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Interview: Stéphanie Solinas

©Marilia Destot

Stéphanie Solinas has been supported by the residency program of Etant donnés Contemporary Art in 2017.

Read more about her feedback on her residency on the U.S. West Coast.

ETANT DONNES (E.D.): What did your residency constist in?

Stéphanie Solinas (S.S): As an awardee of the residency program of Etant donnés Contemporary Art in 2017, I conducted the project Excursions – Becoming Oneself on the West Coast of the U.S. in July and August 2017. I carried out this project in partnership with Fraenkel Gallery (San Francisco), a true pioneer in the medium of photography. In 2016, the gallery opened a second space dedicated to multidisciplinary practices, the FraenkelLAB, where I was invited to present my solo exhibition, Identity, in April 2017.

I traveled along the West Coast by car, covering more than 5000 kilometers during my solo road trip to connect Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Santa Fe, and San Francisco. My preparatory research allowed me to identify and meet different people and visit relevant places, with the help of Philippe Perez and Jean Rosenbaum, science attachés of the French Embassy in San Francisco and Los Angeles who introduced me to leading scientists.

E.D.: What was your initial project for the residency program?

S.S.: My residency project was in the perspective of my previous work. For more than fifteen years, I have been exploring the actuality and intangibility of identities – the incomplete but unavoidable use of images and representation to access ourselves. I was intrigued by the Great Seal of the United States appearing on the reverse side of the one-dollar bill. At the zenith of the unfinished pyramid, an eye in a triangle sees everything. Thus, are the achievements of human beings, whether they be inner development or external constructions, always incomplete without a certain degree of transcendence?

My Excursions – Becoming Oneself project was dedicated to examining the debate over sciences and beliefs that takes place on the West Coast, as it is paradoxically seemingly a common territory of strong Native American history, New Age believers and visionary scientists who are shaping the future of humanity. Curious of the ideas of today that are inventing the identities of tomorrow, I developed an investigation plan based on the parallel between the real physical territory – the landscape – and the abstract philosophical territory of ideas. I set out from Sedona, a small town in Arizona where the belief in personal development in the New Age was prevalent, to head toward Silicon Valley, where the GAFA compete with each other for the improvement of human welfare through science. Thus, going from Sedona to Silicon Valley was an exploration of various development perspectives offered to mankind, from spirituality to artificial intelligence, investigating the utopian American Dream and the idea of the end of death.

E.D.: What important role did the residency play in your own work?

S.S.: Through this immersive exploration of the possibilities of humanity and its future, I achieved two things in parallel: experiencing and photographing the significant locations for my investigation, and meeting people who were able to enlighten me on my research questions. In both cases, the residency program gave me the concrete opportunity to dive into these complex questions, beyond my original expectations. My preparatory investigations, along with various fortunate coincidences, allowed me to visit 55 places in 4 states, and conduct 31 interviews.

E.D.: Would you please tell us about your ideas on new productions or the progress of your research?

S.S: Through the two months of residency in the U.S., I brought back an important body of creative materials: with about 12,000 photos, 300 videos, 100 sound recording, 15kg of samples, 50 pages of notes, etc. I am now editing, classifying and filtering this large amount of material, before resulting in a concrete work. I have started working on this in a steady pace. Upon my return to Europe, I started my residency at the Academy of France in Rome – Villa Medici until Summer 2018, where I am exploring another facet of the relationship between Science and Belief: the occurrence of miracles. As parts of my Dazzle Blind project, these two stages of my research are interconnected, and I am advancing in parallel my American project Excursions – Becoming Oneself in the form of an exhibition and a publication.

My stay in the U.S. allowed me to share my work with Alexandra Grant, artist and founder of X Artists’ Books (www.xartistsbooks.com), a newly established Los Angeles-based publishing house dedicated to artists’ books. I am therefore pleased to announce the release of my book The Guide of Why Not? published by the X Artists’ Books expected in September 2018. This will be the first volume of a new trilogy, The Dazzle Blind, featuring my studies in three different areas: Iceland, Italy/Vatican, and the U.S.

Since 2014, interested in contemporary works on human consciousness – the intersection between spirituality and neurosciences, I initiated The Dazzle Blind, a series of research focusing specifically on the limits of identity and representation. By exploring the medium of photography and its dual nature as both a scientific tool and an instrument to capture the intangibles, I examine the concrete and hidden worlds that frame our lives. My research projects are investigations, for which I collect evidence and interview witnesses, to explore who we are. In the words of Hélène Giannecchini, what I propose to the viewers, in the end, is “not a solution to the enigma, but a simply neutral stance amid such an abundance of clues, in a thought of the image”, an attempt to draw a map of the complex human identity, between materialism and transcendence

E.D.: What do you want to achieve from this residency program?

S.S: In fall 2018, I will continue my research in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco, in order to develop an exhibition for spring 2019, along with a publication released by X Artists’ Books.

Discover more about Stéphanie Solinas here.