We all live on the borrowed time that we call life, becoming a passerby in our unique journeys on the finite days, stuck between the ceaseless cycle of life and death.
Contemplating three years ago, Paris-based artist Edith Roux is displaying her symbolic interpretation of “Les passant. e.s.” (“Passersby”) in Istanbul's French Cultural Institute, in one of the busiest streets in Istanbul where thousands of passersby cross each other daily.
The name of the exhibition is not a coincidence but an intentional message, drawing attention to the perishable nature of humans and people passing along a road, a city, having short-term acquaintances. Also, Roux plays on the article constructions of the French language “e.s.” to create a gender-neutral, universal message, uniting all “passersby” under a shared experience of life.
Roux attended the National College of Photography in Arles, graduating in 1993, after studying art history in the United States. With her photographs, videos and installations, the artist takes a poetic and politically sensitive view of spaces in transition. Within that frame, her work highlights forms of biodiversity that resist the standardization of our societies.
Through three screened video installations, the exhibition comprises two layers, engaging with environmental issues and gender issues as Roux elaborated, and, by blurring the sharp boundaries the artist intertwines with them. In the videos, we see a “passerby,” Mufasa, and the choreographer perfectly conveys the journey through the artistic movements, interacting between the screens, resplendently grounded on the powerful African rhythms, prepared by French musician Nicolas Repac.
In the press conference of the exhibition, in which I had the chance to be one of the first viewers, Roux explained that the “Les passant. e.s” video installation is freely inspired by the conversations of Aristophanes and Diotima in Plato's work “Symposion.” This work strives to avoid the pitfalls of essentialism philosophy while at the same time naively trying to respond to feminist concerns.
Within this frame, the dancer establishes a dialogue with the other feminine, masculine, androgynous, otherness – as the artist arranges three screens for each – figure hidden inside. These transitions, in which the choreography harmonizes with the metamorphoses of the character, place the fluidity of identity at the center of a never-completed movement within the frame of the fragility of infinity.
As the video proceeds, the color of the dancer's clothing changes between three different colors: blue, red, and violet. As each screen offers a different combination of existence with different colors, they function as a leitmotif to reflect an “infinite variety of forms of existence” beyond the cultural codes as a nod to Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado's concepts on this issue.
The changing colors of the artists' outfits refer to the changing norms of society. For that reason, it is quite hard to distinguish the feminine and masculine aspects of the dancer. “They melt, mingle, and merge. That's why I call it a post-identity study,” Roux said.
The second layer, named environmental issues, is brought to the fore of the exhibition through the mayflies. Blended with Roux's real shooting of the mayflies, the artist dances among flying insects, evoking the fragility of existence. It is also important to note here that the dance moves of the artist sometimes mimic the movements of mayflies.
The reason Roux employed the mayflies in the work is to highlight the insect's short life span, an androgynous presence that spends a year on the bottom of a stream in its aquatic nymph form and emerges as a flying adult — and lives for less than two hours after they come out water. Through displaying this endless cycle, Roux aims to correlate the human presence in life as passersby through the image of mayflies. Also, these special insects need clean water to live as aquatic nymphs and they are currently facing the danger of extinction because of growing environmental problems all over the world.
At the end of the video, we see a huge, white flock of mayflies that just died as they fell into the water, now becoming food for fish, and leading its way for a new cycle as the nature of life. It recalls the inevitable end that expects all of us, covered by a white carpet,
The “Les passant. e.s.” exhibition will be on display until Dec. 23 at the exhibition hall of the French Cultural Institute for those who would like to visit Roux's work, which will make spectators delve into many existentialist concerns through the video installation.