Zürich-based visual artist Melanie Matthieu (1989, Belgium) takes us on a mystical walk through the French Alps in her publication Lâmo Lâva. Based on the pilgrimage site Our Lady of La Salette, where an apparition of a weeping woman is said to have appeared to two children in 1846, the book moves up and down between the transcendent and the mundane. In black and white photographs, Matthieu combines sober documentary-style images of the snowy Alps, blurry mystifications of stars, shapes and textures, and abstract nude forms.
The title of the book, old French patois for ‘Up there, down there’, is itself a reference to this movement between levels of spirituality. Scenes of groups of tourists along the pilgrimage trail provide a strange midway point, as people collectively seek a form of spiritual connection. Interior scenes and detail shots of a crucifix reckon with our way of seeking to manifest the ghostly in more concrete forms. Combined with the 70 pages of images are 52 pages of text, an amalgam of explanations, charts, a quaintly naïve written account of the sighting by the two children, and various spiritual texts.
Using Our Lady of La Salette as a concrete example, Lâmo Lâva aims to take us to the upper heights and lower limits of our humanity, probing the belief that can be found symbolically in many sites: a church, a mountain, a bed. In giving such a wide and thorough pursuit of this specific spiritual sighting, Matthieu’s book feels ultimately more like a theoretical exercise than an emotional journey, though that is perhaps apropos to the greater point at the heart of all sightings: it is very difficult to communicate to others a personal experience of transcendence.
Lâmo Lâva has been printed in an edition of 300 numbered copies and is available from Alauda Publications.