It Grows on You

Voyage solitaire
(Solitary Travel)

280×180, Acrylic on canvas

Active since the nineties, navigating at that time within a charged Parisian scene, neither an activist nor a strategist, yet part of the gender conversation that had made its way into the foreground, artist Edi Dubien’s work in hindsight seemed to anticipate a relationship to the world, to memory and to an experience of both, that was decades ahead of its time. His paintings and drawings, a selection of which were shown in Tokyo in 2019, and more recently his sculptures, address the forging of a self made of disparate parts, human/animal/plant, that assemble so as to tell a tale of longing.

The last decade, in its embrace of the anthropocene and its thinkers, of the Haraway 2.0 model, has caught up with the incandescent poetics of his work. His palette is closer to that of Luc Tuymans, whom he admires, than to a David Wojnarowicz (though both artists have brought the sadness of their childhood within their art). But it’s for the art of Durer (his animals), Mario Merz (the use of poor materials, of organic finds to fabricate shelter) or Joseph Beuys who transformed the materials that ‘resurrected’ him into a cocooned myth of survival, that Edi Dubien expresses love. And in doing so, Edi allows us to attempt another reading of such heroic male practices, as he removes the affects of drama and theatricality that indeed do much for the protracted pleasure we experience before such art.

There is at once a sparse re-imagining of such possibilities in the quiet tones of his paintings, and an undeniable Proustian evocation of a childhood that was not allowed to be in Paris, but that took on a chronology of episodes taking place in Auvergne. Which he narrates prolifically in what will be his first museum show, ‘L’Homme aux mille Natures/ The man of a thousand Natures, originally scheduled for the Spring of 2020, and as of this writing postponed to September of this year, at the Lyon Museum of Contemporary art.

Artist/writer/curator Pascal Lièvre has championed the work of Edi Dubien over several years. He did us the friendship of allowing us to translate a text he had written for an upcoming exhibition of the artist at his Paris gallery (also unavoidably postponed) while Edi was kind enough to let us publish it here along with an interview. We’re delighted to have Pascal Lièvre as a first guest writer, and are grateful for Edi’s generosity of time and trust.


Text by Pascal Lievre for Edi Dubien Exhibition at Galerie Alain Gutharc

September 2020

Ecology isn’t just about global warming, recycling, and solar power-and also not just to do with everyday relationships between humans and nonhumans. It has to do with love, loss, despair, and com­passion. It has to do with depression and psychosis. It has to do with capi­talism and with what might exist after capitalism. It has to do with amaze­ment, open-mindedness, and wonder. It has to do with doubt, confusion, and skepticism. It has to do with concepts of space and time. It has to do with delight, beauty, ugliness, disgust, irony, and pain. It has to do with consciousness and awareness. It has to do with ideology and critique. It has to do with reading and writing. It has to do with race, class, and gen­der. It has to do with sexuality. It has to do with ideas of self and the weird paradoxes of subjectivity. It has to do with society. It has to do with coexistence. [1]

Timothy Morton

In California at the end of the seventies, groups of gay men decided to turn their backs on heterocentrism in order to redefine their sexual orientation through the prism of paganism and thus reconnect with a more fluid identity. They are the Radical Faeries, who like the ecofeminists, live as a community, position themselves against patriarchy and want to collectively deconstruct the models of domination with the idea of grasping the world differently and establish a new ecology of relations between the human and the non-human.

These communities find inspiration in traditional forms of native American spirituality and assemble periodically to celebrate one of the eight pagan holidays of the year in sites termed sanctuaries that usually are isolated areas found in nature. By establishing the gestures of a new relationship with the living, these men no longer want to perform a toxic, hegemonic, heterocentered masculinity, which was simultaneously the object of theoretical research by Australian scholars such as Raewyn Connell, defining the concept of hegemonic masculinity as the configuration of gender practices aimed at maintaining the perpetuation of the patriarchy and the domination of men over women [2].

Fortunately, the Radical Faeries were more interested in laying the foundation for a new ecology based on a better relationship with what we ideologically term nature and which Donna Haraway calls natureculture [3]. They are the premise for a Queer ecology [4] where different subjectivities are perceived through the relations they engage in with one another and with others, rather than in relation to an anthropocentric referent.

