Insula Dulcamara

Insula Dulcamara

Ilan Michel

In an old bourgeois home with its floor covered in volcanic dregs, a community of women performs an uninterrupted ritual. The grating of stones on the soundtrack gives rise to a telluric, distant mood. Two of them are sitting on the edges of the chimneys, eyes staring, seeing beyond the space. A third crosses the room, carrying at head height a resinated sculpture pierced by copper wires with mineral facets like ice. One performer descends from her vigil, hypnotised by the fragment. It passes from one to the next without visual contact occurring between them. This transfer of the infinitely precious and fragile object is undertaken in tandem, at a slow pace. The third performer remains suspended, folding her body in on itself in prostration. Her gaze follows the paths of introspection. The ritual of transfer continues. The sculpture passes from one to the other. It conceals faces, acting like a mask. In the adjoining room, the performer who instigated the ritual stands upright facing a hanging sculpture plaited with copper and resin, then positions her body horizontally, in an arch, balancing above fluorescent tubes laid on the floor, which reflect the interlaced wires. She simply passes between these two poles of energy, copper, and electrodes, in a process of regeneration. The air is electrified between these conductor-bodies. She doesn’t look at us. They feel at home and we are spectators.

The performance corresponds to a specific scenario: the sculptures are driving forces and the bodies react firstly by improvisation before the score is put in place 1. Its suspended form thus constitutes the beating heart of the installation. Replaying the role of faithful wives, Amélie Giacomini and Laura Sellies worked on it daily. However, far from the traditional results of weaving technique, allocated to female domesticity, the work has the appearance of an arachnidan chrysalid. It is woven with copper wire and made of resin that forms beads of dew. In opposition to the figure of Penelope, who does and undoes her work as she awaits the return of Ulysses, the form is symptomatic of this helter-skelter femininity but without being subjected to a masculine economy’ 2. The sculpture relates to the deployment of bodies in space,’ as devised by the German art critic Lessing in the 18th century, but also pertains to the spectator’s temporality 3. The perception of the object is undertaken in several phases, disturbed by the ever-changing surface, the biomorphic volumes that develop in an unpredictable way. Although the form is particularly expressive, the staging of the sculpture seems to revive the performances by American artist Robert Morris in the early 1960s in which geometric volumes were manipulated on stage. The object is defined by the relationship that it engages between the bodies of the visitors and the gallery space 4. A central sculpture around which all actions converge, it dictates the dance movements of the performers. The dazzling radiance that it emanates is the substitute for solar energy. The staging, as much as the body movements, endows the work with a dramatic time’ 5 that assumes meaning when activated by the guardians of the site.

Insula Dulcamara is the name of this nomadic island set adrift and whose first stop was in Senegal 6. Four videos filmed as static shots thus offer different crystal-clear points of view of the island territory of this first project. Like a combination between the Roman Vestal Virgins and legendary Greek or Polynesian islands inhabited by women, this atemporal, transformative community reinterprets archaic circles, forming a post-catastrophe female dance 7.

  1. The artists work with performers who are considered more as associates than subordinates. It was by proceeding in ricochets, playing on the notion of serendipity, that the duo progressively opened up their working economy to regular collaborators. 

  2. CIXOUS, Hélène, Le sexe ou la tête?’, p. 5, in: Les Cahiers du GRIF, Elles consonnent. Femmes et langages II’, vol. 13, no1, 1976, pp. 5–15.

  3. Therefore, in answer to the question what is sculpture?’ Lessing asserts that sculpture is an art concerned with the deployment of bodies in space (…) The underlying premise of the following study of modern sculpture is that even in a spatial art space and time cannot be separated for purposes of analysis’, KRAUSS, Rosalind, 1977, Passages, une histoire de la sculpture de Rodin à Smithson, Paris, Éditions Macula, 1997, pp. 7–8.

  4. The better new work takes relationships out of the work and makes them a function of space, light, and the viewer’s field of vision.’ MORRIS, Robert, Notes on Sculpture’, Part 2, Artforum, February and October 1966, p. 232. 

  5. The viewer’s movement as he walks around the sculptural diorama, or takes time to interpret the narrative meaning of the various details of the tableau, that endows these works with dramatic time’, KRAUSS, Rosalind, op.cit., pp. 233–234.

  6. The exhibition followed the project undertaken in Senegal for the Dakar Biennale, in 2015, which gave rise to the video Au sol camaïeux divers verts et marron. Un rayon se pose. Mordoré. Rosy-Blue apparaît.

  7. The intuitions of the duo are supported by the prospective lines of thought that have been developed within the Post-Performance Future’ research group led by art historian and teacher Marie de Brugerolle at the ENSBA in Lyon since 2011. 

Published for Galeries Nomades 2016, IAC/GAC Annonay, translation: Anna Knight