The Body As Emotional Amplifier

In his objects and performances, French artist Yoan Sorin, of Martinican origin, makes references to pop culture, contemporary dance and collage, always employing the body as a fundamental artistic element. C&AL spoke to Sorin about his artistic vision.

 The artistic practice of Yoan Sorin (Cholet, France, 1982) is embedded in ornamental aesthetics, references to pop culture and collage. Sorin expresses himself through a variety of formats such as drawing, installation or performance. In five questions, Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL) author Frédréric Emprou took a journey through the works of the French artist with Martinican roots.

C&AL: How did art enter your life? I know you used to play basketball on a competitive level. What made you decide to go to art school?

Yoan Sorin: I come from a modest background where what most consider the oficial culture had no place; it was something that didn't speak to us. I grew up listening to my mother's and grandmother's records of bélè, biguine y zouk [rhythms from the French West Indies: Guadalupe and Martinique], as well as my father's punk-rock albums. Then, in my teens, I discovered rap music. It is true that I practiced basketball on a high level. I always saw my grandfather, the boxer François Pavilla, as a performer, as a dancer. It made me realize how the body can take on the role of an emotional amplifier so to speak. Art history and painting came later, through art books and magazines.
Art school allowed me to get in touch with different printing, painting and drawing techniques. At first I was nourished by images whose context was often unknown to me: I represented and redrew everything around me, I wrote down the phrases I understood. The idea was to explore the most absurd associations and see what happened. This notion of collage came to me very early, as a way of building bridges between the culture I was familiar with, or rather the popular culture, and the new culture I was just getting to know.

C&AL: How would you describe the main lines in your work? I am thinking mainly of your drawing and painting practice, the materiology you display in your samples...

YS: I don't necessarily look for coherence in my work, I prefer to trust my instincts, which gives me great freedom to use new materials or techniques. Intimacy is often a starting point from which I try to extract a context and a more general inquiry. There is no authoritarian classification; to me, every gesture has equal importance: a sketch can become a work of art, while a more elaborated ceramic piece can function as a door block. My work claims a certain spontaneity, the works become accessories but often they also become matter. I recycle the pieces I make, usually by transforming them or giving them a second life.

C&AL: What place does performance and the concept of the stage occupy in your artistic activity, and how important is the notion of collaboration to you?

YS: From my point of view, performance allows us to reinforce the idea of desecration of the work. Ultimately, I am primarily interested in the idea of discussion and sharing. At first I had considered performance as the possibility of being as sincere and transparent as possible. Also, my body was the tool I was most familiar with, and it allowed me to show my creative process in a simpler way. I also consider the different collaborations that I have been able to engage in, as performances in which, in the end, the process of joint creation becomes almost as important as the result. Collaboration is something natural to me, it is a way to discover new territories or to experiment with new ways of doing things that I would not venture into by myself. Working in the world of contemporary dance both as a performer and as a consultant is not a different practice from my production as an artist. They are an integral part of it. The stage is a space that particularly affects me, since its temporality is defined by the body and because it can also become a temporary exhibition space.

C&AL: As an artist, how do you relate to your Martinican roots? When we talk about your work, we often refer to the creoles or the archipelago. How do you consider this reading and this relationship with the idea of mestizaje and its Martinican origins?

YS: From very early on I became aware that my identity could be flexible. What I am, where I come from and how people perceive me does not always match nor can it be seen through the same lense. Martinique has always been an answer to insistent questions about my origins, but I have never really lived in Martinique. For me, that place became something very intimate, a mythology created from family tales, an imaginary town of stories, smells and tastes. Martinique is fundamentally the image of my grandfather, who was a boxing champion in France and Europe in the 1960s. I realize that I inherited numerous and very diverse objects without knowing their origin and, in some way, it was from that collection of objects that I put together my own roots. I often merge them with installations, to invoke ancestors and to place them back in the centre of the action. There is always the idea of sharing my intimacy and occupying a space as if I were at home. Instead of hanging family pictures on the wall, I put those tacky objects there. In this way, by making them coexist with other objects, a kind of créole universe emerges.

C&AL: This fall you exhibited together with your choreographer friend Dana Michel at the Centre d'art de Brétigny in France and your are now in residence at Triangle in Marseille. What projects do you have for the future?

YS: The exhibition with Dana Michel allowed me to clarify certain aspirations, notably that of creating a territory that can be defined between the exhibition, the theatre scene or stand up: what I like is producing and creating spontaneous performances. Besides a collaboration for Manifesta in Marseille this summer, and a participation in Dust Specks on the Sea, Contemporary Sculptures From the French Caribbean and Haïti, which was presented in 2018 and 2019 in different spaces in the United States, I have different projects planned with the gallery 14 N 61 W, in Martinique, which has been supporting my work for a couple of years.

Frédréric Emprou conducted the interview for C& America Latina. He is an independent art critic and curator. He lives in Nantes and Paris, France. Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen.