Artist in Residence
& Anna Sougy
autor: Neža Kokol
Léa Tissot-Laura and Anna Sougy are two artists from France who both graduated from the Fine Arts department in Haute école des Arts du Rhin in Strasbourg and have been working with the new media and moving image as well as with sound and performance. Together they established a performance collective called “.dx”.
Léa is also part of an artist-run space called Atelier Saegher which hosts various artists and is based in Brussels. Until the end of August, they will be working on their project Sexy Pigs as a part of their residency at Petrohradská Kolektiv where their work will be also exhibited for the public.
You work with very particular aesthetics where the visual expression is of main importance for conveying the underlying concepts and values. By combining camp and tribal styles with electronic music within the context of posthumanism, it works almost as a visual manifesto.
Anna: I think our aesthetics is more of a tool, we use it to express what we want to say in a more striking way. The interesting thing is that in our own work we have a very different aesthetic and it is actually the first time that we are going to combine these in a movie.
Léa: It came naturally - with all that inspires us. We spend a lot of time on the internet, Anna on forums mostly linked to software …
Anna: Regarding software, there is a large community on these platforms and when you work with it a lot, you also see a lot of different things. When you create something in a program like Blender you can often download various additional forms already created by others.
Léa: With me, it is also linked to the time I spend on social media. Leaving the productive aspect of it aside, it makes me see hundreds of images of art and other topics every day, and it stays with me subconsciously …
Anna: We also go to a lot of festivals and exhibitions which creates a network of images and relationships.
You are mostly using Instagram as a way of communicating with the audience. Considering it is one of the most visually-based social media where the image is the message, do you see the platform as a tool for promoting your work, digitizing it or does it work as yet another but equal way of concretizing your ideas?
Léa: When you work as an artist you have to be your own manager, booker, etc. This is how I primarily use it because most of the time people contact me on social media proposing me to perform or exhibit somewhere.
Anna: It is like a portfolio online.
Léa: I also like this teaser quality it has - it is a great way of attracting people with your work since you can show only a tiny part and it can already be very exciting for others. It is almost mystical in a way that you only show perhaps 10 seconds of your work and it is enough for people to want to see it. While in reality, it could be very boring, lasting over an hour and a half and people would not really want to see it (laughs). I like to play with this.
Anna: Both of us also have websites, which allow us to be visible outside of social media and show different aspects of our work.
“We don’t see the end of the world but the end of the system. The start of a new world.”
Within the current system you are questioning the concepts of gender, sexuality, togetherness, nudity, fertility … what is a/the body for you, what is its role in your narrative, and do you find it important to differentiate between different types of bodies (normative, disabled …) or instead abolishing the idea of plurality altogether?
Anna: We use our bodies a lot and in very different ways. For me the body is a tool to express something - I use my voice, my face …
Léa: It is a way of talking about us and others. It is like you said: a tool, an envelope inside of which you could put any feelings, any emotions.
Anna: Sometimes we also use other bodies. In a previous project, I was using someone else to impersonate different characters - and in that sense, she was a tool.
Léa: For us, it is also a way to desacralize bodies - it can be for example only skin or eyes and it can be used to express anything.
Anna: Doing performances with a lot of people kind of suppresses the idea of the individual. We are all in this together and it comes with the idea of community and sharing which is linked to the internet, social media, and websites as well …
Léa: And as far as the body is concerned, the use of animal figures is also something we want to pursue. When I said the body worked like an envelope and anyone could be inside of it, it is not exactly true because certain things are identifying us - we are young, white, this is imprinted on our bodies. Regarding the animals, I was speaking of the idea of the cyborg because there is no such identification on their bodies (of age, gender,...)This comes a lot from the games kids would play with animals in the countryside.
Anna: It is kind of a search for a generic body that could express anything. It is like in the “Metamorphosis” by Ovid, we can become any animal through our emotions.
Since you work a lot with new media, incorporating technology in your projects with a big emphasis on non-normative and gender abolition, where would you position yourselves in the whole posthumanist debate? Do you relate more to xenofeminism which uses technology as a tool for the abolition of gender or transhumanism which sees the body as an obstacle on the path to a similarly genderless but, even more, immortal future?
Léa: That is a tricky question (Laughs).
Anna: I do not know if any of the two correspond to what we do. For me, digital tools are a way of representing things that do not exist or that I cannot normally see or capture by myself. More like an extension of the mind in a way.
Léa: I think it is also something linked to the body in a way - for example when I work with my computer I feel comfortable because I work with the thing which is the closest to me - the thing I probably spend most of my time with. I have it during the day, at night watching a movie, I fall asleep with it in my bed ...
Anna: But in a way, new media is also a new language. I code a lot and within that context, it became a new way of saying things. And in two years there might be something else again.
Léa: That is why I said it was a tricky question because we do not see any separation between technology and bodies. For example, right before we came here for the interview, Anna was talking about coding and as she was explaining it, she was making hand gestures as if it was something physical. But she was just describing the code and at the same time, she was using her hands as if she was touching the things she was talking about, as if she was moulding a material.
It’s a different kind of physical, a completely new approach that we cannot quite grasp yet ...
Anna: Even with the 3D software a lot of people are using modelling to pre-visualize what they want to do, so in a way, it is another layer to immateriality.
Both in your previous projects such as All the things that you do and the work within Atelier Saegher you like to bring the rural features such as aubergines, carrots and zucchinis into the urban context. Besides their primary role as the food, they create very explicit imagery. An interesting paradox occurs: on one hand, animals and plants are perceived as sexless and ageless while, on the other hand, are often used as symbols with a clear sexual connotation.
