Up and Away: Berkeley Freedom Allows French Photographer to Float

The dream first happened in 1994, when Maia Flore was just 7 years old, and it continued on and off for the next nine years: An older man is pushing Flore toward the sea — pushing, pushing — and Flore, almost airborne, gets closer and closer to the water that she's deathly afraid of. It was as if Alfred Hitchcock himself were orchestrating Flore's nocturnal stirrings. In the dream, Flore would always wake up before she entered the waves.

“At first, I wondered why this nightmare was coming back. Why did I have just this one nightmare?” says Flore, who's now a photographer based in southern France. “I wanted to finish the story.”

Flore tells that story through “Sleep Elevations,” a new exhibit of photos at San Francisco's Modernbook Gallery that depict a girlish, orange-haired Flore in the air — slumped over and asleep as balloons, kites, ropes, and strange objects (including antlers) carry her over oceans, countryside, city centers, and other outdoor expanses. Instead of going down a rabbit hole Lewis Carroll style, Flore heads up, up, up, into the clouds, into airspaces that seem both freeing and terrifying — like an unconscious trapeze artist whose dangling could end at any second.

When Flore first exhibited her “Sleep Elevations” series in Paris, at Galerie Madé in early 2012, it garnered enormous praise and established Flore as one of France's most notable young photographers. Flore has since become a regular contributor to the country's most prestigious paper, Le Monde, and now exhibits throughout Europe and the United States, with a particular connection to the Bay Area. Last year, Flore did a five-month arts residency in Berkeley, where she had access to high-end photo printers and other equipment that are difficult to find or are too expensive to use in her French hometown (Laroque des Albères) and Paris (where she lives some of the time). In Berkeley, Flore also found inspiration in the “anything goes” arts climate, which contrasted hugely with the more tradition-based outlook that's emphasized in France. Flore plans to return to the Bay Area for another residency, and will perhaps relocate here, later this year. “I fell in love with the Bay Area,” she says. “The life you have in the United States is something really special. I don't feel the weight of history on my shoulders there. I feel more free.”

“Sleep Elevations” works as a photo series because of its surreal, fairy tale qualities. Flying dreams are almost archetypal — an experience connected, psychoanalysts say, to people's desire to liberate themselves from familiar constraints. In “Sleep Elevations,” Flore has seamlessly stitched her dreamy sleeping against background scenes of Europe that she photographed separately. For Flore, “Sleep Elevations” also worked as a kind of art therapy. In her dreams, the man pushing Flore was her grand-uncle — a man she didn't know very well but didn't feel antagonistic toward. He died when Flore was around 10.

“I don't dream about it anymore,” she says in a phone interview from France. “The pictures allow me to have a different life — to not be me for a moment, and to see me in a different way. So it helps to discover who you are. In the picture, you don't have to be afraid. It's just a picture.”

Romare Bearden, the great African-American artist who passed away in 1988, always had something new to say with his art. In the past three decades, curators have always found something new to say about Bearden. And so it is at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, where “Storyteller” presents Bearden as the consummate narrator — someone who could reinterpret Homer's Odyssey with a series of colorful silkscreens, like The Siren's Song and Odysseus Leaves Nausicaa, both from 1979.

Then there are Bearden's more abstract watercolors from the same period, like The Watcher and Under the Bridge, that are reminders that Bearden excelled at all aspects of his craft, not just the collage work that, as it appeared on the covers of magazines like Time, burnished his reputation for thought-provoking imagery.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories