Words by Meritxell Rosell
When coming across the work of Art orienté objet (the artistic duo comprised of Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoit Mangin) for the first time, one cannot help the feeling of absolute awe and fascination.
Since 1991 the artists have been putting forth a series of projects that take us on a journey conceived to blur the constraints of what it is to be human and our relationship with animals. Theirs is a multidisciplinary approach to subjects like biology, behavioural sciences (ethology, psychology), ecology, and animal experimentation but also ethics and emotional existence, brutal in conception, but delicate and meticulous in the execution, where animals are the focus of attention and concern.
For Laval-Jeantet, raised in a family of scientists and with an incredible mixture of scientific and artistic background, her body is her means of expression and experimentation, pushing herself to places where few (if any) have dared to adventure.
Early A orienté objet’s works like Rabbits and Museum of Mental Horrors address concerns about animal experimentation. Not only just from a critical point of view but also from a much more existential one, underpinning the profound contradictions that one can face in science: it saves lives but it can also take them. Science repulses but at the same time seduces. These pieces were created to open people’s minds, challenge their perception and incite awareness towards these existential paradoxes.
In later works, like Felinathrophy and May the Horse live in me, Laval-Jeantet becomes the central artwork itself in an intricate and deeply intimate dialogue with animals. It feels as if we are transported to a sort of Dr Moreau’s island, yet in AOO’s hands, science is by no means something sinister and violent, if quite the opposite, grounded in curiosity and respect. It is with May the Horse live in me when they reach their most radical and ground-breaking levels.
The performance took place in Ljubljana in 2010, and it is an attempt at a hybrid man-animal existence experience carried out by injecting horse blood into Marion’s body. To avoid the immune reaction against the horse blood, red and white cells were removed from the horse’s blood and Marion was injected with increasing doses of several horse immunoglobulins over a period of a few months. On the day of the performance, she also tried to communicate directly with the horse while donning some custom-made horse stilts. This sort of ceremonial animal-man communion or blood brotherhood raises debates on barriers between species and the supremacy of humans over animals.
As a theatrical opening line to Art orienté objet´s work, one last thing to say: ladies and gentlemen, open the doors of perception and immerse into this fascinating trip, you are going to be amazed!
Your are an artist working in the intersection of art and the sciences of life in general and behaviour in particular. When and how did the fascination with them come about?
I was born in a scientific environment, my mother and father were both researchers, she led a biophysics public laboratory and my father ran the hugest radio diagnostic hospital service in France. Naturally with them behind me, I studied Science… And unofficially I studied art and psychology and started thinking about the social representation of the sciences. My studies curriculum seems mad: Physics, biology, chemistry, environment, psychology, anthropology, transcultural mediation, art history, visual arts… Actually, I was pretty good in sciences, especially in biology and physics, but I couldn’t help being obsessed with art and culture, and most of all I have always been concerned with the Living, ethically and existentially.
What are your aims as artists working between art and life science?
This is a complex question to answer… There are too many purposes I suppose: making life mechanisms understandable, growing awareness towards Living things, wondering about your own life, and even about human History… most of all we are facing a double turn as humans which is to be questioned and witnessed by art: We are exhausting our ecological environment on one side and strongly modifying it with chemistry and biotechnologies, actually both are extremely linked. This is a very perilous moment in our history, doing art around those topics is probably an attempt to put things together in order to help people emotionally move beyond this thrilling period.
What are the biggest challenges of Bio Art?
First not to become simply illustrative of scientific technologies, art should always be meaningful and emotionally powerful. Then to stay in an analytic position where it would not play the game of Multinational Corporations, but still be able of using their technologies to make people aware of the importance of free thinking and of the respect of life, especially of the original natural life we had on this planet before ruining it all.
Eventually, Bio Art might bring indirectly creative solutions to people to cope with health and environmental issues.
In May the Horse Live in me, your body is your artistic medium. How do you feel being an artwork?
Well, I’m a pretty daring person, experimenting with dangerous things I would not suggest others to do! (Lol). Anyway experimenting with new issues is the basis of the dialectical artwork I started years ago with my partner Benoit Mangin. Experimenting was a way to share and being able to work together. Then I took many roads in my life and art to experiment with the expendability of its borders, like being initiated in a Pygmy traditional ritual of Near Death Experiment.
I almost died many times in my youth and became extremely respectful toward life. I sincerely think like Anthony Gormley, Bill Viola or Robert Filiou there is no frontier between art and life. As an artist, being should be an artwork, and art should modify your way of life. Actually for me it changed my appreciation of social rules very much! I’m not concerned at all by norms… Probably never I was.
What directions do you imagine taking your work in?
I started many new Bio Art works with my partner. We are working now on “Holly Coli, the mouse in the odour of sanctity”, a mouse which will naturally smell incense and violet as saints were supposed to, by a modification of its microbiota. Mice were supposed to be Devil supports in Christian history, it’s time to do them justice as research martyrs. Currently, I am also working a lot on my own microbiota and I intend to be grafted with a Yanomami microbiota in order to recover my biological links to deep nature and maybe leave northern civilization.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
Unfortunately, I would say health diseases driven by our unreasonable way of life.
You couldn’t live without…
Trees, animals, the people I cherish… And helping others overcome their difficulties. This exercise is a great fascination for me.