Fascinated by deconstruction, transformation and the creation of new narratives, French artist Jeanne Briand uses her unique retro-futuristic aesthetic to bridge the gap between synthetic and natural. In her most recent solo exhibition, Soma (& liquid gear) Jeanne takes on a multi-dimensional journey through past, present and future. She creates a fictional space made of intimate recollections and projections as she revisits her childhood memories, investigating the notion of “absent presence.”
Working every day to channel her depth, doubts, and surroundings, she derails the conventional investigation of materials through her hybrid pieces, made up of mechanical parts, technology and glass blowing. Manipulating glass and metal, Jeanne creates autonomous pieces that balance a line between familiarity and the unknown as she navigates the dimensions of uncertainty.

Addicted to the complete engagement of her body, without coming in contact with the blazing glass, Jeanne creates her own fictional spaces as she explores the distinction between the basic idea and the materiality of the object. The intertwining of materials and theories are the essence of Jeanne’s practice, investigating the relationship between science and genetics as a medium. With the creation of figure-like shapes, she draws attention to the human body, sexuality and reproduction, questioning the notions of desire and sex, which are intrinsic to her artistic practice.

Read on as Jeanne tells us about her creative process, her addiction to glass blowing and her latest exhibition while she continues to explore the infinite field of creating.
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Could you tell us about your creative process? From forming the idea of how you want your pieces to look to creating and manipulating them.
Effects and materials are at the core of my creative process. It always comes from either an urge or a reaction. Ideas come from all around, from objects surrounding me or memories. They get stuck in me. Then most of them vanish but few will grow. I love what I like to call ‘iceberg’ ideas. When a vision takes shape, I attempt to capture it by drawing it immediately before it goes away. After that, the journey of ‘making it tangible’ starts. It often requires me to get familiar with new technics and materials, and this is what stimulates me the most.
I am all about the medium in my creative process. One project always leads to another. There is a leading path and then there are deviations. Firstly, I fantasise about the materials, a lot. Then I start building the piece and reach my goal but it never really is what I originally went for. What I enjoy is getting in this zone, the hiatus between the vision and its realisation. The gap between the basic idea and the materiality of the object is my favourite place to be. The fantasy of a work is only a step towards its creation, the work is autonomous. I never entirely know what is it until it’s done.
Tell us about your artistic journey. How did you first discover your aesthetic and how has it evolved over the years?
My artistic journey probably started when my mom was testing her technics and products on me and my twin brother. She was a make-up artist who specialised in special-effects and body-painting. We were about ten years old. She would make us bold or looking older, adding an eye, taking off an ear, faking a scarf or a piercing. I was fascinated with the way she could deconstruct bodies, transform and create new narratives. I think it had a determinant impact on me and the way I approach materials.
Since then, I have always been interested in sci-fi films and novels based on augmented bodies such as A Brave New World (1932) and Ghost in the Shell (1995).
When I was 18, I went to an art gallery for the first time. I saw the exhibition of a founder artist of the Mono-Ha movement. On that day I discovered sculpture was a language and I wanted to do the same. Then, my artistic practice really started the day I met a glassblower, I was 19 years old.
We met in his laboratory where he makes blown-glass gears for the science industry. I showed him my drawings and he immediately understood my glass uteri project (Random Control, 2010).
My idea was to transform test tubes into exo-body organs involved in sexual reproduction. It took us three months to translate my sketches into sculptures. The pairing between the organic and the mechanic became the common thread of my research. Over the years, I have been inspired by designers like Alvar Aalto and contemporary artists working on the political representation of the real such as Mike Kelley and Pierre Huyghe.
When were you first introduced to glass blowing as a form of art? What is about working with glass, rather than other mediums, that inspires you to create?
I first worked with glass in 2009 for its meaning. To me, glass represented scientist laboratory gears. And it was exactly the idea behind the Random Control project. This first glass-uteri sculptures got me admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris.
As a student there, I had no access to any glass studio so I started an internship with a glassblower. It was a turning point for me, to see for myself all I could physically achieve with it.
After that, I met Simon. The glassblower I’ve been working with for the past 7 years now.
I became addicted to the heat, the oven’s sound, the oven’s doors, the flames, and everything about a glass-blowing studio. The total engagement of my body, yet without ever being able to touch the blazing glass is the addiction. One can never entirely control this burning material. At best, one can only tame it with fierce and humility.
I have no words to describe what it is like to see a burning liquid glass going solid in an instant. I just love it. Since I have had access to this glass-blowing studio, I experimented with different technics such as blown-glass & melted-glass. I also started a research on dichroic pigments, light-sensitive pigments and other experimental glass pigments. It is such an infinite field that I’m willing to keep on exploring.
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You’ve said you’ve always been fascinated by anticipatory stories that are based on an artificial approach to bodies. What are some other sources that you draw inspiration from?
