“Even the songs of birds are to be feared, because their voice obeys the one of their master,” wrote German philosopher Theodor Adorno in Aesthetics.
As the sun caresses the earth with its gracious lines before the daily apocalypse swallows up entire lands and cities in darkness, the Apollonian and Dionysiac tentacles of life intersect in one final confrontation before the night’s queen takes over to harvest the lost and wandering souls of our world. That’s when French artist Delphine Gigoux-Martin returns from the woods. After immersing herself in nature’s cocoon and harvesting the abandoned carcasses of dead animals, Gigoux-Martin fashions their former world into wild, black and white drawings of landscapes and taxidermied sculptures that literally lay bare the brutality of flesh (and death). As opposed to Plato’s hyper-uranian beauty placing ideas before tangible objects, Gigoux-Martin traps “tangible” moments of just-after-death weakness. Her lines are produced with an intensity and carefulness that silently shadow the deaths of her fallen subjects. And here, too, is the artist’s fascination for the uncanny, or what the Germans might call Das Unheimliche – the uncanny, the strangely familiar.
Perhaps overwhelmed by dithyrambic audio-visual reminiscences of the non-artificial, and disquieted by the incurable insomnia of the damned, Gigoux-Martin would rather absorb and re-elaborate the immediacy of death’s effects on one’s imagination than talk about it. “Sine sole sileo, without the sun I refuse to talk,” – an inscription often found on ancient sundials, she suggests, her own version of Sartre’s Inferno – No Exit (what has always been classified as “the greatest evil” – death – can’t be called by its name, lest it manifest as the dangerously mendacious yet irresistibly charismatic sentient being).
Of these meditations on life and death, Gigoux-Martin’s life-sized Wunderkammern (cabinets of curiosities), are fashioned out of poorly decorated gallery rooms. “La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque,” one of the artist’s first sculptural installations, was comprised of several embalmed geese, and synesthetically juxtaposed to a multimedia animated projection loop. Since then, the artist’s work has gradually evolved towards a wider and more mature exploration of more nakedly ambitious subjects through the use of different mediums and materials. Her newest works, indeed, evoke a less formal and conceptual architecture, but accurately translate her creative anxiety. In her most recent installations like “Comment déguster un phénix,” “Grotte Chauvet” and “Autre rêve,” we are treated to an odd fun house littered with pieces of a complex yet fairly unadorned puzzle: Here is a bull nailed to a mirror laid out on the floor; the double representation of an ape drawn on a couch that is turned into a pillar; an asymmetric photographic installation at “Château de Tournon-sur-Rhône.”
Walking into one of Gigoux-Martin’s installations is the equivalent of crossing a room packed with loud naturalist party makers, thick clouds of smoke, disco lights shining through it all, and a roar of sound intended to drown out any semblance of rational conversation or any possibility of hearing yourself think. Yet, nothing happens; there’s a persistent but elusive tension that overwhelms. It’s a slow-motion dream cast in an aquarium of white noise where viewers are immersed in or “cornered” by an insistent superimposition of stimuli in a well-balanced compositional “holy triangle”: A taxidermied group of animals, one or more drawings, and a video of the animals in motion. It is almost as one were in an animated photo album, a slideshow of memories turned into a flip book – everything squeezed in the same room and accompanied by a strident, alienating musical background.
Gigoux-Martin’s meticulously staged spaces are intimately built realities designed to sweep the viewer off his or her feet. The first impression is designed to intrigue with careful strangeness and from there the expectation of aesthetics of resolution. One is reminded of Plato’s warning in the Republic about “avoiding any portrayal of ugliness.” Once aesthetic expectation is deflated, and we are tossed deeper into the artist’s “noise,” our obsession with beauty, or better, truth and meaning, is laid bare and we are left with a kind of pigment : A dusting of earth, rotten flesh and dry (or drained) blood.
