, and with it the cycle of nature at large. Moreover, nature itself becomes one with the buried bodies: through their decomposition, the soil gets regenerated and makes way for the birth of new life matter.
Fungi become portals to the underground world of the royal tombs: as they feed on them, they embody the divine essence of the deceased monarchs and their buried bodies. In this case, the St Denis profanation acquires a completely different meaning: these chaotic, macabre banquets can turn into a rite, a reminiscence of the unrestrained, excessive Dionysian-like celebrations. Porré’s tale favours non-linearity by wilfully creating connections between past and present, history and myth: the digital worldbuild echoes different states of consciousness and acts as an inverted oneiromancy, where instead of giving a vision of the future, dreams become portals onto a reinvented past. It is up to the visitor to be intoxicated by the disjointed narrative and create his or her own interpretation of history.
There is no rule to play this game. No linear thread. No reason. No secret to uncover. Just a series of visions you probably shouldn’t have seen.
• Necro-polis (2022)