Since childhood, Edi Dubien has built a privileged link with other forms of non-human beings, animals and the vegetal. He found solace and understanding in their company when humans would reject him because his body did not conform to the normative criteria for a representation of masculinity at work in society. Edi Dubien then learned that humans had closeted themselves inside narrow representations and were ready to impose them with an unbounded violence.

It’s over the course of running away inside nature, again and again, that he learned how to heal his wounds and construct a masculinity that would be respectful of other forms of life, far removed from the norm imposed by those who dominated. He learned during such moments that nature wasn’t a place that separated humans from other living forms but on the contrary a place filled with ressources and diversity where everything is interconnected. The opposite of what science described over centuries when it stated that the patriarchal order was the nature of things, and on which the human species constituted itself as a community, entitled by having deemed itself the mirror of nature.

It’s a very different mirror that Eli Dubien puts forward in his drawings, paintings and sculptures in which we perceive remote and mobile figures from another humanity rejecting the idea of a coherent subject as origin, searching instead for a common language so as to make new connections with other expressions of the living. Eli Dubien’s exhibitions are spaces where the denaturalization of binary categories inherited from modernity operates for the benefit of an unlikely multitude of forms and speculative tales. Alliances then appear that question our ability to build relationships that are no longer based on anthropocentered domination. 

The bodies of young men meld with ferns in a territory where animals appear to us wearing make-up, wearing human clothes. A mimesis operating in every direction since all human bodies become vegetal or that animals humanize themselves, or again that vegetal forms coalesce. If our bodies, as with our sex or gender, are a construction, it should perhaps suffice to modify its materialities so that new corporealities appear and reformulate at last another relationship to the living.

1- Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought, Harvard University Press, 2010.

2- R.W. Connell, Masculinities, University of California Press, 1995.

3- Donna Haraway argues for a new position which rejects the western dichotomy of nature/culture because they are intimately linked that they cannot be separated.

4- The term ‘queer ecology’ refers to a constellation of interdisciplinary practices which aim in different ways to perturb the discursive and institutionally heterosexist articulations dominant in nature and sexuality, as well as rethinking the evolutionary processes, ecological interactions and environmental policies in light of queer theory. See Catriona Sandilands, “Queer Ecology”, in Key Words for Environmental Studies, NYU Press, 2016.

Translated from French by S.

Interview with the Artist

Part 1

1. Can you list the main themes in your work, and point to the moment when you wanted to show it? ( did this desire come from you or did someone encourage you to do it?). What year was your first show?

E: My work is about my life, what I observe, my sensations, what I feel, what surrounds me. It evolves at the same time as I do. I grasp things in a biased way. It’s an efficient way, to my mind, to raise the idea of transition, whether it’s my own or that of life in general. I always wanted to be an artist and show my work but in light of my situation, it was complicated. No one ever encouraged to do this. This desire comes from me, as if an affirmation of myself, in order to find a way of being with others. My first show took place in the early nineties at a fashion showroom called Totem where I had been invited by collectors.

2. Nature plays an important part in your work, but not necessarily in the sense of ‘landscape’ or other traditional uses of it in two-dimensional mediums. How did you forge this link, how would you describe it?

E: When I was a child, I often went on vacation to my grand parents’ home in Auvergne at the foot of the Puy de Dôme. This is where the link was established with nature. It’s a love story between a child and his grandmother. She called me her little darling. I would arrive from Paris where I wasn’t very happy. It’s in the fields that I came into my own and where I made alliances, where I felt free and happy. The animals of the forest, the plants, the trees, everything was extraordinary to me. I became aware that I was part of nature. It’s not outside of me. I always had this dream of nature, and of this bond of love.

3. France (or thinkers working with the French language) has revealed a number of intellectuals addressing ecological issues from Bruno Latour to Philippe Descola, Vinciane Despret, and more recently Emmanuele Coccia. Does this feed into your work or do you think that you are closer to contemporary artists who brought nature into their work (I’m thinking of Anglo-saxon artists like Hockney, Tuttle, Goldsworthy, Richard Long…)

Edi: I don’t think it’s there in my work. However it gives me great joy to see and read the works. My life is what provides nourishment for my work: the breakups of childhood, the quest for freedom as a child and the rejection that accompanies it, the emotional links with nature, with animals, their instinct, the intelligence of a world that we’re a part of.

