Noémie Sauve, Directions for Use
Developers and planners imagine territories for all to share, but in so doing they do not make them suitable for each individual person. The more one drifts from the statistical norm that defines common behaviors and manners, the less one is likely to fully blossom within this shared space. The space left for other, especially non-human, elements of life in our cities is revealing of this tension between the norm and the margin. If what Gilles Clément has called the “third landscape” has allowed nature to develop more spontaneously and freely across squares, gardens, and parks, it nevertheless remains the case that wildlife’s dominant ways of being in the city remain adaptation, hiding, and fugitivity. The city dweller never ceases to be amazed by the power of the living to defy urban constraints in order to emerge and grow – whether perched on the edge of a window, jutting out a crack in the asphalt, or hidden in an air vent.
The work of Noémie Sauve proceeds from this amazement as much as it attempts to provoke it anew. Following a longtime interest in modes of inhabiting a world largely meant for humans, she has undertaken multiple projects aiming at being able to occupy a territory by the simple fact of existing in it. These have taken a number of different forms, from organizing public events (concerts, lectures, community meetings, skillshares…) when she was a member of a squat (in Grenoble), to staging collective and living adaptations of her early visual work in the streets of Paris. She has drawn from this for her series “Disconographies” (2006 onwards) - a genial pop-surrealistic collage blending disco and iconography. Inspired by Ulf Poschardt's 2002 book Dj Culture, this series of photographs documents the energy of an existence centered on dance taking hold of streets and squares, which, alas, didn't ask even ask for that.
Her involvement in Clinamen, an organization founded in 2012 that seeks to galvanize urban areas by promoting pastoral activities, stems from the same desire: to use fine art as a tool for collective action. Among the many actions of the collective, the most significant and publicized has been doubtlessly the grazing of a flock of sheep across the urban landscape of the northern banlieues of Paris. In making farm animals present in an unsuitable context, Clinamen intended to bring agriculture amidst townspeople, and in so doing to question the modes of living and eating by initiating moment of communality and exchange around the contemporary issues of agriculture. Noémie Sauve works at generating a “disconographic” representation of this collective, which embodies the issues she holds dear – by, for example, incorporating heirloom seeds in some of her drawings, offering a new circulation to this essential peasant matter. She is dedicated to the life and activities of the collective, for example, by designing street furniture for transhumance and by participating in building the infrastructure needed for the pastoral activities of the organization – such as sheep pens, greenhouses, and sheds.
Noémie Sauve equally participates in Jolly Rogers, a collective composed of architects, town-planners, site managers, landscapers, and artists, who together devise and build urban sheepfolds as well as part of the infrastructures of Jazz à Luz, a festival of jazz and improvised music in the Pyrenees. These structures are conceived as forms of improvised and ephemeral architecture, which use a great quantity of reclaimed and recovered materials while never sacrificing the aesthetics of the project to the economy of means. In this practice, she experiences, besides the integration into the countryside, objects, and tools, the materials that will be of singular importance in her studio work. After a long nomadic apprenticeship, more experimental than academic in nature, between Lyon, Grenoble, Paris, and Quebec, it is hardly surprising that it took her quite some times to choose the most adequate studio for her own personal artistic practice. In 2011, she started working in the Ateliers Paul Flury in Montreuil-sous-Bois, which offers a great variety of tools of production, including foundries, ovens, molding studios, cutting studios... From that point on, “studio-obsessed,” Noémie Sauve has felt free to fulfill her need to create and to experiment relentlessly while doing so. In her work, she combines an intense involvement with drawing – a direct and spontaneous practice supported by her taste for improvisation, relentlessly filling up numerous experimental sketchbooks – with a taste for complex mechanical processes. For instance, La Bête (2015) presents a canine head sculpted in a block of Carrara marble and penciled afterwards. In her Peaux de Sculptures [Sculpture Skins] series (2015), embossings are pressed from the imprint of a sculpture made out of modeling clay, coated with rabbit-skin glue, and then gone over with graphite pencil and colored crayons. Each step of this vertiginous process mobilizes her innate sense of improvisation, allowing her to continuously reinvent a process that endlessly revives her, allowing her to rework and rethink basic technical categories. In the end, what is a Sculpture Skin exactly? Is it a drawing, a print, a sculpture, an engraving?
