Elsa SAHAL: Pole Dance
Private view Saturday 30 May, 3 - 8.30 pm
“You were right to break up the female body like that. Details are always fascinating.” —Picasso speaking to Brassai*
For her fifth solo show at the Claudine Papillon gallery, Elsa Sahal keeps pushing back the boundaries of ceramics. In “Pole Dance”, her sculptures of broken up, dancing bodies break free from the laws of gravity, both literally and figuratively.
The artist prefers to work with metonymies of the body: instead of sculpting a whole woman, she evokes her by selecting, displacing and reassembling body parts -- a thigh, a breast, a foot – as she did in the “Nus couchés” (“Recumbent Nudes”) series she presented last spring at the Hôtel Dieu for the International Art Festival of Toulouse. In this new series too, their burlesque spirit sidesteps the codes of gender.
For “Pole Dance”, Sahal was inspired by the possibility of making her recumbent nudes stand up, freeing ceramic from its base, disconnecting it from the ground, showing it upside down.
Like the human body, the pink soft flesh of ceramic must struggle to become erect, to keep from slumping: Sahal emancipates it with a pole dancing pole. Just as in Degas’ dancers or in classical sculpture, the vertical prop becomes a fully-fledged part of the sculpture: an eroticized armature, a promise of lightness.
The “Danseuses” series tackles the same issues, on a smaller scale. But since Sahal’s dancers have everything they need, they too could be huge!
In contrast with the first series’ tender, smooth pink -- enhanced with a platinum glaze on the nipples – the stoneware crackle glazes in various hues of green, with their crystals cropping like lichen, add a richly evocative organic dimension.
In the “Cygnes” (“Swans”) series, are those long swan necks tucked under wings? Or are they phalluses, abstract forms playing on the full and the void? The artist’s unfettered use of visual metaphors is delightful: are these Matisse or Picasso’s dancing bodies, the tree roots of Angkor, the tiny Tantric goddesses of Khmer art? To each their own association. Sahal light-heartedly invites us to indulge in sensuality, as a way to be present to the world.
*quote from Brassai, Conversation avec Picasso, p.113, Gallimard, Paris, 1964. —Valentine Meyer, March 2015
Elsa SAHAL – Born in 1975, lives and works in Paris. After graduating from the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2000, she did a residency in Sèvres in 2007 where, among other things, she perfected her enamels and high-temperature baking techniques.
The Fondation d’entreprise Ricard gave her a solo show in 2008. The same year, she won the MAIF Prize for Sculpture. In 2009, she was a visiting lecturer at Alfred University, New York State College of Ceramic. She was a teacher at the École des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg from 2005 to 2012.
During a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana in 2013, she honed her baking techniques further and shifted to new, more streamlined forms. The same year, her work was shown at the Bodies Speaking Out: New International Ceramics exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design, New York. From her small clay pieces to the monumental Nus Couchés (Toulouse International Art Festival 2014), Elsa Sahal’s engagement with her material yields uncommonly honest art.
In 2015, Elsa Sahal will take part in the Ceramix exhibition, which will be shown at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, Netherlands, then at La Maison Rouge in Paris in 2016.