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 Plants are now indistinguishable from animals. Polypiers, which look

sycamores, bear arms on their branches. Antoine thinks he sees a caterpillar between two

leaves; it's a butterfly taking flight. He goes to step on a pebble; a gray grasshopper leaps up.

Insects, like rose petals, adorn a shrub; mayfly debris makes a snowy layer on the ground.

And then the plants merge with the stones.

                        Pebbles look like brains, stalactites like teats, iron flowers like tapestries adorned with figures.

                        In fragments of ice, he distinguishes efflorescences, the imprints of bushes and shells - not knowing whether they are the imprints of those things, or the things themselves. Diamonds shine like eyes, minerals pulsate.

                        And he's no longer afraid!

                        He lies flat on his stomach, props himself up on both elbows ;

and holding his breath, he looks.


Gustave Flaubert, « La Tentation de Saint-Antoine », 1874[1] 

Crédits Photos : Margot Montigny

In this passage on the last page of the novel, Gustave Flaubert describes the ecstasy experienced by Saint-Antoine. Roger Caillois, in his text “Mimétisme et psychasthénie légendaire”[2], published in 1935, interpreted the hermit's delirious vision as an expression of generalized mimicry.  He drew a parallel between this fantastic scene of confusion between the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms, and the biological phenomenon of animal mimicry. Caillois challenges the evolutionary idea that animal mimicry is merely the result of a species' adaptation to its environment. He puts forward the hypothesis that camouflage is often superfluous, even counterproductive, and goes beyond purely adaptive functions as part of an animal's aesthetic quest. The origin of this phenomenon would be an attraction or temptation to space, or an unconscious desire to become one with the surrounding matter, to be assimilated into space.


This speculative theory, which creates an analogy between the biological phenomenon of mimicry and aesthetic experience, raises the question of the imagination of living beings and the non-utilitarian natural mechanisms that have stimulated evolution. It seems to prefigure contemporary ecological thinking, advocating the creativity of non-human organisms and a vision of profound interconnections between species and their environment. Philosopher Timothy Morton, for example, advocates the idea of blurring distinctions between the inside and outside of organisms: “The mesh of interconnected things is vast, even immeasurable. Each entity in the mesh seems strange. Nothing exists by itself, and therefore nothing is completely 'itself'[3]".

Drawing on Roger Caillois's vision of mimicry, which resonates with new force today, the exhibition brings together works by Stan Brakhage, Lucille Léger and Jean de Sagazan. Sharing an interest in visual disturbance, the three artists explore the aesthetic strategies adopted by flora and fauna. Imitation, hybridization, blurring of the boundaries between the original and its representation, between inside and outside - living beings give in to the temptation of space. Artists are both witnesses and co-authors.


Often working from pre-existing motifs, Jean de Sagazan's latest series explores the orchid mantis. Native to the tropical forests of South-West Asia, this insect perfectly mimics the orchid flower, deploying its mimetic strategy to dissolve among the petals and attract insects who naively come to forage on the flowers. Like butterflies attracted by this fearsome predator disguised as a pink orchid, we fall into the visual trap of Jean de Sagazan's paintings.Fooled by the luminous, sensual floral ornament of the large painting, it's only on closer inspection that we see a repeating motif forming - an orchid mantis swallowing a butterfly.Multiplied, the scene of devouring becomes an abstract ornament, a kind of space or mesh of organic forms as described by Flaubert.The painter produces a meta-representation - he paints the insect itself as a still image of the original, the flower. These small-format versions of other orchid mantis hunting scenes are darker and more intimate.Like ghostly apparitions, the silhouettes of the mantis and butterfly wings are outlined against a black background, illuminated by a warm light, as if from an oil lamp, while dissipating into a nocturnal sfumato, blending into the environment.


Employing a variety of techniques (molding, sewing, welding, etc.), materials (synthetic and organic), furniture elements and salvaged garments, Lucille Léger assembles biomorphic sculptures akin to design objects hybridizing with the living. Like the glittering flowers in science-fiction author J.G.Ballard's “The Crystal Forest”[4], her retro-futuristic suspensions emit a soft light, producing a strong effect of attraction. The wall sculptures are reminiscent of bodily forms. They transform our vision of the exhibition space, with built-in magnifying glasses acting as visual thresholds. Echoing Caillois's theory of the possible divergence between form and function in nature, the artist challenges the visual codes of furniture by introducing organic forms to question our expectations of their use, even to produce a disturbance. In what sense does this hybridization between the object and the living take place? Would organisms mimic manufactured objects in order to dissolve in an increasingly industrialized environment? Or would objects come to life to transcend their status as things and become living subjects interacting with other organic or inanimate entities?  These two speculative directions, corresponding respectively to Caillois's vision of mimetism and contemporary currents of thought such as object-oriented ontology (OOO)[5] or new materialism[6], share the common idea of the profound interaction between living and inert matter. Lucille Léger's pieces seem to propose a possible strategy for their future co-evolution.

A major figure in post-war American experimental cinema, Stan Brakhage made “Mothligh” in 1963, an abstract film created without a camera, using film and organic matter. Saddened by the death of the moths that accumulate around his lamps, he decided to bring them back to life with this film. Between two sheets of 16mm film, he places insect wings and legs, as well as leaves, flowers and stems. The result is then contact-printed onto another film for projection.  Instead of representing nature by filming it, Brakhage uses light and the transparency of organic matter to create images. The film is short, but the effect it produces is powerful. Scrolling like a kaleidoscope, the ephemeral silhouettes of plants and insects appear briefly, intermingle and become motifs. The film explores regimes of visibility that make the speed of 24fps cinema perceptible. Becoming a cinematographic object revealing its technical reality, the film's speed creates a dissonance between what we see and what is given to be seen.  “What a moth might see from birth to death if black were white” - this poetic description of the film by its creator likens our visual experience of his work to that of moths in front of a light source.

The exhibition invites you to hold your breath and look, to let yourself be tempted by the space but also by the light.


Victoria Aresheva



[1] Gustave Flaubert, La tentation de saint Antoine, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « Folio », 1983 [1874], p. 236-237.


[2] Roger Caillois, «Mimétisme et psychasthénie légendaire», Minotaure, n° 7, 1935


[3]  Timothy Morton, La pensée écologique, traduit de l’anglais par Cécile Wajsbrot, édition Zulma, 2019  [2010], p.34


[4] J.G.Ballard, La Forêt de cristal, traduit de l’anglais par Michel Pagel, Gallimard, coll. « Folio SF», 2008 [1966]


[5] Object-oriented ontology (OOO) is an intellectual movement in the arts and humanities that rejects the idea of human specificity. At the heart of this philosophy is the idea that objects - whether real, fictional, natural, artificial, human or non-human - are mutually autonomous.


[6] New materialism, which emerged in the 1990s, is an interdisciplinary approach to theory and research that emphasizes the expressiveness of matter, its dynamism and agentivity, as distinct from classical materialist philosophy, which tends to perceive matter as essentially passive and inert.

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