Denise Sabourin

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A method looking out for convergences

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“What is an event ? An event has torn something.”
Dominique Desanti in Cause commune (Common Cause n˚2, 1972).

Denise Sabourin puts together artistic happenings that stick to reality. She auscultates the world around her and presents us with a creation interacting with it. Her art is nurtured on situations and circumstances. What is at stake is no longer to give utterance to that reality in accordance with the conventional standards of representation, but rather to set an immediate link with the ongoing world.
The opportunities of dialogue are inexhaustible ; the forthcoming production of an artist in his home-town, the commemoration of a writer, the meeting with a defender of an ecological or political cause – the scope is wide indeed to trigger off action. With the aid of her outstanding power to grasp occurrences, Denise launches briskly into schemes that will supply a wide-range creative growth and blossom out into fully-fledged creation, while taking into account the current issues.
For this purpose Denise gets in touch with various operators liable to tune up with her. A feature of hers is the drive that builds up a network of relationships by appealing to the other individual, giving rise to his or her involvement and stretching out extensive meshes, both unlimited and unexpected. The swarm of her workshop keeps pace with the world.

As they came to exhibit in La Rochelle, where Denise lives and works,(1) the Chinese photographer Jiong ZHU or Tadeusz WALCZAK from Poland fell in with the process she has devised, boosted as they were by the elation of their experimental interplay. The former has laid a teasing bet on the Olympic Games. The latter circulates his pictorial work – portraits – as if it were a palimpsest, while borrowing from his fellow countryman Witkacy the well-known ciphers that he used to append onto his pictures. We are thus offered a fulfilling collective production, which the La Rochelle artist has inserted into a seethrough structure, echoing the Polish artist’s lifetime experience.
Denise Sabourin could not but be sensitive to the debate over the bear in the Pyrenees Mountains. In this respect, her encounter with the militant and poet André CAZETIEN gives her food for thought, spanning far beyond the mere pun written on the work, “We have lost the Great Bear”.
On other occasions, those who collaborate to Denise’s project are her own students.(1) This was the case with a conference about the French writer Gaëtan PICON and especially his writing on the portrait of Madame Moitessier by Ingres. A plastic working ensued, in which the namesake sailor, famous in La Rochelle, also fitted in.
As regards the windmill mast, it has generated a stupendous crisscross of energies between college students, prisoners, craftsmen and the general public. A dynamic and progress-bearing sweep could opportunely be reinitiated, alongside with Gandhi’s former teachings. A video recording has been kept as a reminder of that peculiar happening.
At the outcome, collective undertakings and individual works are finely balanced.

Immersed in the concrete as it is, Denise’s intent is bound to be one of involvement. It evinces an awareness, and a determination towards the goals to be reached as well as the action to be implemented. The work considered as a production of happenings paves the way for reflection and brings questionings to the foreground. From one initiative to another, the critical and aesthetic potential that art crafts have in store is brought to light. Denise values attempts that may give substance and significance to our hectic, hustled contemporary life.

The work combines contributions from several people but also gains in value all along its successive steps, sudden springs and soarings, winding and wandering on the way. In most cases, each project starts off with the ritual of a protocol for which Denise requests the assistance of a practitioner in oriental medicine. The patient’s field of energy is prompted on some definite spots and then lets out a full load of images, colours and phrasings, “roots in the midst of their growth, bursting with sap”(2), welcomed as the very materials for the transfer onto the surface.

The support that Denise uses is surgical gauze with an unchanging 2 by 2 meter size. Identical picture after picture, the gauze surface acts as a receptacle. Resorting to such fabric is not incidental. Denise found herself naturally impelled to handle this light, transparent fabric insofar as it is connected with a painful spell she went through in her earlier life, and was consequently laden with underlying meanings – dressing wounds, and personal ones too, but further, collecting elements and even concealing them if need be.
Every picture she produces takes on the shape of a twofold surface, either side corresponding to each beat of a binary period. It stands for a modern version of the Greek symbol.
The first side gathers the words-wounds that came out during the medical interview. They bear witness to real-life experience and bring out thoughts, emotions and yearnings that now set the process in motion.

