On May 29, 2014, Ascension day, Luxembourg artist Deborah De Robertis bared her genitals in front of the painting l'Origin du Monde by Gustave Courbet. With this performance, part of ‘Mirroir d’origin, De Robertis made some important statements about art, feminism and mysticism.
In the latest issue of the Dutch magazine De Revisor, to appear in January, Dutch poet Edwin Fagel connects this performance to the work of Dutch contemporaries of De Robertis (the poetry of Sasja Janssen, Joost Baars and Rozalie Hirs and his own poetic work).
In anticipation of the essay in De Revisor, DeRecensent presents an interview with Deborah De Robertis.
What inspired the creation of Mirroir d'origin?
It presented itself in my work as an inevitable and necessary consequence.
Could you tell us something about the creative process that led to this performance?
For a whole month, I daily visualized the scene that I wanted to create. I did this until May 29, 2014, Ascension Day. Another part of the preparation took place out of sight, but I will not reveal what that was.
What is your opinion on the response of public and press?
My performance led to a media debate about art and exhibitionism. In my opinion, this is a debate on the wrong topic. It obscures the real issue and it censures the unique point of view that constitutes a work of art. The debate about the relationship between exhibitionism and art is a sterile debate and only serves to camouflage the denial of ‘the perspective of l'Origine du Monde’.
Did the public understand your performance?
I don’t know if it should be seen as a matter of understanding or of reception. What I know is that my performance has been received.
After her now famous speech on feminism for the United Nations on September 20, 2014, actress Emma Watson faced a huge amount of sexist comments. Have
you received similar reactions?
Yes, of course. My performance put me in a position of extreme exposure, touching both my artistic performance as well as me personally. Within a few days it provoked reactions from all over the world.
© Laura Baginski - "Vulviva", bronze, heigth: 63cm, 2012
Some reactions were touching, others were sexist, misogynistic and extreme. Precisely for this reason it is important that I take the floor and express my point of view in the media. I have thus been able to clarify the issues, and I have been able to partly refute the ‘wrong question’ I mentioned before. By framing my performance a case of ‘exhibitionism’, the misconception was cultivated that my only aim was to perform an act of sexual exposure. This in turn led to inappropriate responses by the public and it has hindered an open and critical discussion of the issues at stake. My performance is in this respect comparable to Emma Watson’s speech, in that it is a public and feminine standpoint.
Moreover, I strongly agree with Emma Watson’s views on feminism, in which men are included. Without contending to claim a feminist viewpoint, this is also the position that I take in my work, a standpoint that not only appeals to men, but also contains a feminine look on the male gender.
As for me, with my symbolic act I positioned myself, without permission and without a license, as an a priori passive model opposite of Gustave Courbet. I return Courbet’s model to her place in the world and I recall to memory that without active female intervention there would be no origin. The painter is the creator of l'origin du monde but l’origin du monde is the mother-creator of the painter.
Regarding the comments on Emma Watson’s speech and my performance, I mainly want to point out that whenever a woman is put under pressure because she formulates her views, this becomes a matter of freedom, an issue that reaches far beyond the issue of personal security - it is a political issue. This is why I, as a Luxembourg artist, ask for the support of my country.
I thought it was beautiful that the audience began to applaud during the performance. Was that really spontaneous?
Yes, spontaneity is nothing other than what comes from the heart.
How would you describe the role of art in society?
Regarding art, Pina Bausch said in an interview that when we look deep down into ourselves, when we really succeed in this difficult task, we find then something that all people have in common. To me, art is where the intimate and the universal are combined and I think the purpose of art is to reveal to us something of humanity.
What is your opinion on Courbet’s L'Origin du Monde?
I think it is beautiful, and moreover, it is not so much Courbet’s painting that I question, but who determines the way we look at it.. It is not the sex that I am opening, but the canvas. It is not the flesh that I show, but the void. I position myself as a contemporary woman next to the painter, I thus grant the model a different status.
The act of opening one’s body, once it is liberated from the borders and stereotypes imposed by our society, in my opinion reveals an animal-like strength that is present in all women, which makes them mother, whore, lover and goddess at the same time.
My performance, which can wrongly be considered ‘pornographic’, refers to an essential and ancestral divine femininity, which is represented by the "Sheela Na Gig ': images of maternal goddesses found in Irish churches, who open their sex to express both strength and security.
Who is your role model in the art industry?
Do you agree with the statements in my essay for De Revisor about the mystical nature of your performance?
In general, some aspects of your views on the question of mysticism left me feeling naked. I sense a close rapport to your point of view on the relationship of art and the divine, insofar as for me art is a matter of faith. Faith in life, in the visible and invisible. My performance is permeated by the desire to get away from mere representation, and instead to give a sigh of life, to give birth. To expose oneself to the world is an act that sets into motion, and which lies somewhere between taking possession and giving one self.
Why is it important to represent the Virgin in a sexual way?
Because the Virgin is sexual.