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Actors and Voyeurs

Elsa Sahal working on Fontaine – Photo: Denis Amon

As many artists who actually develop a kind of family relationship with their works, Elsa Sahal always call her sculptures by their names. When she talks about them, it sounds as if she is speaking of an old uncle or great-cousin. Like any family, this one includes great figures, disturbing characters, exotic members gone wild, and the latest additions, who leave older members of the family wondering what to do with them because they seem so unruly and rebellious.

A whole progeny born of the same soil. It is probably needless to emphasize how soil is the raw material of existence, whether considered from a religious or a scientific point of view: as soon as you engage with it, the plasticity of soil immediately projects you into the complex insanity of life. It’s a language whose rules all celebrate proliferation, a sort of sampled repetition of what the world constantly offers to our eyes, when we look at flowers, plants, fish, insects, and at ourselves, actors and voyeurs of this wide-spreading debauchery.

Elsa working on L’Alanguie (2019) – Photo: Sylvain Deleu

Born in 1975, in Bagnolet, France, Elsa graduated from the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2000. In 2007, she did a residency in Sèvres, which allowed her to develop an enamelling practice involving high temperature firing.

One of her best known works, Fontaine, is from 2012 and has a manifest character which is perhaps the most narrative, the most talkative and the most feminist that she could make. “It’s a pissing figure, whose title is a snub to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. In the continuous flow of the urine stream, there was the idea that little girls can piss thick, far, and continuously too. And that this, ironically, can happen in public space where only male urine is admitted! The pissing figure is a decidedly masculine motif in art history, which many female artists have diverted since the 1970s,” Elsa said.

This Summer, the fountains of the Place Royale in Nantes will welcome Fontain, presented as the feminist response to the Manneken-Pis, the famous bronze statuette very popular with Brussels tourists.

Manneken Pis, designed by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619, is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels. It also embodies their sense of humour and their independence of mind. The bronze fountain sculpture in the centre of the city is a replica which dates from 1965. The original is kept in the Brussels City Museum
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). Study for Virginia Woolf plate, for The Dinner Party installation (1977). Ink, photo and collage on paper, approx. 24 × 36 in. (61 × 91.4 cm). © 2016 Judy Chicago / Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York – Photo: Donald Woodman
L’Alanguie (2019) – Elsa Sahal
Fontaine at the Jardin des Tuileries in October 2012 (Paris, France) – Photo: Denis Amon
Sketch for Delta – Photo: John Totoff
Working on Delta – Photo: John Totoff
Delta at the Franco-German Embassy in Dacca, Bangladesh (2016) – Photo: John Totoff
Delta at the Franco-German Embassy in Dacca, Bangladesh (2016) – Photo: John Totoff
Vue d’exposition Elsa Sahal des origines à nos jours – Crédits : © Aurélien Mole Courtesy Galerie Papillon

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