Léa: It may be linked to a kind of ambiguity that I have always seen in the rural world where I come from. I call it “fairy-trash”. For example, especially for the people growing up in the cities, they have the idea of lovely fields and farmers harvesting the crops, nice animals etc. But when you are engaging with it on a deeper level - and not even from the social context perspective which can be very tough - but instead as far as fields, animals etc. are concerned, there is also a trashy quality to it. When I was a child, adults would bring me to animal slaughter or reproductions and it was really an ambivalent act in itself - that is why I like to work with what I would call “trash”, even with the violent aspects of it.
And you also work together in Atelier Saegher where a lot of the projects seem to involve plants as well.
Anna: I’m not part of Atelier Saegher and those were other artists’ projects that they exhibited in the atelier -
Léa: It is an artist-run space, we opened in October and where we are curators. There were some exhibitions where Anna and I also participated with our works but most of the time it was other artists.
And is there any kind of relation to nature and plants that you are interested in? Especially from the posthumanist perspective?
Léa: My thesis was related to this topic: it was about the medical practices in rural areas. The first two chapters were focusing on nature-related rituals. I recorded women healers who were treating the burns linked to various legends. And the second chapter was on medicinal plants. So it is something that I have inside of me but I would not necessarily use it in an ecological or even visual way.
The latest project that you will be working on as a part of your residency at Petrohradska Kolektiv Sexy Pigs “is a series of metaphors and allegories, trying to translate the crisis in which we live in.”
The crisis we are experiencing seems to be a very complex state of multiple coexisting dichotomies: the search for clearly defined individuality as opposed to the tendency of one entity going beyond the individual differences, accelerationism and transhumanism fighting various ecological and posthumanist movements … all going against the system we currently live in.
Léa: I think what we wanted to emphasise the most is the fact that this crisis taught us to learn how to think differently - and there is something very individual in the way of thinking differently but we need to work together to achieve it.
Anna: It is a very precarious situation and working in collectives, trying to deal with things together is the main way to truly achieve something.
Léa: During the Covid-19 pandemic It wasn’t possible to exhibit, work, pay rent, go to parties etc. so we opened an artist-run space which was illegal at the beginning. We were having illegal openings and a lot of people were coming anyway because they missed it. We organised illegal parties, raves in Strasbourg, some of my friends got into crypto money because you could not work in a cafe etc. And some of them became sex workers … We are talking about all these things - what we are doing to survive, what we want to do, what we are passionate about - exhibiting art, going to parties, earning some money so we can do all this … and the circular economy that we established, for example, using the crypto money and sex working to finance the exhibitions we were running in our art space.
Anna: We tried to create a network within our community and friendships to survive.
The crisis you are referring to is then more focusing on the corona crisis or does it go beyond it?
Anna: I think it goes beyond it. The Corona crisis kind of revealed everything for us. It was very important because in a short period a lot has happened and we were quite young, without a choice but to face it, act on it …
Léa: It accelerated a lot of things for us … And I wanted to emphasize the fact that this form of illegal activity has taken over our lives during the past two years and it was already a big part of our work before. During the last two years even going outside was forbidden so eventually, you did not care about it anymore. Since everything was illegal, you just did it … illegal became the norm.
The adjective ‘sexy’ has a connotation of something erotic and seductive, which makes the phrase Sexy Pigs an oxymoron. Considering the general public perception of marginal groups like refugees, sex workers, artists, young people etc., it is easy to imagine why using the word pigs but what made you decide on the word sexy?
Léa: I think it is something linked to pop.
Anna: You have the word pigs and you want to make it appealing to other people. We are not making a movie about pigs, it is not the main topic. It works as the first impression of it and we wanted to make it engaging.
Léa: Yes and the word pigs, as you said, is used for various things - animals, cops, filth…
We use a lot of humour - because humour is a great tool to catch people’s attention and I think what we address in this video are really deep and problematic issues but that does not mean you cannot approach it playfully.
Anna: In our way of living, humour is one of the things that make us want to continue creating.
It profanizes heavy topics, humour is human and so it reduces the spectator’s distance from the work which is very important. When you want the message to come through, the distance shouldn't be there.
Léa: And I think it is also a tool to go against the serious way of speaking. For example in the news, political debates etc. everything has to be very heavy and should not be joked with -
Anna: - but no one speaks about the absurdity of the situation where things and opinions keep changing and the overall state is completely chaotic.
Léa: And I think humour also gives strength, it has a certain force. Because the situation can be truly terrible and then you have a choice: you can complain about it and make it even more difficult and sad or you can be conscious of the fact that it is the way it is but try to deal with it with humour instead.
Anna: Carpe Diem
A lot of your work has a strong emphasis on confidence. Mark Fisher once wrote on the topic of hope and confidence saying that “Hope and fear are essentially interchangeable; they are passive affects, which arise from our incapacity to actually act. Like all superstitions, hope is something we call upon when we have nothing else. We don’t need hope; what we need is confidence and the capacity to act.” Do we have the right to be confident?
Léa: This is interesting because at the very beginning of our collaboration with Anna we worked with a collective called OKAY Confiance which means “Okay confidence” and this was about trusting other people.
Anna: It was an invitation - one person is invited and next time they invite someone else and even though they do not necessarily know them, there is trust because it is based on confidence.
Léa: And I think it is linked to what we talked about before regarding community.
Anna: Even when you are doing performances with a lot of people you never know everyone equally well but you are working together so for that period you have to trust each other - with everything: your fears, your secrets, your bodies …
Léa: And I think being confident is really linked to having a safe place. As soon as I find it, I feel confident and comfortable with the environment but if I do not feel safe I won’t be.
Anna: Yet safe space, in the end, is also a skill in the sense that you need to create it yourself.