The cross : How did you come to dance in front of paintings in museums?
Damien Rouxel: While I was a student at the Beaux-Arts in Quimper, I started supervising rooms at the city museum. And, during a student night, I had the chance to be programmed: I then proposed some dances. The museum then invited me to “perform” regularly.
I did an art history course, and dance came to me during my formative years: marrying the two disciplines seemed natural to me. I was happily surprised to find that the public was won over by this initiative – it took place on Sundays – and that the visitors-spectators were of all ages, from children to the elderly. Some dance enthusiasts, others not at all!
How would you define your performance?
DR: From the beginning, I clearly decided not to make mediation visits, even if, thanks to my background in art history, I say a few introductory words about the work or works that I have chosen. It is rather a subjective itinerary, a way of questioning the way in which we discover or rediscover a painting, the questions that this raises in us, especially around the image of the body.
What does this painting tell us about the male body and the female body? Why and how to represent the martyred body, a recurring theme in religious iconography? What is the difference between a body from the past and a contemporary body? I can then set myself in motion starting from the posture of a character or, conversely, become the character of the painting at the end of the performance.
Dancing in a museum room in the middle of visitors is not trivial…
DR: Indeed, the space of the museum is not that of the stage. So I have to be able to adapt from the frame that I always prepare upstream. The number of people present delimits the surface where I can deploy the dance; the reactions and feelings of the spectators that I read in their eyes thanks to our close proximity also have an influence on the performance. I remember a lady in tears and the vertigo that this created in me: was this emotion, visibly very strong, doing her good or harm?
Browsing through the collections while dancing is like a journey with its stages, encounters, surprises and discoveries. Some visitors go all the way, others arrive or leave along the way: here too, it is the movement that takes precedence.
Do you also seek to set in motion the way we look at works of art?
DR: Without a doubt. In any case, I like to try to go beyond appearances, to take an interest in table margins. In Quimper, a famous canvas by Évariste-Vital Luminais dating from 1884 depicts King Gradlon fleeing the town of Ys invaded by the waves. We see her daughter falling violently from her horse, she who gave the keys to the city to the devil. From this founding legend in Brittany, I adopted the position of the young culprit, literally ejected from the mount by her father, after the voice of God commanded her to get rid of the demon.
At the Musée de Pont-Aven, during the exhibition devoted to the painter Jean Puy, I was inspired by the figure of the model to look into the relationship of domination, sometimes violent, between the painter and those who posed for him. Especially since the artist, indicated the catalog, had used very hurtful words with regard to one of them…