AIS: Much of your art deals with social issues. What sort of response are you hoping to cause in the viewer? Are there specific policy changes that you hope come about as a response to your art?
ANNE: Badrooms is an installation that deals with Child Sexual Abuse trauma and taboo, Born to is more an anthropological diary of a woman’s journey, and the Art’s room focuses on homeless women, survivors of domestic violence.
I hope the viewer will be moved, touched, and will be more aware of what is going on in the world, especially regarding women’s issues. I hope viewers also find solace in my works, and feel understood if they have gone through for example, abuse . . . I try to unveil some taboos and make people think. In our liquid society (Bauman), focused on faster and shorter life span, on the illusory rather than the profound, it’s the reign of the tweet thought, simultaneity, and passé mode. Installations, paintings, and art in general forces you to be in the present, to look at them, to be present, to be here in the moment, and thus make you feel more alive. Art is the language of the soul. We can’t feed ourselves by fulfilling our fake consumerist needs, since we are consumed by them. They do not respond to our deepest human needs of connection and love.
Honestly I don’t have any illusion that my art might have any input in changing any policy. To change policies, you need activism, lobbying, long run determination and concrete day to day actions, as well as voting for people that represent your values and understand your concerns. Sure, art is politics, especially under authoritarian regimes and the freedom of speech limitation, but I don’t know if it has the outreach to change anything on a mass scale, rather on an individual scale by raising awareness and developing critical thinking.
Art is society's mirror, you see there what is already inside yourself, sometimes you like it, sometimes not.
AIS: I was also very taken with the use of scraps from Louis Vuitton in several of the Born to paintings. What inspired that choice of material, and what do you think about the pressure for women to define themselves by brands?
ANNE: When I first cut a Louis Vuitton bag, it was for the painting “Born to die” (2012), I thought of the ermine once used as a status symbol for kings and queens. On one hand, the human nature pushes us to be similar to our peers and at the same time, to express our individuality. Of course there are differences in cultures, though, with globalization, they tend to diminish, and at the same time, to cross-pollinate and recreate new subcultures. We experience advertising’s power and its fight for the control of minds (and especially our wallets). Techniques are subtle and refined. Look at social media, influencers, bloggers, sponsoring, lobbying, product placement, famous contemporary idols “setting” new trends. We consume advertising without even noticing it.
Possessing a “luxury" item communicates a higher status to others, makes people feel “special". For some it’s a luxury bag, for others it’s a washing powder brand. The interesting thing about Louis Vuitton is that maybe 40 years ago, very elegant senior ladies from the bourgeoisie in Paris were owning such bags, nowadays it has become a luxury mass product, highly fashionable and desirable, more than ever a status symbol especially for women, from Boston to Tokyo--globally. I think the pressure on women generally speaking is enormous--even insane. Just listen to them: they are so critical of themselves, try so hard to reach an ideal image of “The Woman” as it is represented in their culture. It’s painful to watch: the pressure regarding their bodies, the way they dress, their behavior, their abilities. They are raised to fit certain societal norms and are constantly under an extremely high social pressure demanding from them impossible and often contradictory things to reach.
Art and fashion intermingle non-stop: art being used in fashion (painterly), cooperations between luxury brands and famous artists (Murakami, Koons), Fashion invited to art events (the "fashion show” inspired by exhibited art recently for the opening at the Met Gala), etc . . .
My connection to fashion is somewhat “ancient." I had internships at Emmanuel Ungaro in Paris, Givenchy in NYC, and also worked on a project for Chanel in Warsaw, so I always had this kind of interest in fashion.
In a way, destroying such a desirable branded object is extremely pleasant, in the way that is frees you from the burden of the consumerist illusion, it’s a bit like burning your bra.
AIS: Could you tell us a little about the circumstances following the censorship of your work Badrooms at the Unitarian church in Lexington? Did you ever receive an explanation about why the work was censored and who did it?
ANNE: On a monday, with my friend Lorraine Sullivan, we installed our exhibition Girls just wanna have fun at the Church. On wednesday, it occurred that the majority of our artworks was turned towards the walls, without our being informed. I came back on Thursday, put papers on the back informing what was being censored (pain,women's voices, testimonies, education, etc . . .). After taking down the show, I decided I would use this censorship experience to create a new project online What happened at the Church (still on my website, you can take part in it, in order to provoke a discussion. I think it is a sign of the times, this lack of willingness to discuss. I had the feeling I had a wall in front of me, I really don’t like walls . . . and I’m persistent:)
So it exists online, but was also exhibited at the Kathryn Schultz Gallery in Cambridge in 2017.
It is still kind of an enigma who did it, . . . the mysterious censor . . . But there is an official letter from the Church on their website. They gave us unofficial feedback that the works were too strong and were triggering pain for some Church clients/goers.
My feeling is that the Church didn’t know how to deal with these issues, and didn’t want to deal with it.
In a way, I get it, there have been so many scandals around priests and the church and sexual abuse, and more scandals arise on a regular basis . . .
But Time’s up: it would have shown an openness about dealing with guilt, mistakes and responsibility. This could have brought a wonderful conversation about resilience, forgiveness and healing. Survivors have the right to be heard and listened to.
AIS: Do you have any words of advice for fledgling artists who also want to engage in difficult topics?
ANNE: Trust yourself. Listen to your heart and think about what you really would like to say to the world if you had one year left to live. And if you’re scared, it’s one more reason to do it.
AIS: What impact have you seen art have on your collaborators at the Transition House? How do you see your role in helping to empower survivors of domestic abuse and homelessness?
ANNE: Hard to say, on a weekly basis, I would say I’ve seen the workshop’s participants open up, smile more, feel more confident, and enjoy doing even more art, having new ideas, expressing what they would like to explore during workshops. Empirically, studies and tests done by Harvard regarding the healing power of art, show that after 45 minutes of doing something creative, your level of stress is lowering (decrease of the cortisol level). I don’t have an “objective" measurement of the effect of the workshops, but a few months ago, when I was doing a talk about women’s empowerment in a high school, a student came to me and talked about the testimony of a homeless woman who came to her temple, and talked about the Art’s room project, and how much it helped her.
My role is a tiny one, I’m like a coach showing possibilities, doors and windows to open, I try to build trust and create a safe space where they can explore and play like kids. It’s a small drop in the ocean of needs, I really wish I could do more.
The real work is being done by the Transition House team, and by the ladies themselves: they have the determination to change their life. I think honestly that they had a greater influence on me than the opposite. They are real life wonder women.