“Going over the bridge is the one act that outlines the banks as banks.” Martin Heidegger

The gauze, heavy with many a sign, is then given away to the partner, according to the terms of an agreement which settles not so much the use as the function of it, both prophylactic and charismatic. Reenacting, as it were, the ancestral rites of passage, the wearer is actually entrusted with a mission – passing on and calling for the consciousness of something.
That is why Denise suggests that the piece of work should be made to move in a group-framed intervention, a small-scale performance designed to generate some kind of social bond. “Performances”, David Le Breton says, “are statements about the world… they shatter the audience’s feeling of safety.” (3)
The protagonist, however, is granted an entire choreographic freedom. Although the size is unchanged, the gauze is polymorphous. Let loose, it is a banner or a veil or a sail ; cut and fitted more or less tightly to the shapes of the body, it becomes a kimono, a caftan or a jellaba. Rallying signs, womb-like wrappings, protective armours or ceremonial dresses providing a feeling of power, those collective works truly are areas for expression. The moment when the wearer makes the object his own is of the utmost importance. Outwardly transformed, the wearer’s identity is deeply reshaped, which entails a possible ‘conversion’ of the inner being.
The locations selected to achieve this are also quite revealing of the personal move. Jiong could be seen in an airport, a place for connections if there is any. Tadeusz, in the snows of Poland, carried away by the airy bulk of the gown, looks as if he were blown up over a circle of explosive shells – no more in fact than the nozzles of a frozen fountain. André adds his contribution to collective memory by brandishing his poem to Cannelle, (the she-bear whose name in French hints at the colour and smell of cinnamon) opposite some of the Pyrenean mountain tops rich with historical events.

The right-hand side of the gauze is marked across with a written then embroidered inscription that lets us know about the subsequent life of the work. The images it contains are processed by a laboratory in Paris, by the means of a fairly recent method. They seem to be faulty or faded, which is a deliberate, typical trick ; our modern technologies, for all their efficiency, cannot secure a perfect, clear-cut communication.
In addition, Denise is keen on using the ancestral technique of embroidery, (4) for the sake of precious handmade needlework of course, but also on account of the genuine sense of time it puts in. It reminds us of the age-old skill for marking trousseaus and refers to them as the patrimonial bearers of family signatures. And we can’t help thinking about the rituals of scarification ; the surface that is wrought becomes the skin and the scar is carved in the flesh of the fabric. Such signs win the utterances their immortality. The stitching that stands out in deep relief heightens the presence of these embroidered writings.
As a rule, the second side of the diptych is the one meant to confront the public eye. Its function is to deliver a message to the community and to the world at large. It is adequate that the diptych should be flat, for signs to be laid on.
Conceived to undergo unforeseen, startling alterations, this imagery on material can be thereafter used for various purposes and can be assigned non-restricted roles. The work’s field of action spreads outside the lands that were until then devoted to art. The boundaries between the artist and his or her public have been done away with.

The proceeding organized and put into practice by Denise Sabourin is first and foremost a quest for oneself. What can I do with other people ? The purport is to build up a relationship that allows to issue an intelligible message, within the reach of everyone, and to arouse an invigorating exchange, from which inventiveness may surge, so as to brace characters against splitting up and shutting off. Despite the current hindrances to communication, it dawns upon us that opening up can be made possible.
Next comes the concern to change not only our outlook, but also our frame of mind and behaviour amidst the pervading swamp of our stale everyday life, and in the long run to achieve a poetic overturn day after day. The sinews of her work gradually push their way through the social body.
Why not imagine that one day the whole set of the printed embroidered squares of gauze might be shown side by side… images and words would then unfold the repertoire of Denise’s involvement in sequence. Up to now she alone has a comprehensive vision of it, like the holder of a scroll impossible to read unless it is rolled up. But then, all those who have made up this huge web together with her should also be asked to attend, reviving the affective ties between them.
Just let historians take care of surveys. “The full strength of time condenses in the innovative instant when the eyes become sharp” said Gaston Bachelard. His words do prove true.

Translated and adapted by Ysé d’Algrant from the French text by Roseline Giusti-Wiedemann, after extensive study and discussion with Denise.

(1) Denise Sabourin is a higher degree art teacher at the Lycée Valin, a high school in La Rochelle.
(2) According to Denise’s very words.
(3) David Le Breton deeply regrets that rituals have been given up, in his book ‘La Peau et la Trace’ (The Skin and the Trace) 2003. “Societies nowadays don’t experience any rite of passage. They would not know what to pass on anyway.”
(4) Most of the embroidery is made by the workshop “l’Atelier du Bégonia” or by the Technical High School Jamain in Rochefort-sur-Mer, the rest is made in China. Some additional embroidery is being made in China for the forthcoming exhibition there.

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