Tools that allow artistic creation (whether in relation to architecture or the fine arts) occupy an important place for this artist who admits that she “walks along with arts and crafts.” This relation between arts and crafts was highlighted in her 2014-15 residency in The Domaine de Belval (Ardennes). The former hunting ground of the founders of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature), the site was converted into a center for the training of hunters, for research in eco-ethology, and for artistic experimentation. Within this paradoxical territory – wild and domesticated at once, somewhere in between castle parks and primal forests – Noémie Sauve has, among other things, followed the trainees of a bow hunting class. There, she initiated a hybrid project she titled Domestication vs Pleine Lune [Domestication vs. Full Moon]. The artworks she brought back from her journey present as much as they distort tools for archery. Arrows, release mechanisms, sights, thumb rings are reinterpreted, deconstructed through multiple formal technics: drawings, engravings, or sculptures. In her sculpture series Animaux à Nourrir [Animals to Feed], tin, glass, bronze, and ceramics are utilized to shape zoomorphic hybrids that one can hold in his hand – threatening weapons at the mercy of the holder’s powerful grip.
Her special attachment to tools had previously been the subject of one of Noemie's most spectacular works of art, L'Attelage (2015), a drawing that came out of her residency at L'Aparté, an art center near Trémelin, Brittany. The painting arose from the artist’s questioning of the coexistence of and spatial distribution between human and non-human actors. Sauve’s attention was caught by one of the many activities offered to visitors at the Trémelin domain, a forest recently converted into an ecotourism site: sled dog racing. These races, in which mixed teams of Samoyeds and Greenland dogs compete, fascinated the artist for multiple reasons: for the packs’ swirling violence no less than for the material means (harness, collars, tethers) necessary to channel the animal instinct in order to make it a form of entertainment.
Noemie Sauve's aesthetics are infused with a form of baroque lyricism, a fact attested to her by the precocious and delirious 2007 staging of her painting, La Danseuse, in front of the Centre Pompidou. Up to today, that photographic image remains the header of her blog, perhaps as a permanent injunction to herself against falling into a form of “romanticism” that often arises from solitary studio work. “It takes a lot of effort to get as close as possible to bad taste without falling into kitsch” says Noémie, who still uses crayons and glitter in her drawing and stages her sculptures on pop-psychedelic clouds (Ours Hydrocéphale, 2014). This aesthetic choice lays claims to a political goal: Through amazement that it arouses, it intends to make accessible for a large audience a complex iconography without necessarily appealing to the intermediary of a user manual for the prevailing paradigms in contemporary art. In the drawing Végétal vs Minéral (2015), this could be swapped for the proposition – differently, but equally political – that the artist takes up when faced with the question of the development of the natural reserve of Trémelin. Planted with resinous trees unable to take root in a salty soil, the park is neglected by forest officers who are frustrated by its poor profit, indifferent to touristic issues, which are out of the realm of their competency. The forest’s paths are progressively blocked by trees any wind can uproot.
The tree cemetery in Trémelin stands as a singular metaphor for the struggles at stake in the use of a territory, so intimate to the fundamental questions motivating Noémie Sauve's work. With a title carefully chosen as always, Végétal vs Minéral, the artist proposes a representation that she submits, first, to the local inhabitants she has interacted with during its research and creation. It is up to them, as to the broader audience looking at this protean work, to appreciate its poetic feeling and to interrogate its critical weight.
Raphaël Abrille est conservateur-adjoint du musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (à Paris et au Château de Chambord) depuis 2002. Il a contribué au réaménagement muséographique du site parisien entre 2005 et 2007. Il collabore au développement des musées de France consacrés à la cynégétique: au musée de la Vénerie de Senlis, dont il est conservateur (2005-2006) et au musée de la Chasse de Gien, où il contribue au pilotage scientifique du projet muséographique (2008-2011). Au sein de ces musées ou en tant que co-commissaire de la manifestation "Monuments et Animaux" pour le centre des Monuments Nationaux (2011-2012), il s'attache à élaborer un dialogue intime entre l'art contemporain et lieux de patrimoine. Ses commissariats, recherches et publications récentes portent tour à tour sur l'animalité dans la création contemporaine, sur l'histoire des musées de chasse en Europe, sur la mise en scène et la représentation du trophée, sur la peinture de chasse de Gustave Courbet et sur l'histoire de la photographie cynégétique.