Marie Serruya: Making a Moquerie

Armed with humour and a curious mind, French artist Marie Serruya critiques the solemnity of contemporary political life. Erin McFadyen writes.

Twitching limbs and turning heads animate Marie Serruya’s interactive art practice. “I aim to create a living work which invites the viewer to contemplate, or to act, while having fun,” she tells me. Recently, Marie has been collaborating with a creative technologist to develop sensitive systems that respond to their environment. This has resulted in the development of moving sculptural works and installations which audiences can interact with, and by which we can be acted upon — surprised, disrupted, or amused by.

A sense of playfulness characterises Marie’s animated works. This feeling of lightness can be traced throughout the diverse branches of her practice.

Across video, painting, textile and performance, Marie hollows out the heavy seriousness of contemporary political life, insisting instead on humour as the path toward insight.

One recent performance, a collaborative work with artist Smith367, involves Marie dancing down the streets of Paris in a dress made of yellow jackets sewn together, referring to the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement, a long-running French protest aimed at economic justice in which protesters wear high-visibility vests, a symbol of their working class status.

However, where the workers’ protests felt serious, impassioned, and aggrieved, Marie’s performance proposes a vision of political life as something more absurd. Marie celebrates the vibrancy of Paris, where she moved at the age of 16 to pursue an artistic career.

Though raised in a family of artists, Marie has also turned to art history for instruction. “To learn to sculpt and paint,” she says, “I look to classical paintings and sculptures…Van Gogh, Matisse, and Arcimboldo. They are the best teachers.” Her oeuvre is impressively transhistorical, referencing figures from art, political life, and popular culture from the 16th century to today.

The eclecticism of her influences is reflected in Marie’s patchwork studio method. While she works, she listens to and watches everything from “disco, documentaries about history, science and gangsters,” to biopics of surrealist artists. When she’s not in the studio, she says she is working always to surpass herself. “I may go from flying a plane,” she says, “to talking to strangers in the street, taking an interest in the first man on earth, and practicing knife throwing.”

Featured image: artist Marie Serruya with her work, Eve didn’t bite into the apple, she kindly handed it to Adam. Terracotta and oil painting, remote-controlled heads, Polyurethane foam, electronic system, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist.

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