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  • Hélène Planquelle

Discover the cultural references behind my work

Thanks for joining me on my artistic journey!  Today I will talk about my ongoing series entitled "Where is your brother?", which recent pieces I will exhibit at the Los Angeles edition of Superfine Art Fair next February 2021.

This series marked the beginning of a new approach I adopted last year, as I wanted to make more apparent the literary and philosophical references present in my work. Giving clues to the intellectual background in which my work is grounded is a way to open its meaning, and have it resonate with a wealth of culture from the past and present. This dialogue through time is one of the most beautiful parts of art for me.

Today's topic: the cultural references in my work

I did not go to art school, I studied humanities instead. For a while, I was passionate about philosophy, and especially moral philosophy. I did not leave all of this background behind when I decided to focus on visual arts, on the contrary.

Today, my work is about relationships and the experience of the Other. It touches on violence in relationships, power plays, emotional dependence and needs, ethics, and responsibility. It is deeply grounded in various fields of studies such as behavioral psychology, attachment theories, social studies, moral philosophy, and cognitive sciences.

Although many of you might just look at the images and derive their meaning from the visual alone, I choose my titles with the intention of providing an extra layer of meaning. They are clues to decipher my set of values and enter the vision of the world latent in everything I produce. In addition, I also want titles - which are almost always quotes - to add a poetic dimension to my works, as the link between the image and the title is never merely descriptive. It is rather of a symbolic and poetic kind, and viewers are free to interpret in their own way how the two relate.

Now more about my ongoing series. Its title, "Where is your brother?" is a direct quote from the biblical episode of Cain and Abel in Genesis. So let's refresh our minds...

Cain and Abel: the original fraternal murder

While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (...)

-Genesis, 4

In this episode of Genesis, Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve (therefore the first two men born on earth, as their parents were created by God in the Garden of Eden), both made an offering to God. The latter looked favorably on Abel's offering, but not on Cain's, which made Cain angry and led him to kill his brother out of resentment. This story, whether you are catholic or not, have faith in one god or another (something truly irrelevant in the matter) holds tremendous symbolic power, as does every story of the Bible. It is the story of the first men, one was good and the other was evil, filled with anger, envy, and jealousy. And it is from the evil one, Cain, that the rest of humanity derives. Symbolically, this episode reminds us of the potential for evil we all have deep within us. In addition, there is the notion that this evil part of us can manifest itself even, if not first, toward our own blood and flesh, the persons we are the most related to, which we can interpret in a broader sense. As beyond the strict family link, "brothers" and "sisters" are also used to name the people we feel toward "as if" they were family.

But "brothers" and "sisters" also came to mean "fellow human beings" in the catholic tradition, which tells us we should act toward others as if they were our brothers and sisters. It is the reason why, throughout Western history, the question God asked Cain, "Where is your brother?", has become a symbol of universal moral questioning. It means: what have you done to your fellow human beings, to your neighbors? How do you treat others? And history at large is not short of examples of fraternal bloodshed...

This was the symbolic and cultural background I meant to invoke when I chose this title for my ongoing series. Within it, each work draws on the imagery of struggle, coercion, open or latent violence between two protagonists, male or female -as I took the freedom to interpret the episode across all gender associations. If you are interested to dig the subject, I strongly recommend Jordan Peterson's Biblical series on the topic, an American thinker who put great emphasis on the power of archetypal stories and their symbolic meaning.

Now, here is the step-by-step process of one of the last works I did of that series:

And here is the final shot:


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