Visual arts

Inés Molina Navea, laureate of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité Internationale des Arts

I try to unearth the problems contained in a photograph through texts and images.

Inés Molina Navea is a Chilean artist and researcher with a doctorate in Philosophy. A beneficiary of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité Internationale des Arts, she is developing an artistic and philosophical project that questions the relationship between the reception of images and historical narrative. 

Updated on 23/03/2022

5 min

Inés Molina Navea
Inés Molina Navea © DR

After studying art, you completed a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Paris 8 and the University of Chile. What prompted you to write a thesis in this discipline? 

Philosophy was already very present in my artistic training. There is a certain approach to art that is absolutely impregnated with philosophy, just as there is a certain philosophical discourse that is impregnated with art. I'm not talking about aesthetics or the philosophy of art, but about a philosophical approach that is close to the technique of art, to the way artists work. 


Why did you choose to conduct this research with co-supervision from a French university? 

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Paris 8, where my doctorate was co-supervised, has strong links with the University of Chile. Stéphane Douailler, Patrice Vermeren and other professors from Paris 8 made several trips to Chile during and after the Pinochet dictatorship, under which I grew up. They worked there with Chilean professors who later also became my professors. When I decided to do a co-supervision with Paris 8, I chose to be part of a history that was already present in my life in Chile. 


You are currently in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and are working on a new artistic project in connection with your doctoral thesis. It is entitled Les Grâces ou les bienfaits des jardins d'hiver. How do philosophy and art, research and creation, fit together in your work? 

This artistic project was born, like my thesis, from an encounter with a photograph found by chance in the media library of the Musée du Quai Branly. It is part of a triptych taken by Pierre Petit at the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris in 1888, composed of portraits of three naked black women. While two of these images follow the rules of 19th century anthropological photography, the composition of the third refers, quite unexpectedly, to the history of art: the Three Graces. This project presents the relationship between aesthetic experience and historical perception. Philosophy and art function as lenses through which to perceive the multiplicity of images and histories that inhabit this photograph. For me, philosophical work is creative work. You have to know how to formulate a problem. What's more, there is no artistic practice without research. This implies both the creation of an object and the study of problems that were already in the object itself. In my case, I try to unearth the problems contained in a photograph through texts and images. 

I am particularly interested in the reproductive nature of the image and the notion of the "copy", generally maligned by artists.

What part did the influence of Aby Warburg and his Mnemosyne Atlas, a corpus of images that reveals the recurrence of themes and gestures throughout the history of art, play in the implementation of your research? 

The Atlas, like Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, offers solutions to a problem, even though they are unfinished works. These works create a link between art and philosophy "in action". Moreover, Aby Warburg asks questions of photography, which I also question in my work. Questions about the survival of the forms of a past culture in the scientific images of the present, about the difference between art and science. These problems cannot be solved with the argument of an "ideology of the time", because they still exist today and it could be that Warburg had other answers. 


What techniques do you employ in this project? 

It is mainly photographs and engravings based on the image of the "Three Graces". I use different techniques for this, such as photopolymer film, silver photography, digital printing, gravure printing, intaglio printing and photocopying. I use these processes to create new images, as well as to reproduce the same image using different techniques. I had the idea of associating "the savage", a representation historically conceived as non-reproducible, even irreducible, with these techniques of image reproduction. I am particularly interested in the reproductive nature of the image and the notion of the "copy", generally maligned by artists. 


Your previous work, which focuses on the history and current events in Chile, questions the notion of the photographic document and in particular its uses as a device of social control. Could we say that you divert these uses of the photographic medium in order to critique them? 

In these works, I was interested in two types of photographic documents produced in Chile. On the one hand, these are images that bear witness to the disappearance of people under the Pinochet dictatorship. These images document what was supposed to remain invisible, thereby triggering a whole legal, political and social process capable of making visible a "technique of disappearance", to use the words of Stéphane Douailler and Antonia García. On the other hand, there are documents which, on the contrary, invent the image of individuals who do not exist. This is the case of the photographs representing the figure of the "savage" in the 19th century, or the portraits made at the same time by Francis Galton, who sought to reconstitute the typical face of the "criminal". This process was revived in 2011 in Chile, with a bill that handed down long sentences for demonstrators who hid their faces. The law thus portrayed an invented public enemy. In both cases, the process of photographic identification, linked to the idea of a document, depends on an original that is not visible, either because it has disappeared or because it never existed. All that remains is the copy. In my work, I simply reproduce this very real and concrete situation through repetition. I try to divert it by revealing what was already in the image. 


How do you envisage the next stage of your work? What will you do after your residency at the Cité International des Arts? 

I am currently doing a post-doctorate in Philosophy under the direction of Éric Alliez at Paris 8, which I will continue after I leave the Cité. I will also be working on my first book of images, published by Ediciones Posibles in Spain, thanks to the support of the Amics de la Fotografia de Torroella association. I also have exhibitions scheduled in Chile and Spain. All of these projects are linked to my work at the Cité Internationale des Arts, thanks to the support of the Institut français and the Institut français in Chile. 

The Institut français and the artist

Inés Molina Navea is lauréate of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité Internationale des Arts. 

Find out more about this programme 

L'institut français, LAB