In 2016, Marion Jdanoff’s close friend Pauline fell seriously ill with cancer. Living thousands of miles apart, the illustrator and artist wanted to find a way to support her friend go through this unbelievably difficult time, and decided to send her a package of daily drawings. The original idea was that Pauline would burn a drawing a day as an “inefficient fire-based therapeutic form,” Marion tells It’s Nice That. But, tragically, things did not go as hoped, and Pauline eventually passed away. “The drawings ended in a book and it was Pauline who burned,” Marion says.
Published by Grante Ègle, the book, called Guerre brings together more than 600 drawings by Marion, that had unexpectedly been saved. “At the very beginning, I thought that Pauline would follow the rules and burn the drawings, so I didn’t think too much of how she could use them differently,” she says. “When it became clear that she was being herself and doing whatever the heck she wanted, I realised that she was showing the drawings to friends and family. They could convey tricky emotions, function as discussions, without being entangled in imprecise words and lack of vocabulary.”
In the images there are snapshots into what Marion knew of Pauline’s life, as well as lots of animals and ideas borrowed from polytheist cosmologies. Each day Marion tried to create scenes that would resonate with what Pauline was experiencing. “Pauline lived her life to its full,” says Marion. “She had a fierce pride and the laughter of a mountain. The way I was drawing had to match up.” As Marion discovered that Pauline was keeping the images, her tactics changed slightly. “I tried more and more to make images that might help,” she says. “I began to think ‘What is Pauline feeling? What are we (her entourage) feeling? What are the fears, the joys, the daily life struggles, hopes and victories? How do we express all that?’”
The drawings also gave Marion the space to think about the situation and come to terms with her friend’s illness. “It was a bit like when you go to therapy and you have 10 minutes in the waiting room that you use to process stuff that would otherwise be pushed aside,” she explains. “The drawings and the exchange we had with Pauline around them also bound us in a very singular way. I had the sensation we became research partners. We were making something out of this terrible situation – a pile of paper sheets full of friendship, trust, care and love. Drawing was a way not to feel entirely helpless.”
Marion explains that the decision to publish the project, and do it alone without Pauline, has been incredibly uncomfortable. “But it’s better than not doing it,” she says. Guerre itself is an intimate portrayal of illness and its fallout, as well as a touching tribute to friendship. “It’s like opening a kind of ‘Collective Memory Club to Take Care of Pauline’ – trying to hide a part of her on as many bookshelves as we can.”