The first time I came face-to-face with an Agnès Baillon sculpture, I was struck by its whiteness. Not the overwhelming alabaster whiteness of ancient marbles, nor the forthright whiteness of ermine or lily. Not even the more humble whiteness of flour. No, this whiteness reminded me of a page.

White, that is.

I approached the small statue’s delicate, nearly translucent face. Its expression was very pure, the lips slightly parted, not as if to yawn but rather to let loose a cry. Yet there was nothing. Not a sound.

A lull in the conversation. The sound of whiteness.

In the eyes was a trace of light blue which gave a look of knowing serenity. The small statue’s arms were upraised in an attitude of gentle kindness, like a virgin orans (praying figure), as if to welcome me into a new world.

A world where nudes and busts were all made from the same substance, a mysterious mixture of fog and milk. Some figures were nearly comical, with their plump, childlike faces, while others stood in rebellion, a fist raised in defiance. Their presence was soothing.

The figures I was walking around appeared to be no more than 30 or 40 centimeters tall. Although I had not yet seen Agnès Baillon’s larger pieces, I was reminded of Ron Mueck’s reduced-scale work. I also thought of Bernini’s colossal The Rape of Proserpina and could picture the detail of Pluto’s fingers pressing into the yielding flesh of the girl’s thigh. In Agnès Baillon’s work, I found the same elegance and simplicity.

In the window, Femmes sous la lumière (Women in the Light) beckoned you, the passerby, to come inside. You had not plugged your ears with beeswax so you were lured in, enchanted by their silent song.

Center stage sits a couple facing each other, a dramatic encounter between two bodies. You don’t know for sure, but doubtless these two were once in love. You think of Marina Abramovitch’s MOMA performance, of that silent emotion whose powerful intensity Agnès Baillon has managed to harness. Behind them an affable group observes this reunion. You too are quietly watching as you walk around the figures, not making a sound. Or you whisper, just as later you whisper in front of the reliquary bust that is both medieval and profoundly modern. A frightened child is harbored inside.

Look carefully.

Isn’t that mother the sister of the figure opposite her former love? You return to the central sculpture. Is that the same person? You feel like you’re moving back and forth in time. You think about your own life, of that moment when maybe you were going to have a child, but nothing happened. You weren’t ready. In truth you were incapable in those days of being your own mother or father, so you let what was called your inner child cry inside of you. Since then you have grown apart. Through this space others will pass, just as you could, if you chose to, between the couple in Grand face-à-face (The Encounter).

Wearing an apron, Agnès Baillon sculpts in the intimacy of her workshop, where she sits on a stool. She forms, assembles, paints, polishes; she works with wax, resin, papier-mâché, porcelain, bronze, gold leaf. With the modesty common to all great artists she hones, sands, prunes, and perfects what will, little by little, stand up and take on a life of its own.

The eyes, she says, are the spinal column of the work.

Vincent Almendros

Paris, February 2017

Translation by David Jester