“The performance also released the dark side of the audience” 0

Sarah Haddou, the artist enclosed in a cross

Karolina Tomkeviciute
10/08/2017

Photo: Rytis Šeškaitis

The eighth edition of the International Art Fair ArtVilnius’17 presented its audience with, among other things, a powerful program of performance art that raised provocative and uncomfortable questions. One of the most mystic performances was presented at the art fair by the young French artist Sarah Haddou, who stayed enclosed in a cross-shaped box for six hours on all three days of the art fair. Sara Haddou kindly agreed to talk about the origin of the Chiasmus performance and the experiences that she gained during the creative process.

ARCHIVE: An overview of the ArtVilnius’17 art fair

How did you get the idea to create this performance?

My creative processes often arise from my interest in religious myths, philosophy, and Jungian theories, and also from my own experience as a child raised with all the weight of Manichean notions... I think that the religion that we inherit from our family background should always be questioned as we grow into adults – from both a personal and critical perspective – before we adopt it as our own belief, so that there’s some opposition to just repeating an imposed pattern. When I’m painting, I listen to audio books on religion, philosophy or psychology. I find that these topics are undeniably linked, and that they can go even deeper when approached together. Also, I take notes and draw on the walls of my studio, mostly by intuition. The image of a heavy cross enclosing my body was quite repetitive in my head for several months until its materialization. 

What is the main idea behind this performance? Is it a continuation of your previous works and ideas?

“Chiasmus”, pronounced like “kiasmus”, is a term from the Greek that means “crossing”. It describes a figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point. The invasion of this religious symbol aims to create a dialogue on the conceptual meaning of it and the relationship between our material presence and our soul...how the human being relates or positions himself with the sacred. It questions what is considered profane, based on the postulate that mythological characters are considered superior or divine, as the Christ; at the same time, it invites ordinary mortals to recognize in themselves their profound ability to transcend their human nature and to seek to attain their divine essence or higher self. In my previous works, I explored the layers of the subconscious that shape the borders that we create around ourselves. I try to make the energy fields of one’s personal space (the aura) more palpable by isolating the body, or some parts of the body, from others in order to raise my awareness and consciousness, and then share it with the audience. However, I don’t find this possible to do in normal life situations because, as Westerners, we live generally in a self-indulgent mode: in this century we want everything to work fast, to get pleasure, and to be entertained all the time; we also need electronics to search, to calculate, to watch or even experience an event, to keep our memories and to connect with others… Through durational and extreme performances, I can get to a higher frequency when I surpass my limitations. 

You were inside the cross for six hours a day, for three consecutive days. What was that like?

When the assistants close the heavy top of the cross, it feels like you’re being buried alive… the audience becomes my connection to life through their contact with my feet and hands. 

What was the reaction of the audience? I saw that many of them tried to touch you.

My body became so tense and my extremities so cold that some people had to touch me several times in order to believe that it wasn’t a wax sculpture. Although I am normally very sensitive to tickling, in this case the pain was taking up all of my attention, and when people would take my hands in theirs, it felt incredibly relieving – as if their warm energy was recharging my whole body in those moments. On the other hand, the dark side of the audience also awakens when an abandoned body is given over to their will… some people would pinch me to make me react (without success), and a child even bit my finger!

Were you conscious the whole time, or did you sometimes fall asleep?

It was quite impossible to fall asleep due to the uncomfortable position, but anyway, that wasn’t the point. I wanted to be fully present during the three days of the performance in order to get the best out of it. Ironically, enclosing myself in a box shifted me into a higher frequency where I could experience a glimpse of the infinite: where there is no beginning and no end.

What was the hardest part of those days – the physical pain?

The first and second days were very painful because of having to stay in that one position. After (more or less) just one hour inside, I already felt pain, and I had no idea of the number of hours I had left in there, so the challenge was to surpass this pain and boredom… 

But in order to be able to attain a deeper level of consciousness (even for a moment), the difficulty was necessary. Just like a monk does, through hours of meditating and fasting, I could finally, on the last day, separate my body (the pain) from my mind, and enter a sort of blissful state with a higher level of awareness, hearing every sound around me without any thoughts or any notion of time. This was the deepest meditative state that I’ve ever experienced.