In Conversation with French Taxidermy Artist Delphine Gigoux-Martin

Written by Deianira Tolema and Stefania Salese

Delphine Gigoux-Martin is an artist who lives and works in her native France. Her controversial work was first exhibited at the Galerie Metropolis in Paris. Subsequently, she has exhibited in France and internationally. Giroux-Martin’s signature production began in 2004, and continues with her recent drawings and taxidermic animals. Her work suggests a quixotic linkage of the natural world and humanity. It must be noted that her sculpture is created in accordance with strict European law pertaining to the commercial use of animals.

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, Une Nuit dʼÉte and other drawings, Galerie Metropolis, 2010

Deianira Tolema: How was your relationship with art when you were a child? Or did it start later?

Delphine Gigoux-Martin: I have always known what I would become. My father was an artist – an exceptional drawer, and I owe a lot to his dream-like world populated by spirits. The house where I grew up as a child was full of drawings, paintings, sculpture, various objects, and books. The references to literature in my work come from my mother’s influence, she always told us plenty of tales, stories, news, fairy tales, and so on…

DT: Does literature, and more specifically, poetry and philosophy, have anything to do with your job? What about art history and esthetics? How would you summarize the core of your research?

DGM: In an effort to put together different disciplines such as anthropology, astrophysics, literature, biology, philosophy, history, archeology, art history, I learnt to follow my intuitions, my dreams, and to give birth to the images in my mind. Then we have to work, struggle, and use the means we need to create with a certain level of self-awareness. Through the observation of the world we create. I try to keep my eyes open, after all. What really counts is the exhaustive analysis of human thinking that results from letting the solution, to whatever problem, flow on its own.

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, La Vague de L’Océan, Musée de lʼAbbaye Sainte-Croix, 2011, Courtesy of the artist

And it’s not about showing the world from the perspective of a certain consciousness. It’s about showing how such consciousness is looking at the world. The literary influence of Henry James – who moves the world’s point of view from one place to the other – is a mirror that reflects and nurtures the inversion of perspective where it lives. So within the multiple narratives, within apparent simplicity, lay multiple techniques of representation along with the work itself and its uncommon beauty – not anymore a point of coherence bent to the viewers’ demands, but something new and reborn and open to the dialogue.

DT: Anthropology and sociology are often connected to the artistic practice. But it is often not the sole meaning of a work of art, which sometimes remains hidden for many years after its production. What is your opinion on the subject? How do you describe it in relation to your previous and most recent work?

DGM: I consider myself an anthropologist who works with layers of mental images that coexist within the univocity of my vision.

Indeed, as Pascal Pique would say in an article written about my work, I conceive my works and exhibitions based on a specific spatial-temporal model that is very close to that of a dream that I am placing within a real space: “an illogical structure made of superimpositions of both moments and images with no particular, predefined obvious coherence. The only coherence is fleeting and only meant to turn the absurd into a linear sequence of images and reconstruction of a tale.”

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, installation, 2006, Courtesy of the artist

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, installation of three hundred porcelain octopuses, FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon Collection, Courtesy of the artist

I am constantly running after a certain subject. I draw circles around my own perplexity. My work is not the illustration of a thought, but an attempt to represent the complexity of what I see. This is a complex language made of ruptures and discrepancies that bounce from one work to the other. I’d love to mention Henry James again, with his image of the carpet: here there are no secrets or hidden things, and everything is well on view.

DT: You live in France, and you spend a lot of time in the woods looking for material to work with. Does that place you in a context that is broader than that of art?

DGM: The observation, the ability to look, watch, and see, can be exercised anywhere. For me it’s important to spend most of my time in one place.

I have a strong connection to this particular place, so I have always lived by the forest, surrounded by trees – the atelier is, indeed, embedded within the landscape itself.

Delphine Gigoux-Martine, La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque, 2007, Courtesy of the artist

In the clear density of the sky with its stars, the forest, the mountains, the dark water of the lake, the volcanos, the caves, the rocks and hidden cavities that the rural world contributes to enhance us professionally and financially. This place is vitally saturated with secrets and stories, sensations that permeate the contours of my plastic and intellectual research. All my work is, indeed, meant to revolve around other possible worlds.

DT: What you do with taxidermy may be perceived as somewhat grotesque and obscure. There is a crudity to the subjects of most of your production. Who are your collectors, and what are they attracted to in your work?

DGM: Who are my collectors? I don’t know them all, but with some of them I had some privileged exchanges. My collectors are mostly from the field of medicine, which comes as no surprise. What I like about them is their humor, as well as their empathy, and the ability to keep their eyes wide open and lucidly observe the paradoxical experiences around us.

Delphine Gigoux-Martin,. Du Danger de se Regarder dans une Flaque dʼEau, Centre dʼArt Contemporain la Chapelle Saint Jacques Saint Gaudens, 2010, Courtesy of the artist

Delphine Gigoux-Martin,. Du Danger de se Regarder dans une Flaque dʼEau, Centre dʼArt Contemporain la Chapelle Saint Jacques Saint Gaudens, 2010, Courtesy of the artist

DT: How is taxidermy perceived in the world?

DGM: The matter of taxidermy in relation to different cultural contexts depends on our relationship with the animal kingdom. Nowadays, many movements in France, as well as in the rest of the world, have been taking into consideration everything that regards animals, their preservation, their state, and their rights. Although the real issue remains still very anthropocentric. It all tends to boil down to animal exploitation and sufferance.

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, Les Bois Noirs, Néolice Aubusson Edition, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

What is really difficult when talking about taxidermy is the background of the visual concept of dismembering, and the association of death to any kind of suffering. Both physical and psychological pain have been demonized and, at the same time, they have lost all their symbolic charge. The refusal of death and its representation – including the crudest one related to how skin,when turned into leather, is now officially one of the new taboos of the post-industrial society. My taxidermy causes me to get sued and censored under the accusation of animal mistreatment. What bothers me is that most people think that I purposefully killed the animals used for my “frozen happenings” – the power of visual communication is incredible! For instance, the installation, on ne mange pas toujours ce qui est sur la table, has been the centre of a controversy launched by an animal-rights organization. The members of the organization, based on very poor evidence, were so sure that I threw those chicks (see installation shot) against the wall to achieve the effect of their beaks planted in the wall in a way that almost looks natural, beside the fact that a non-flying object is not supposed to defy gravity, so it was obviously staged!

I retrieved the chicks from an incubation facility where the unsold ones where meant to be killed by suffocation and then burnt, so I got those unsold, and already dead, chicks and I had them embalmed based on the installation I had designed for them. Yet, the viewers have been unable to interpret it with emotional detachment. About the barbaric aspects of this image, the problem is not the represented image, which is rather grotesque per se, as much as the opportunity it offers to examine the contemporaneity through the lens of a consumeristic society that aims to purge images from death.

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, Cage en Bambou, 2019, E-art, Hangzhou, Chine, Courtesy of the artist

 DT: Please tell us about your current and upcoming events.

DGM: I have just shown a carpet created with porcelain – a commissioned work – at an exhibition in Guatemala.

Until the end of March I was in Hangzhou, China for a residency. Next autumn I’m going to work on a performance/exhibition commissioned by the Calbet and Grisolles Museum for the art center Lectoure.

I have also been commissioned for a work to be installed in the woods for the city of Cazalis to celebrate the contemporary-art forest of the Landes.>

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, Les Bois Brûlés, E-art, Hangzhou, China, 2019, Courtesy of the artist

Delphine Gigoux-Martin, Les Loges Lunaires, E-art, Hangzhou, China, 2019, Courtesy of the artist

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