We consider the body as something natural and definite. But I think it is a very boring and conservative way of approaching it, when in fact, it is a personal decision of construction. It can be transformed spiritually and artificially. It is difficult to speak today of natural vs. synthetic, as we have built our contemporary world at the crossroad of these two notions.
Synthetic is now not that far from natural. I even use a retro-futuristic aesthetic to emphasise that idea. A kind of false anticipation (almost has-been) because I only use previously established codes and I distort them.
Could you expand on that?
In art history, the representation of the human figure has always been a central subject. From the hyper erotic ancient Greek sculptures to the hypersexual Paul McCarthy sculptures, the human figure has always been a prism to question our own condition, our quest for perfection or vice.
More recently, I have been paying attention to Millais’s painting Ophelia. The Pre-Raphaelites and him believed the landscape was of equal importance to the figure, so, for Ophelia, it was painted first. Somehow, it inspired me and it strongly resonates in my most recent work, DIVE (Direct Motion Towards and Maximum Depth, Ophelia), a sci-fi video in which Ophelia is a car, driven by two lonely glass torsos in a Grand Theft Auto lookalike landscape – a world with no more humans. Through the sci-fi genre, humans look at themselves and explore, enhance themselves and try to coexist with technologies that frighten them.
You create figure-like shapes, drawing attention to the human body, sexuality and reproduction. What is it about these themes that interests and inspires you?
Whether I want it or not, it is true that there is always a reference to the human body in the artefacts I create. It is there or its absence is there! Even though it is important for me to manage some sort of abstraction.
In the Prox•im•i•ty series (2017), the sculptures are made with twisted metal covered with skin like leather. The project is a metaphor questioning our relationship and proximity with others. They are designed to be worn but when set like paintings on the wall, the originally augmented body has ended up disappearing altogether, elevating the prop to the rank of substance. The same idea drives the Sculpt(s) series (2017). The copper torso fragments are dismantled to become abstract forms per se. The torso is a figure I have been working on for 10 years now.
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How do these interest guide your creation?
For example, in 2011, I found a broken mannequin alone in the street on a rainy day. The shop windows were full of the same model. When I saw this one in a puddle, thrown in the street, I had a crush on it and picked it up. I moulded it, then made an infinite number of replicas.
First, it became an installation Face(s) (2011) composed of groups of nine replicas made of wax. Years later, it evolved into individual glass plastrons called Kormi (torso in ancient Greek) where the stone – the primary material used for classical sculpture – is replaced with glass.
I like cheating and playing with the conventional treatment of materials: here the glass plastrons look like petroleum or chewing gum. The Kormi’s purpose is to allow to reflect on our own imperfections, while also addressing our fascination with paragons. I like to think about these Kormi as heteronyms, imaginary versions of one character to embody different ideas. Classically, in literature, Heteronyms were named and developed by the Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa said about his multiple own version of himself “I don’t change, I travel.”
You’ve said the questions of desire and sex are intrinsic to your artistic practice. Why is it important for you to question the origins of everything around you?
At the same time that I discovered the work of A. Huxley, Cronenberg, Ridley Scott and other manga authors like Masamune Shirow with an artificial approach of the body, I learnt that my twin brother and I were the first generation of test-tube babies. I probably mixed up this late genetic discovery of mine with my sci-fi readings at the time... but back then, at 16 years old, it really disturbed me and my first question was “does this make me an artificial product?.” It might sound silly now but this is the start of my original questioning. Maybe this is why I made dozens of hybrid glass gametes operating as a genetic glass concerto!
Recently I spent one year working on a jellyfish swarm/a love-parade. They are one of the oldest living micro-organism creatures: no brain, no flesh, no bones. They have no sort of consciousness and yet, they harmoniously move in groups. They evoke beauty, danger, death, sexual reproduction. They actually have the choice between sexual and non-sexual reproduction. Oceans are a huge in vitro fertilisation where they release gametes in the water that will eventually match another floating one and become a larva.
The second option also there is to simply have sex. I was invited to be part of a group show titled Futures of Love and this was my contribution: a jelly-parade claiming for free love and sex. Also, very importantly, jellyfish is a strong climate change ambassador as their massive proliferation results from the pollution produced on industrial coasts. Now they even represent the biggest planet Earth colony and, in some places, massive swarms infuriate freighters activity. This is quite cynical, no?
How do you use your work to understand the world around you and decipher topics like sex and reproduction and the human form? How does your work help you to explore your own body?
I wouldn't say I use my work to understand the world, and quite frankly, I don’t understand much of it! I would say I react to things through my projects and as long as I can stay concentrated on my work I feel ok in this world.
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You create these hybrid pieces. How do you bridge the relationship between natural and artificial? How do the pieces you create work to challenge and fuse this dichotomy?
I create autonomous ergonomic pieces operating as mechanical juju halfway between something familiar and something alien. I like to explore this place and create uncertainty about what we are looking at. To let people fill the void with their own doubt and projection.
How do you use your work to challenge gender norms and break down the distinction between feminine and masculine?
