La Chambre de Labastrie
Benedict de Saint-Maure describes in his Roman de Troie the Alabaster Chamber, a kind of guarded paradise, closed off, full of light, rounded by a wall made of beautiful alabaster. Its properties are similar to those of contemporary mirrors, as the ones who are inside can see the outside world, but it remains impossible for those who are outside to see the inside of the chamber.
‘To see, while not being seen, this dream reveals the ambiguous craving and confirms the privileged status of the sight.’
One could say, the Alabaster Chamber represents the base of power which could be likened to that of an institution, as it was only the selected few who could enter and access its treasures. Thus, the series of portraits, as if of inhabitants of the chamber, sets an opposite parallel. The visitors, who are supposedly granted the privilege of sight a priori, become suddenly given the opposite role. The privilege is abruptly taken away from them and they quickly find themselves in the position of the ones being observed (without being able to see) by what was supposed to be looked at (but wasn’t supposed to be able to observe).
In a sense, the portrayed characters always lose their original identity in order to acquire a new role in the symbolic practice of the artist. Consequently, they are immortalised as they become part of the artist’s own mythology and thus art history. Of course, power and history go hand by hand, and establishing a surviving myth might not be possible without the access to the Chamber’s riches.
Michal Martychowiec, 2013