4. Fairytales for children, an idea of youth literature is also present in your work. Which story first made an impression on you and which one did your first allude to in your work?

Edi: The Blue Bird by Marie Christine d’Aulnoy, Andersen’s tales, Colargol and later, Peau d’Ane. Always a tale in which there was a prince or a princess, or transformation. But I don’t use tales in my work. I’m not into illustration. They are images, metaphors I borrow to tell my own story.

5. Which medium are you most at ease with? You draw and paint, you also make sculptures. Have you done any videos? In Tokyo, people will have seen some drawings, a painting. Do your themes change when you switch techniques?

Edi: I haven’t made any video yet but I really want to make some films. Nothing really switches from one technique to another. I don’t have a particular favorite one. I enjoy working on large formats as well as doing small drawings, with different gestures.Moving from 2D to 3D or the other way around gives me a lot of freedom and vivacity of mind and spirit. I haven’t shown all that I would have liked in Tokyo. Perhaps some day.

6. How did you represent your idea of transition, moving from a gender dimension to something more organic and inter-species. How did you reach such new incarnations? (I’m thinking here also of a more ‘pop’ culture reference and wondered if comic book culture had been important to you, if you were familiar with a DC Comics character from the eighties and nineties named Swamp Thing).

Edi: I’m not familiar with Swamp Thing. I’m not quite sure how to answer that question. I don’t ‘think’, if I can express it in such a way. I am attuned to what I feel, which is especially important for me. My work is the closest to me. I don’t intellectualize anything. I just try to get it right. Nothing is at stake organically. It’s about the bonds that I feel. I start from what touches me the most and try to reach its essence, to engage in a dialogue with my work in order to move beyond myself and transmit a message.

Questions by S.

Part 2

1. Which artists do you appreciate the most in art history and why?

Edi: I think I have a romantic vision and I care for works that provide a sense of commitment. I like Durer, Douglas Gordon, Gina Pane, Luc Tuymans,  Mario Merz, Kounellis, Joseph Beuys, Rembrandt, there are so many that I like, how can one choose? I also like art brut and popular art.

2. Your figures often appear alone in your paintings (though accompanied by other species). What do you think it means to be alone?

Edi: Solitude is something that I know, through my childhood and the life after. What it means? To always express what one feels.

3. (a Big Bang Theory question) Lichen is an organism composed of two distinct species, algae and fungi. If you could fuse with another species, which would be it be and why?

Edi: I don’t know… I already have the feeling of having melded with what is around me… In order to achieve this, I think we first need to already have a clear knowledge of our own species, whether botanical or animal. I’ve always had the feeling of being all of that, without knowing it in a scientific fashion. In the end we have similar traits. We are alive and, whether vegetal or animal, life means communication, survival instinct, simply living.

4. If you could spend a day with yourself from another time, which age would you select for this current present, and how would you spend the day?

Edi: No, I think I would be too sad.

5. Do you think what is at stake for the queer community is the same from one culture to another or are they accordingly distinct? Likewise for art practices that address these themes from one region to another. Have you experienced this?

Edi: If you’re asking me if I am queer, it’s like asking if there is a sun in the sky. Being queer has little to do with transidentity. You choose to be queer, you don’t choose to be trans.

6. What do you think of children and how they are represented in art?

Edi: Children? I feel that they are rarely given the keys to grow up and be free. We are always the same no matter what age we are. It seems to me that children are used too much, including in art, without addressing the child that is within us.

7. Is there a main color for your work, and if there is, which part of the body is it most suited to?

Edi: A washed out tone, as with the spirit.

Questions by Z.

April 2020
Translated from French by S.

Te souviendras tu de moi ?
(Will you remember me?)

130×97, Acrylic on canvas

Les beaux colliers pour les enfants sages
(Beautiful necklaces for good children)

130×97, Acrylic on canvas, 2018

Edi Dubien

Edi Dubien on Herstory

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