As part of the Something Else event currently taking place at Darb 1718 and various downtown venues, we catch up with international artist Sandrine Pelletier about her latest thought-provoking work, which is a commentary on Egypt's chaotic nature...
There is plenty of beauty in chaos and destruction; however, being able to spot its magnificence requires an artistic eye. Cairene streets are filled with examples of disorder, but dealing with it on a routine basis has left many desensitised to its inherit beauty, often labelling it as ugliness. Being able to see the beauty in Egypt is Swiss extrême artist Sandrine Pelletier, who found inspiration in Cairo’s chaos and turned into a refreshing installation entitled The Deserted, on display until December 30th as part of the Something Else event at Darb 1718 galleries and various downtown venues. Wanting to learn more about the inspiration behind her piece, we meet up with this international award-winning artist to talk about her appreciation for both Egypt and its vibrant scene of local artists.
In the bustling artisan village that houses the always fascinating Darb 1718 gallery, we find Swiss/Belgian native, Sandrine Pelletier, in the gallery that exhibits works from local artists, as well as her latest thought-provoking creation, The Deserted. “I was in Paris and a young woman named Iman Nabil from Studio Khana in Saad Zaghloul called me and said we like your work and want you to come to Cairo. I was like 'yes, of course! I’ll come 3alatool,'" Pelletier gushed. Not knowing what she would create at the time, the only thing Pelletier knew for sure was her installation would be inspired and completely produced in Cairo. "Cairo is extrême! It's black and white all the time; it can be totally fine and then it can suddenly shift into something totally dark and complicated and extreme. It’s like an animal that can eat you alive if you don’t go with the flow; if you try to resist you’re going to be eaten,” envisioned Pelletier.
For some, art that requires you to think is no art all; however, for the rest of the art-appreciating world, art that doesn’t require thought is cliché and boring. In the corner of the white-walled gallery stand seven white blocks of burnt wood mingled with melted glass, offering a creative extrême critique on Pelletier's experiences in Egypt. Upon first glance at The Deserted, our minds were spinning a mile a minute trying to make sense of its message. Is it a critique on Egypt’s chaotic nature? Is it a critique of the beauty that Egyptians often label ugly? Do the seven charred blocks hold significance? Is it a critique on the robbing of Egypt’s antiquities, or even Egypt’s inability to protect the priceless artefacts in our museum (remember the King Tut’s beard debacle)? Explaining the creation of her interesting piece, the enigmatic Pelletier tells us that “The Deserted was entirely produced in Cairo. I wanted to collaborate with local artists and glass makers (in specific a woman who is a glass artisan, Houreya El Sayed) in an experimental way. The concept of this work is based on seven white classic museum exhibition stands that appeared to be affected by melting sheets of Egyptian glass and fire. The metaphoric idea was to combine simple 'classic' Egyptian museum stands with the idea of chaos, introduced by accidental glass and burned wood - a reflective thought on how Egyptian contemporary art is facing antique and cliché Egyptian art.”
Having been to Egypt before, Pelletier finds inspiration for inventive creations in accidents we encounter in daily life. In navigating the installation, visitors will find themselves breaking the glass laid purposefully on the ground, engaging them and bringing them into the creative process. “Egyptian glass is different than glass I usually work with. It’s greenish and a little blurry, and when we melted it in an oven to try making shapes, most of the time they came out as accidents. I actually find the accidents more beautiful than all of the other pieces that were shaped like a box,” Pelletier proudly remarks, showing me her favourite of the glass accidents.
Always embracing accidents, Pelletier takes me on tour while pointing them all out, including the latest one. According to Pelletier, “You can see the paw of the cat here! I found out that there was an accident and a cat came in and broke a piece. I saw that and thought I am always surrounded by zombie cats, so let’s keep it in because it, too, has become part of the process. It’s part of Cairo; it’s part of my everyday life.“
Through her many experiences in Cairo, Pelletier has become used to Cairo’s disorder and disregard for time. In search of its arts scene, Pelletier initiallty struggled to find the arts circle in a city of pyramids. “On my first day, three years ago, I didn’t meet sculptors and painters but spent most of the time with Egyptian musicians. Then we built something together. Sammy Sayed, from a band called Scarab, became a good friend and we produced a record together with an installation called Procession Towards The Unknown. We are maybe between 8-15 people all playing guitars and the cello. Samy El Sayad is the main leader of the project, but there are other notable artists like Alan Bishop, Sam Shalabi, Adham Zidan, and members of Invisible Hands, among others. We performed like two weeks ago in Dahab; I did sculpture on stage with clay where I was building stuff and collapsing and building and collapsing.”
Always looking to collaborate, Pelletier points out that her success in Cairo is in large part due to support of friends and from organisations like Pro-Helvetia. “Pro-Helvetia were very supportive. They supported me to produce the piece here. To be in Cairo for three months, without them it was not going to be possible,” Pelletier strongly believes.
The Deserted is part of Something Else, a contemporary art event filled with talks, performances, and exhibitions featuring a total of 110 local and international artists scattered in various downtown venues, as well as at Darb 1718. Pelletier’s work is currently on display alongside impressive works by Egyptian artists. If you are a fan of extrême art, or simply art that requires thought and comes with no right or wrong answer, then we strongly suggest catching this unique installation and supporting both international and local artist in one of the most vibrant art scene that exists in Egypt, Darb 1718.
To learn more about the ongoing Something Else event, click here.
To see Sandrine Pelletier's collection of work visit her website here.
To see what else is happening at Darb 1718, follow them here.
To learn about Pro-Helvetia, visit here.