Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Madness of Olivier de Sagazan

I've been meaning to post something about extraordinary French performance artist Olivier de Sagazan for quite some time, but I never followed through. His art is captivating but disturbing. So it seems appropriate to share it with you during a season that is dedicated to the macabre, the disturbing, and the frightening.

But please don't misunderstand: Olivier de Sagazan is not a "Halloween" novelty or a "horror show" trope. His art is based on the physical and psychological transformation of the human being. He layers clay, paint (only black and red, and pointedly so), hair, and dirt onto his face and body in a transformation that is truly a descent into a state of madness, a state of complete and total surrender. It is the transformation of the logical, rational, controlled modern human into a kind of ferocious, visceral, animalistic, ancient state. Along with whispered or shouted ranting and startling pre-language vocalizations, he contorts his face and body into grotesque, deformed shapes, rendering the human form down into featureless components, or into what could be tribal masks and body modification from indigenous cultures or ancient races.

"I am flabbergasted in seeing to what degree people think its normal, to be alive. Disfigurement in art is a way to return to real life!" says de Sagazan.

In this way, I feel that de Sagazan's art goes beyond "scary" or "frightening" because it plays not on our fear of monsters, ghosts, vampires, or serial killers, but on our universal fear of the dissolution of ourselves, the loss of our identity and minds, of who we are, reverting to some primal state. I might even venture to say that, by extension, his performances are also connected to our fear of death itself, of the idea of ultimate transformation. And of course this is so effective precisely because we all still have this primal, raving creature inside us...and we all must reconcile ourselves to our final transformation. His work is shocking and penetrating because it's about what is INSIDE of us, not something scary or frightening "out there."

He appeared in the classic film "Samsara" (previously here) in a short sequence that encapsulates his ideas.

Here is a version of his foundational performance, "Transfiguration."

And in one of his most mind-boggling, horrific performances, he just collaborated with English designer Gareth Pugh (a protégé of Rick Owens and Michele Lamy, previously here and here) in a film presentation of Pugh's Spring/Summer 2018 collection. Their performance together takes the first six minutes of the film. It's intense...forewarned is forearmed.


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