Some find that French artist Marguerite Wibaux’s work is sexual, which is a shallow reading of her practice. Most of the sculptures show the body in the nude; however nude does not implicitly signal a sexual reading. More important are the objects injected into her works: a light switch, remote, and pair of scissors. They are witty. With them, she illustrates how someone might feel within their body—sharp pain, heat, turned on, or off—or how we view the bodies of others—hot, lit, or edgy, perhaps. The work cleverly balances sexy and funny, rather than being simply sensual.
I first discovered Wibaux’s work in the spring of 2022, when I visited her studio after being introduced to her through a mutual collector. I was able to observe her rich painting practice but what was most enticing to me was her relatively recent endeavor into the world of sculpture. Her ability to see the human body and depict her version of it using a technique where she molds her material with her hands impressed me. She told me about how she was still learning but her sculptures felt mature, strong, and skillfully captured movement. They have an animate presence, they’re captured in a moment of activity and look as if they could just start walking right off their pedestal or perch.
When I visited her first solo show that summer, Please Love Me, at The Locker Room, Brooklyn, NY (May 10-June 12, 2022) of painting and sculpture, the few small sculptures that were displayed drew my attention. When I heard that her second solo show, Things I Don’t Tell, (May 18-June 30, 2023), once again at The Locker Room would be only of her sculptures I was intrigued. With the new body of work, I could see that her practice had continued to evolve, and strengthened at a rapid pace. I was impressed with the way she was able to capture the human form. particularly with the small curves and the rolls of the body. Wibaux sculpts from live models and despite the humorous elements of the sculptures themselves she also manages to respectfully honor the innate unique beauty of her sitter.
With these thoughts whirling I sent a few questions to Wibaux to further understand her approach and process.
Alexandria Deters: Your works are very tongue-in-cheek, they have a sense of humor to them with the objects that are incorporated into their bodies, such as ‘remote penis.’ What originally inspired you to incorporate objects into your sculptures? What has been the biggest challenge you have faced working those objects into the pieces?
Marguerite Wibaux: I am inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy which is well summed up by this quote: “Surprise is the beginning of laughter, and laughter is the beginning of a new insight.”
I use the contrast between the nobility of statues and the triviality of everyday objects to start a meaningful conversation. My ambition is to make sculpture less intimidating, more accessible, and relevant in the contemporary world.
From a technical perspective, every type of object presents its own set of requirements, which constantly pushes me to seek out new solutions. In particular, the oversized scissors in comparison to the sculpture were a challenge to incorporate sturdily yet seamlessly.
You have described using your works as a way to engage with art history, and a way of incorporating “hidden mythological meaning to tell stories of the contemporary human condition”. What are some stories of the contemporary human condition that have been the most difficult, but most satisfying, to tell?
The current state of angst facing climate change and the environmental crisis is a topic I wanted to tackle for a long time. Yet I found it difficult not to fall into the easy posture of the moralist, or merely reiterate what is already known. Then I made “Sisyphus” or the man caught in his fishing net, struggling to break free from his entanglement.
One of the first works visitors encountered in Things I Don’t Tell at the Locker Room was a woman in a crouched position staring down at a lit lightbulb between her legs. Can you tell me what inspired this work?
Precisely, this sculpture serves as a response to the matter of where inspiration comes from. I named it “Genesis,” symbolizing the birth of an idea, as ideas come to me in a manner resembling a hen laying an egg. However, what fascinates me is that individuals perceive this sculpture in various ways. For instance, as an embodiment of breaking the taboo surrounding women’s knowledge and exploration of their bodies. For others, it can be viewed as a philosophical allegory, drawing parallels to Plato’s cave.
I love how detailed and personal each sculpture is. It feels like they could just come to life. Many of the works are based on live models, can you tell me more about your process for choosing the models you work with?
I sculpt from life the classical way, having people posing multiple times and long hours in my studio, and as you said, it is for me the way to capture the truth of an attitude and an emotion. I’m interested in how we carry our body and what it says about who we are. I prefer not to have professional models, I am always on the lookout for people who are ready for the experience.
Your exhibition had a fascinating component of having comedians come in for special performances based on your works. I find that daring and fantastic. What made you decide to engage your work in this unique way?
I like to explore gender dynamics, and I hold a feminist stance that “the private is political.”. Humor is a good way to enhance the identification process and to question without being aggressive. The sculpture’s figures dwell in love and despair and we can laugh at their banality. Importantly, my decision to engage with comedy was driven by the belief that humor can be used to challenge people’s opinions on sensitive and intimate topics.
What are you currently working on in the studio?
Sculpture is not only about the pieces themselves but also about how you encounter them. I am excited to push the concept further, as I am currently working on a 12×9-foot installation of a monochrome island made of humor, rocks, and despair. It will bring together most of my sculptural figures around my latest piece, which is a life-size sculpture called “The Denialist.”
Follow Marguerite Wibaux’s work on her Instagram.
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Alexandria Deters is a queer femme embroidery artist, researcher, activist, archivist, and writer based in the Bronx, NY. She received a BA in Art History and in Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University in 2015 and her MA in American Fine and Decorative Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, NY in 2016. Her writing and artwork are influenced by her belief that every human being is a ‘living archive’, a unique individual that has experiences and stories worth documenting and remembering. Photo: Ross Collab. l Instagram l Website l