I came across the work of this French photographer and video artist on a recent trip to Toulouse. Extracts from four series of her work were on show within one exhibition, so visitors could receive a crash course in her practise on one visit. Roux seems to focus on the dispossessed and the invisible, the unspoken barriers which fall between the haves and have-nots of this world.
In Les Dépossédés (The Dispossessed) Roux entered the world of the Uyghur population who live in northwest China, an ethnic minority group of Turkish Muslims. Possessing the difficult history of unassimilated migrants the Uyghur live outside of the main national identity. Roux photographed the women, in their gaudy finery, and the men, clothed in dusty tired rags, within the ruins of destroyed buildings. You could almost be looking at the proud faces of people showing you their former homes, asking you to imagine the architecture reborn in glory and the lives that were once lived there. In fact the artist selected these locations to strategically demonstrate the ruination and breaking down of the people and their culture, depicting the absence that will soon be. In some of the images the figures look superimposed. There is a blurry line in most of Roux’s work between the real and the staged: we are asked to question her intent and in a wider sense the ability of photographs to lie to us, to create false truths.
Another set of images entitled Walled Out the artist depicts herself, in the form of the back of her head, gazing at settlements ensconced behind high walls. By positioning herself some distance away, as a faceless outsider gazing into a world she is barred from, Roux is sited halfway between a figure to be pitied and a menace to be feared. The photographs were shot in Los Angeles and Phoenix, though the bland surroundings hint towards the universal nature of the gated community; they could have been taken anywhere. By their very nature as much as these compounds keep people out they also keep people in, forming quasi-prisons where everybody is watched and no human eye is the watcher.
There is humour to be found in some of Roux’s work. A video piece with a jaunty backing track shows her mooching around a nameless British city, exploring spaces with her body and using public areas in unorthodox ways. She creeps through the bushes, walks along the grass barefoot, leapfrogs over bollards and climbs on top of bins. Every time she carries out one of these supposed transgressions a CCTV camera is seen swivelling round and the voice of this CCTV tells her off. At the end of the video, Are you talking to me?, Roux slopes off with the droop of her body showing that all of the joyful exuberance which she threw at the city has been taken away. The rules and the overbearing surveillance have drained her energy, 1984 style.