(presented by Cécile Menon)
Éléonore Saintagnan was born in Paris, literally on the cusp of the 1980s (December 31, 1979, at midnight). Since 2006, she has been studying at the Le Fresnoy national studio, France's most prestigious school for audiovisual and contemporary arts.
Her work is informed by a special interest in the way audiovisual media put a spin on information, including sensationalism and modern myths. More recently she has given voice to her long-standing interest in New Age beliefs and modes of expression. Tongue-in-cheek, but with a strictly neutral authorial stance (thus never quite ever letting the cat out of the bag, as it were), her videos and audio recordings suggest and play on her audience's possible gullibility. The line between truth and facts on the one hand, and fiction (including what Clive James affectionately describes as 'the higher bullshit') on the other, is presented as being very fine indeed — a conceit of which her performance work and photo series, 'Orgasmic Power', is a prime example. So, debunking myths and untruths isn't so much the point as teasing her audience's judgement and perception of what art may or may not be (de l'art [du lard] ou du cochon? as my compatriots would say).
In her most popular piece so far, the Gallery of Flemish Portraits, a different game is taking place; one that mingles the traditional view of 'high-art' (classical portraits of the wealthy or the glamourous) and 'low-art' (staged videos of common people from the North of France, posing as if for a painting). Stillness is a mere illusion here; it does not resist the passing of time, which decomposes before your eyes as the subjects struggle to keep the pose, their initial facial expression gradually changing, their faces swept by nearly imperceptible emotions. It's like watching the morphing of clouds. And you, the initially passive art-video viewer, get to gradually experience what it feels like to be actively looking at someone, as would a painter.
(Images: courtesy of the artist. To contact her, see Éléonore Saintagnan's website.)
Footnote from Clive James: At first I thought Cécile and her friend Éléonore, if she existed, were staging a hoax. But then I spent half a day looking into a mirror, and thought, 'Yes, there might be something to this.'