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Recto VRsoInterview

Jeanne Susplugas illustrates stories about the lockdown

Jeanne Susplugas, digital artist and photographer

Jeanne Susplugas has teamed up with writer Claire Castillon for her latest artistic project on the subject of lockdown.

Crédits photos : Institut Français

In her work “Where My House Lives”, the artist Jeanne Susplugas puts images on testimonies of lockdown. In this interactive work, the viewer enters through windows into the intimacy of anonymous individuals. This project, which encourages introspection, is presented as part of the Recto VRso 2021 festival. Interview with Jeanne Susplugas to talk about her sources of inspiration and the genesis of her work.

Can you tell me about your artistic background? Have you explored other artistic disciplines besides digital art?

I did not go to art school. I studied art history, for which I became passionate. I had a clear path to become a researcher at the university. In parallel with my research, I did a lot of exhibitions. But I had to make a choice between the two. From childhood to today, I have never really stopped making art (painting, sculpture…). When I started more professionally, I did a lot of photography and installations, videos and drawings. 

For me, it’s strange to separate contemporary art and digital art. It’s a distinction that still exists, but I feel that the boundaries are quite blurred and porous. Moreover, in art, the viewer is almost always in a form of interactivity with the installations. As my work has a social dimension, there is already a form of interaction: I collect a testimony, I transcribe it, and the viewers recreate stories.

Why did you choose digital art? What convinced you about this medium?

Technologically speaking, my approach is quite recent. I’ve wanted to explore virtual reality for several years now. I was preparing myself by experimenting and questioning this medium. But in the end, I am more interested in the ideas than the medium. From my ideas, I look for the most suitable medium to express them: drawing, glass, etc. I didn’t want virtual reality to be something anecdotal.

Four years ago I started making portraits of people, which I called In My Brain. I asked these people to give me their thoughts, whether they were very down-to-earth or deeper. I capture their thoughts and redraw their brains. When visitors are confronted with this drawing, they can reconstruct the story and discover the person behind it. As a result of these drawings, I was invited by Le Bon Marché for a digital event. I did a piece on Snapchat, where you could dive into a brain in the same way. Even with a tool as simple as Snapchat, I realised that you could easily trick the brain. I continued this project in virtual reality.

Through all your projects, what themes do you explore? 

One of my installations is key, because it deals with many of the same themes as my work: La Maison Malade (The Sick House). It’s an installation with a room full of medicine boxes. It takes up the idea and the aesthetics of the padded room; a space can protect us and enclose us at the same time.

In my work, I often talk about addictions, about the distortions that we can experience with our body or our head, and by extension with the Other. I talk a lot about inner journeys, introspection. Most of my work is based on texts and discussions with scientists (doctors, pharmacists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists), but my translation is of the order of feeling, and the result remains very sensitive, dreamlike and poetic.

Can you present your work “Where my House Lives” which is part of the selection of Recto VRso 2021? 

I was invited by the Jeu de Paume to make a work for their virtual space in collaboration with a Brazilian space, Aarea. I had just spent a year working on a virtual reality project, so I wanted to propose something quite simple. When Marta Ponsa, the curator of the project, came to me, she knew my work on intimacy but also on domestic violence. During the lockdown, there was an increase in this violence. So she asked me if I was interested in thinking about a project on the lockdown. At that time, I had been collecting testimonies of the lockdown for some time.

The project starts with a facade. The window has become a central feature for many during the lockdown, especially for city residents. A door to the outside, the carers were applauded there. It became a social space. When you click on one of them, you arrive in an interior scene. Each window corresponds to a testimony. I sent these testimonies to a writer, Claire Castillon, whose work I have known for a long time. Her book Insecte had moved me and I immediately wanted to work with her. When I contacted her, she instantly agreed to participate in the project. I sent her the testimonies, which she rewrote in a way that was sometimes faithful to reality and sometimes less so. But instead of sending them in writing, she sent them as she wrote them in voice via WhatsApp. Listening to her voice, so particular and sensual, I decided that it should be kept.

Why did you do this work of rewriting the testimonies? What does the rewriting bring to your project?

I have always tried to keep a certain distance from what I create. As I start from real testimonies, I always look for the discrepancy. Here, the rewriting allows me to detach myself from a form of sociological investigation and documentary. I am looking for a dreamlike, poetic, different dimension. On the other hand, literature feeds my work a lot. I have been collecting extracts of texts for over 20 years. Very quickly, I collaborated with writers. This collaboration allows me to go further. The discrepancy that Claire has brought to her rewriting allows me to escape elsewhere.

Where My House Lives: artwork by Jeanne Susplugas about the lockdown
From the artwork “Where My House Lives”.

Aesthetically, the work presents minimalist drawings. Why did you want to portray relatively empty and very pure interior spaces? Is it a desire to highlight the narrative?

Exactly. From the start, I didn’t want the image to distract from the story. In each interior, I integrated a singular element but without going too far either, so as not to move away from the text and give a single reading. I also didn’t want to influence the viewers and have them interpret a story through the interior of the room. There are a lot of clichés in society, especially around violence against women. People think that this only happens to illiterate women who live in the suburbs and don’t speak French. But it’s not! There is just as much violence among the upper middle class, intellectuals… These are still clichés that persist.

Why the title “Where My House Lives”? What does it refer to?

When I collected all the testimonies, I noticed that some people were discovering their house. Many were trying to improve it, to make it their own. Behind this title, there is the idea that the house has become a third person.

What is the future of your project? Will it be exhibited elsewhere?

The project was shown in the virtual space of the Jeu de Paume (ongoing until the end of September) and in the virtual space Aarea (Brazil). The project was also shown in parallel during the Recto VRso festival. I also have another exhibition at the moment in Avignon in two places: the Grenier à Sel and CBA. The Grenier à Sel has integrated my work by installing a screen with which visitors can interact. I will also present the project in September in Brussels at the Patinoire Royale/Galerie Valérie Bach. So I think this project will exist in different ways through different exhibitions. I will also present it in performance at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in September.

Your work focuses on the lockdown. As an artist, has the health crisis affected the way you work and create?

In the way I work, my daily life was not really impacted. It just so happens that during the lockdown I was working on a VR experience; I had to do a lot of drawing and thinking. It was good timing. The lockdown nourished my work. In my work, a lot of the pieces are about isolation, hygiene, masks.

In your opinion, has the Covid crisis accelerated the development of digital art and especially the emergence of virtual exhibitions?

Before the crisis, some institutions would never have thought of having a virtual space. I think that digital technology can also attract people who would not go to museums or festivals. These virtual spaces can reach all generations, people who cannot travel… Without replacing the real thing, it is a complementary tool that can be quite magical.

About author

Content editor at Laval Virtual. Obsessed with adverbs and punctuation, synonyms and keywords are my daily guides. I hunt innovative use cases about VR/AR and immersive tech.
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