I do believe that artworks and aesthetic propositions like paintings, songs, essays or films contribute to change our vision of the world. For example, the film Human Mask made by Pierre Huyghe blew my mind, just like the book Testo Junkie by Paul B Preciado did.
In your latest exhibition, Soma (& liquid gear) it features works that include video installation, textiles, glass pieces and steel sculptures. Do you have one medium, in particular, that you enjoy working with most? What is it about that medium that inspires you to create?
Firstly, I wanted to make a car and then it was like one piece generated another. I have been working with various medium going from film to vinyl record, resin covering to leather furnishing, sound to sewing, welding metal to glass blowing. The welding work to build the car was a very demanding step but metal is such a direct and trustworthy material. The riskiest point was the glass torsos production. Glass is such an unpredictable material to work with! But I guess I’m addicted to it like I keep saying. Glass versus metal is a combo of fragility and brutality I relate to.
The works are centred around your childhood memories while also addressing a futuristic archaeology. How do the pieces featured navigate past, present and future, and your relationship with them? Is there a coincidence to them?
From the core metabolism of our body to the precariousness of our existence, the exhibition stages the evocation of a timeless time, one of innocence and discovery, of personal and physical development: childhood. I steered through my pre-teen’s memories.
At night, while I was half asleep in the back seat of my mother’s car, lying down with my twin sister, I was discovering the world. I remember the light through the window, the landscape flashing to the rhythm of the street lamps, the rain and the wind entering the car through the gap of the door and intertwining over the surface of the seat, up to my forehead. In contact with the cold leather, the back of my head soaks up the vibrations of the engine and the world parades through the rear window. We could observe our driver-mom through the front mirror. Our whole seat looks like a mega vessel, and the speed is comforting.
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Could you expand on this?
I use the memory of these rides as fuel to explore a space in which we are confronted with the complexity of our sensations as a chemical entity made of cells, memories and emotions. The central sculpture of this new corpus of works is two glass plastrons riding a reminiscent car filled with my memories.
I voluntary let the viewer fill the void left by the missing parts, allowing them to project their own memories or projections. The car mirror had been twisted into an abstract composition like jujus set all the gallery walls. The idea of looking forward through a present mirror object which brings your gaze backwards is something I find interesting.
Each composition refers to and is titled after a nocturnal landscape painting, Objects in mirror are closer than they appear (Moonlight Night On The Dniepr). In some ways, there is always look-backs into art history in my work. In the last installation of the show, the reminiscent car turns out to be the main character of a sci-fi video where she yearns through a futuristic world with only remains of the human existence. As a whole, the work is a voyage through past, present and future: a fictional space made of intimate recollections and projections.
In your own words, how do the works in this exhibition explore a fictional space? How does it navigate the complexity of our humanity and its impact on our environment?
I wanted to create an environment where the human is missing, with only scraps of it punctuating the space. I have built the exhibition as a trajectory through the floors, going from deadpan artefacts to an immersive installation – from recollections to projections.
The first element to be seen is a racing suit tagged “where must we go" (quotes from Mad Max Fury Road). It is addressed to the viewer as if it is waiting for its owner. Then the car driving towards what seems to be the future, from Ghost In the Shell. I don't know where we are heading to but refuel your soul. It’s a long drive.
Then comes a glass gamete Gamete Glass (black smoke), set on the wall, that I link to the car in my own narrative. Then the video installation DIVE (Direct Motion Towards and Maximum Depth, Ophelia). A three-seater viewing-vessel invites the viewer to watch a video made in the style of Grand Theft Auto made with a mix of film and motion design. A car riding through a landscape, desperately searching for meanings in nature struggling with the gears and constructions left by mankind. I wanted the video to feel soft and enchanting to create a critical duality with the chaos it emphasises.
Why is your current exhibition titled Soma (& liquid gear)?
I named the show Soma (& liquid gear) for multiple reasons: Soma means body in ancient Greek, and here it is the name of the car-sculpture. The original Saab car had been renamed Soma. But Soma is also, in A. Huxley’s dystopian novel A Brave New World, an artificial synthetic drug presented to citizens which can, in high doses, plunges those who take it into a heavenly sleep.
As humans, we exist between dualities, surface and substance, interior/exterior, past and present. We relentlessly challenge our abilities, enhance our performances, we perfect our mind and body to thrive or at least survive within our environment. We use science and technology to gain more control over life itself but also to deflect the fate of our mortal condition.
I built the exhibition as a voyage, a voyage into the introspective discovery of our identity and the chaotic experience of being.
You question our sense of belonging as well as our relationship with others through the fundamental structure of our genetics. What are you hoping to discover and achieve through your work?
I always think of work as a daily job. I sculpt, create, twist, transform and put together lots of elements that are meaningful. I work every day to channel my depth, doubts, and surroundings. I tried to explain that my creative process is mostly a reaction to things. My job is to build poetry-like metrical compositions with materials. Somehow, I couldn’t pull through if I wasn’t working. On the good days, I do it with humour!
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