Carte blanche to Audrée Wilhelmy | The harbors

With their unique pen and their own sensitivity, artists present to us, in turn, their vision of the world around us. This week, we are giving carte blanche to Audrée Wilhelmy.

Posted at 9:00 a.m.

Audrée Wilhelmy
Writer and artist

We inhabit our body as we hold a house. With more or less enthusiasm depending on the age, noticing different details each season. Time flows over our bones, the staircase of the heart creaks, the years accumulate, the frame crunches.

I have women’s scars that soon left their furrows in my flesh. The drugs, the weather, the parties, the outbursts of worries and joy have transformed my reflection: every month I feel like a new animal, I re-tame myself, I survey my constantly redrawn borders, I map their changes, exploration of a moving territory.

Recently, sheafs of flowers have been blooming on my back. Peonies, blueberries, apple blossoms, Labrador tea, oats: each species represents a part of my clan. The tattoo, all in tawny tones, seems to emerge from my skin. That’s what I wanted, for it to be part of the natural history of my body, a sort of surface fossil that recounts the years lived in all my gardens.


Part of Audrée Wilhelmy’s tattoo

I spent 32 hours on the chair of Poupine Rustre, which practices feminist tattooing.

Thirty-two hours of little exorcising pain: regaining possession of my image, a game with myself, a bravery that root me today, remind me of my strength and my endurance.

While the needle darted my skin, I drew lace, a corset and layers of petticoats for a project of giant engravings which speaks of wear and tear on bodies, of the weight of linen worn by women at work. I myself have a historical-anachronistic wardrobe, where each piece is a kind of experimentation, a daily performance. I’m investigating clothes: what does it mean, gardening with three layers of skirts? How to do archery if you are limited by a corset? How to wash the dirt off the gathered apron? Are the sleeves of the Middle Ages, laced, narrow, more or less practical than those ample and freed from the XIX?e century ?

The evolution of the body over time — personal time and historical time — fascinates me. Nothing is more universal than the awareness of oneself in relation to others, to one’s time or to an earlier version of oneself. A double phenomenon of survival is at stake: social acceptance, physical integrity. On the one hand, the dimension of the image — the projected part, turned outward —, on the other, the carnal dimension, that of the senses, of pleasures, of pains. To think of these dimensions as two different versions of oneself, to observe them one and the other without making them dialogue, is to demand of the body a partial, amputated existence.

In this sense, the tattoo, in its conjunction between the visual and the sensory, makes it possible to reconcile two spheres which otherwise tend to obscure each other. The advent of a work of which we will bear the physical trace, and which makes it possible to confront previous pains, whatever they may be, brings us back to the most concrete of the physical experience.

Feminist tattooing and studios open to gender diversity seem specifically inspiring models to me. Tattoo artists who have a therapeutic, open approach, have a way of welcoming not only the personal experience of the individual on whom they are going to draw their works, but also their skin as it is, in its curves, in its leanness, its texture, its specific pigmentation. Any benevolence that promotes a healthy, luminous relationship with the body. We need more of these places-breaths, these hands-sighs between which to deposit as much our fatigue as our fulgurance.

While the flowers slowly took birth on my skin, we spoke, the tattoo artist and I, of the changes that age inflicts on us, we decided aloud not to undergo them, to accept them as one welcomes without reserve those of a sister, a friend, a mother. Recognizing your body as it is is not a small thing, it’s the story of a life. I entrusted my back to Doll Rustre and I felt relieved of myself, at the same time fully anchored, alive in my pain and in the beauty that was born of it. With this tattoo, I feel like I entered a playful time in my life. A permissive time, where the “sacred temple” of the body can be decorated with garlands, flowers, bright lights, without having to hide the wear and tear, the tangible and invisible traces of my previous experiences.

We can all play with our body, dress it, illuminate it, inhabit it as we see fit. I wish us hide-havens, body-houses to cherish, to take care of, to watch aging in complete wonder, not despite the wear and tear of time, storms and dizziness, but because of them.