In the wake of true academic naturalists Gigoux-Martin naively rejects any form of decoration and, despite her predecessors for whom taxidermy was a way of investigating unknown exotic and mythological creatures (in a morbidly Dadaist way), she forces her models to pose for her and, ultimately, permit her to interpret, perhaps, a better version of themselves in a different venue. But Gigoux-Martin denies any form of hypocrisy with regards to her subjects. Her works are, indeed, literally moved from their “places of origin” to her studio and then relocated to a gallery space with more or less the same physical characteristics, but “cleaned from the dirt” and invested with a new variety of meanings – its movement and re-contextualization affects its artistic qualities more than the artist’s aesthetic intervention on the bodies. Her crude, brutally eviscerated poetry might have found its roots in the German word “kitschen,” which literally means, “to collect mud from the street.” From this term also comes the word “kitsch” – its current meaning depends on the cultural context in which an artwork is produced.
Nowadays it would be correct to say beauty sometimes gets in the way of hidden truths, but not in Gigoux-Martin’s work. Here, the dead find their place in the world by implicitly pointing out that perfection is, after all, nothing more than a social and aesthetic phenomenon embedded in human beings’ fixation for symmetry and the here and now pleasures of the body. Such ephemeral beauty, mysteriously undermined in every living creature’s genetic code, is programmed to fade away after death. Gigoux-Martin, without altering the physical characteristics of her objet trouvés’ fate, re-contextualizes them in our own strange reflections. For once not flattered by a blunt anthropomorphism, viewers are invited to not see themselves in these works, but rather to reconsider nature as an independent entity that doesn’t require our narcissistic approval to exist. In this light, Gigoux-Martin’s work does, however, have an application in our world: It is as a catalyst of the social imperatives pertaining to our understanding of both ourselves and nature.
If he were here, Theodor Adorno, might make a “Blakian appearance” to remind us that art as a fait social is the opposite of l’art pour l’art, leading to the following question: What is the artist trying to teach us with the fragmented clues to this conceptually dark fairy tale? How do we decrypt her message? In Gigoux-Martin’s work, we can only guess, the principium individuationis resides in three basic elements: Creativity meant as the opposite of habitus, “wearable content” intended as an infinite range of hypothetical interpretations and a kind of dystopia that reveals itself through the labyrinthine spires of a non-improvised theatrum mundi.
Gigoux-Martin’s most emblematic sculptural compositions are imbued with narrative elements ranging from natural history to a sapient combination of Arte Povera, and her own version of medieval mirabilia. “Don’t Believe in Christmas,” a work of taxidermy in which the body of a reindeer has been severed from its toes, triggers a sense of impending doom followed by dazzlement and vertigo. It is one of the artist’s most iconic yet cynical works where, rather than pursuing the sublime, she has decided to play the mad scientist’s demiurgic experiment out for all to see. The artist sees herself, perhaps, through the eyes of the viewer, yet addresses the prejudices often held by both ordinary people and art professionals towards taxidermy. Gigoux-Martin blatantly yet poetically evokes Adorno’s “violence of art over nature” by celebrating her own maternal instinct in this ode to creative cruelty.
“L’arc est bandé évite la flèche” and “Les culs des animaux,” two of her masterpieces are cleverly juxtaposed to their video-graphic doppelgängers – of which they’re obviously unaware – perhaps references to wild animals’ limited self-consciousness. In “La Mégère apprivoisée,” the artist mixes up art, witchcraft and science in a purposefully child-like attempt to resuscitate a meticulously disemboweled cockatoo with an electric motor and the drawing of an electric discharge on the wall.
Gigoux-Martin’s abandoned animals, often found along country roads, can’t be brought back to life, but she does use them without profanity and without relying on the surrealistic baroque to achieve her aims. There is little desecration of their bodies; the artist is perhaps attempting to preserve and display and honor these magnificent beings in a second new life. Taxidermy is a tool she employs to extend their wonder and their magic, and in fact echoes one of the original purposes of “stuffing animals” before it became a contemporary art-related trend.
The artist explores themes of loss – of a corporeal form – death and rebirth in her grotesque tableaux vivants where animals and objects interact with space on a neutral ground that appears to have been meticulously cleaned up from both canonic beauty and lack of meaning. The result is a “beautifully” rendered diorama, a window open to the past, present and future of the fauna populating this planet, and although both art and scientific research have gone way beyond taxidermy as a means to understand anatomy, trigger discussions and classify new species, there’s no limit to the storytelling potential of taxidermy techniques, especially alongside new media art.