brilliant 30: Artist Éléonore Saintagnan
Examining 'faith' through the relationship between humans and animals
Q. What can you tell us about your most recent work?
A. I am writing a scenario for a new movie, inspired by true stories about animals. I made historical and sociological researches about animals on trial and justice, covering several periods in history, namely the period between the 13th century and the 18th century, as well as the contemporary period. In the Middle Ages, animals were personal beings often subject to trials and judgement. Up until the 18th century, animals were sometimes defendants summoned to court, subjected to the law and defended by an attorney. At times they were given a death sentence and condemned to be hanged in public. In contemporary society, however, animals are no longer perceived as beings capable of moral judgement; rather, they are considered victims in need of protection, and any relevant legal responsibilities are applied only to human beings. By observing how animals were seen in the Middle Ages in comparison to how they are perceived now, we may also discover the basis of how we, as humans, perceive ourselves. In a broader sense, we realize that our stance relative to nature has also changed. My intention is to present the evolution of human awareness by means of animal trials.
Q. Your past works have been about human beings, but the current project deals with animals. What inspired you to change themes, and which themes underlie your practice as a whole?
A. At first glance, it is true that the characters in my works have changed from human beings to animals. It might seem that animals are the theme, but while observing how men deal with animals, I continue to tell stories about people, as I had done in the past. The stories I truly wish to tell are about people, whether they live with animals, return animals to nature, or use animals as if they were inanimate objects or tools. For example, <le procès des animaux> evokes the story of a dog that has been sentenced to euthanasia; an attorney builds a case based on proving that the dog (despite he belongs to a dangerous breed) is inherently good as an individual being. Furthermore, although it's not the main theme of the story, some may notice that throughout the narrative I ask fundamental questions about faith, questioning the state of the soul after death. Does the soul remain after death? Does it leave? Do inanimate objects and animals have souls? Are they capable of volition? I wanted to ask myself diverse questions, which have been projected onto my work.
It might seem that animals are the theme, but while observing how men deal with animals, I continue to tell stories about people, as I have in the past. – Éléonore Saintagnan -
Q. You selected an interesting exhibition space, namely a movie theater. What were your criteria for selection?
A. There are no boundaries in terms of the space my works can be exhibited in. They can be presented in galleries, museums, and film theaters. <Wild Beast> was presented as a performed lecture during Hors Pistes, a festival for showing films created by sculptural artists at Centre Pompidou in Paris, or at Méliès, that is a traditional movie theater in Montreuil-sous-Bois in France. It was also shown at the Documentary Fortnight festival at MoMA in New York. I think there is more to the art work than just the final video product. Filming, presenting non-actors on screen, the objects created to tell a story—these are all aspects of the work I do. Unless otherwise limited, I also exhibit elements used to create the final cut. For example, as a part of my work entitled <Wild Beast>, we created a model of hippopotamus; when the final film was being played, the model-hippopotamus' head and footprints-were displayed alongside the video. This is part of my artistic activity. And because my work is about conveying a story with a particular theme through media other than TV or print, I select exhibition spaces that best serve that format at its best.
Q. What inspires you to create art?
A. Inspiration, for me, comes mostly from the books I read and from films I watched. I might be watching a film at the cinema and suddenly feel moved to create something. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's writing once inspired me. The result was a robot which spoke in Lacan's voice. I also pay deep attention to observing my surroundings, from objects to people. I might be fascinated by an aspect of a person I have met, and ask them to participate in my work. I might be moved by a musician's work and request that their music feature in my next project. I make great efforts and spend many hours trying to establish deep connections with people—though at the same time I want to avoid exploiting them. Those efforts are a source of inspiration for me, and lead to artistic work.
Q. What makes your life-your art-complete, and brilliant?
A. When I am watching a film, with no other responsibility than to sit down and gaze at the screen, I feel fulfilled and happy. That is the reason I enjoy going to the cinema. In terms of preferred genres, I do not discriminate much. I like blockbusters, American films, Chinese films, and even re-watching classics. I also go to watch French films that were unfavorably reviewed by critics, and, surprisingly, have found quite a few to my taste. For example, <I'hermine> starring Luchini and dealing with a court trial, was very interesting. I am by no means an expert, but I also enjoy pottery. When I am involved with video production, I rarely get hands-on experience with objects beyond the props and decorations necessary for the video. When I am spinning a pottery wheel, I can take my mind off the technicalities of video production and rely on my intuition to create something. I have been looking for ways to reconcile these contradicting elements.
An ABC Film. 2010
HD color video, stereo. 21 min. (Film still.)
An ABC Film. 2010
HD color video, stereo. 21 min. (Film still.)
Vulpes vulpes vulpes. 2014
Performed lecture at centre Pompidou, Paris. 80 min. (Éléonore Saintagnan & Grégoire Motte.)(copyright: Hervé Veronese.)
Wild Beasts. 2015
HD color stereo video. 36 min. (Éléonore Saintagnan & Grégoire Motte.)(Film still.)
The Unfortunates. 2012
HD color stereo video. 33 min. (Film still.)
The Circle. 2009
Video installation, loop. 11 min. (4 film stills.)
Metal, wood, papier mâché, empty plastic bottles, tube. (Éléonore Saintagnan & Grégoire Motte.)(Exhibition view at La Centrale Electrique, Brussels.)
Hippos footprints tool. 2013
Bamboo stick, plaster. (Éléonore Saintagnan & Grégoire Motte.)(Exhibition view at La Centrale Electrique, Brussels.)
Game carpet made out of traditional Korean and Japanese fabrics, ceramic bells. 2m x 3m. (Exhibition view at MMCA Changdong, Seoul. 2015.)
Born in Paris in 1979, Éléonore Saintagnan studied visual art, film, and documentary. She received her M.A. from Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris in 2002. She continued her studies at Stendhal University Grenoble 3 (2003), Studio national du Fresnoy (2006-2008), and SPEAP, Sciences Po, Ecole des arts politiques (2011). She currently lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. Her work explores human nature through animals and other characters, as well as the religious and spiritual origins of man. She has presented her work across multiple continents in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Exhibitions include the Seoul MMCA, the New York MoMA, Palais de Tokyo and Center Pompidou in Paris, Brussels Wiels and Cinemathèque in Tangier, Morocco.
■ Selected Solo Exhibitions
<Stereo and God (Dieu et la stereo)> (Mains d’Oeuvres, Saint Ouen, France, 2014)
<The Unfortunates (Les Malchanceux)> (Elaine Levy Project, Brussels, 2012)
<An ABC Film (Un film abécédaire)> (Palais de Tokyo Module 1, Paris, 2011)
<Eléonore Saintagnan> (Gallery neon, Lyon, 2010)
■ Selected Group Exhibitions
<The Cipher and the Frame> (CUBITT, London, 2015)
<Off-road (Hors Pistes)> (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2014)
<The French Haunted House> (SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul, 2013)
<Unscene II> (Wiels, Brussels, 2012)
<Folklore?> (CRAC Alsace, Altkirsch, France, 2010)
<In the night (Dans la Nuit)> (Des Images, Grand Palais, Paris, 2009)