The unquestionable gravity of a toy (extracts)
Obviously, The Book of miniscule dead, is not the title of a book destined for children. However, if it weren’t for this troubling title, it is what one might think when looking through the first pages of Valérie Sonnier’s book. Indeed, at first one is struck by the pretty nature of this book. A charming little lorry is seen moving around amongst equally charming toys as one turns the discoloured pages of this old accounts book. Delicate colours, amusing meetings, everything is pleasant, everything charming. But prettiness is not a quality in art, even less so today than before. Fortunately, everything is spoiled very quickly. The little lorry meets a doll and seems to intimately get to know her. Sexuality is abundant. The spirit of children’s books disappears. That of death on the other hand appears in drawing.
The little lorry crosses the path of a pistol, looks it in the eye, and is finally welcomed into the arms of a model skeleton. We are reassured, the artist treats seriously only the subjects that are brave, that grow up, that love, that die. The metaphor is obvious, the adventure of the little lorry is that of a man following his tragic and inevitable destiny.
If the story ended there it would be one of beauty but too much sadness. We don’t let a toy die. The passing of the little lorry seems calm, but is in every way a death, as miniscule as it may be. Thanks to the artist, it is brought back to life in books such as this one. It is even the hero of small films filmed in Super-8 (Adventure of the little lorry in the garden, summer, 1995; Adventure of the little lorry in the gardern, winter, 1997 ; Adventure of the little lorry on the beach, 1998), as if the books might, unconsciously, have been produced as storyboards. From now on the little lorry is clearly the artist’s double, accompanying her on travels ( to Vancouver in 1993) and bringing to life what now resembles her own memories of childhood.
Behind the seemingly light appearance of Valérie Sonnier’s drawings, the toys are rich in symbolism and culture. They are preparing for life as a “grown up” as much as they are distancing themselves from it through arousing our imagination.
This is what makes it so hard to separate ourselves from them. Abandoning them is painful because it signifies our entrance into adult life, made up of love and discoveries but also of competition, responsibilities and, finally, of nothingness. In the same way that a toy is the poetic reduction of the real world, the drawing of the little transporter lorry is the melancholy contradiction of human life.
This book, with all the force of a preliminary idea and without a single world, offers us a poignant insight into the artist.