Elie autin touching swiss performer Lausanne Présage
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November 22, 2022
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Elie Autin : a Présage of what tomorrow might bring

Elie Autin is a multifaceted artist based in Lausanne, Switzerland. We got to have a talk before her debut solo performance, Présage. A touching discussion around mythology, race, and being the center of your own narrative, enjoy.

Naïma Stark: In your performance, there is a strong mythological inspiration. And from what I’ve felt, it leans toward tragedy. And so I wanted to talk a bit about that dimension. What do you want to convey through the reiteration of these myths? Of this aspect and then on topics that are a little more personal to you?

Elie Autin: It is my take on one of the great mythological tragedies with the figures of the Bacchantes and the Furies that I began to exploit at the beginning of my research. And what I can say about this tragic side, among other things in the tragedy of Euripides, is the death of the son of one of the Bacchantes. Without going into details, because the tragedy is a long story, etc. But if I take this tragic aspect and bring it more to the contemporary, I will say that it is the racism that is present everywhere and that I live and that we live when being a non-white person. And, in that racism, there is something tragic because it is part of a collective imaginary.

Due to colonialism, there are many sad aspects of it. But I think what I want to do with it is point it out. It would be an observation of the consequences and the fact that racism still exists and is really problematic. Still, we can open our minds and achieve something together. But to do that, you have to put some effort into it, especially for some white people who need to deconstruct an entire imaginary they would have in mind. So that would already be the tragic point you mentioned and that I would put on account of racism. Then there is the matter of the figures I researched. So Bacchantes and Furies are the characters that fascinated me: how are they represented? How does their author describe them? These characters are always portrayed as violent, dangerous, and wicked, with possibilities of powerful spells but never seen in a positive light. This also resonated tremendously with how I’m perceived in society. So not by everyone, fortunately, but still by many people who fear black people and on whom these people place many stereotypes. So, I think that I tried, and still do through this project, to depict a kind of contemporary mythos because after studying all of these figures and their specificities, I tried to tell myself, “Ah, actually, what would it look like if the Furies and the Bacchantes had children together?" And so I thought that maybe I could be a child of these creatures, Bacchae, and Furies. And becoming a chimera that would be between both of these figures. That is the context of the story at the beginning of my research.

Naïma Stark: Yes, what I find interesting is that I find myself pretty much in everything you say because, I myself am racialized, etc. And what I found interesting was precisely this mixture between desire and a bit of worship. This mythological side is very creature-like, mixed with the complete rejection and violence of what you’re going to show. And precisely, this kind of dichotomy, this constant double feeling. How do you feel about this kind of rejection and, at the same time this somewhat bizarre worship? And then this mood changes depending on the people you meet and where you are, for example.

Elie Autin: Yeah, well, it’s true, it is very ambivalent; it really depends on the situation; it can go from one extreme to another and all that without the people knowing me. So there can be this total rejection of who I am because of my gender identity; for example, it’s a bit fluid at certain times, and the fact of having, for example, a total adoration and a fetishization of my body based on other clothes I can wear, etc. And that creates a kind of habit. In a way, I am a little bit accustomed to people judging, and I see them projecting; before I even catch in words what they will say about my body or how they perceive it. But it’s a thing where: since I know that that will often be the case, I now have fun with it. I need to be able to represent myself as I want to see myself, as I want people to be able to perceive it too, and then it’s up to them whether they fetishize me or not. And that is on them. It is never a wish on my part.

Naïma Stark: And so, without spoiling the show because that’s not the point. The point is that people go to see it. (laughs) What can you tell me about the visual aspects and the team? How did you go about surrounding yourself? Especially since it’s so personal. How did it start with the Arsenic, too?

Elie Autin: So regarding the Arsenic, this project was born because Patrick de Rham offered me to do so, and I was thrilled to do it there. And, pretty quickly, I tried to get some kind of common thread, a little bit of what I wanted to talk about in the piece.] Although I obviously didn’t have all the ideas and had not yet conceptualized everything, I started thinking about a team quickly. So I sent messages to everyone. And then, soon enough. So, I asked for residency time at the Arsenic to be able to work, so it was pretty much research, very theoretical at the beginning, with podcast listening, some readings and then also seeing some films, and then also personal reflections, and also everything that goes with it in everyday life. So discussions with friends who also feed a lot. So, that was pretty good. And so, for the team I work with in terms of costumes, it’s Planeta. Then there’s Aisha Devi, who makes the music. Everything that Shehrazad Dermé, who does the scenography with Kim Coussé, makes one of the accessories of the piece. There is Clara Delorme, who did the dramaturgy with me. And then there’s Sel Dir Melaizi, who does the lights. And then there is Céline Ribeiro, who was a great help with technique and who helped with the project. There is also Mathias Ecœur and Iman Waser, who work with me. Finally, there is a whole team; Yolaine Rais, who took the photos, will continue to take them, and Anouk Maupu will make and film the video. So, other people are also around, like my friends and family, who support me. So in real life, it’s a big team (laughs). But for the artistic team, indeed, it’s rather the people I said at the beginning. That’s a lot of things to deal with between us so that it works well. But they’re super-caring people that are great at what they do. So it’s still pretty fun working together.

Naïma Stark: I find the themes very personal, and it’s something you’re going to show many people. We were talking about the dramatic aspect of it at the beginning, but I still feel like it ends on a positive note; it is active and not at all passive and doesn't end as a victim of a position or perception. The goal was to point out all these inequalities and show all these problems. How do you bring that optimism and position yourself as someone who can do something for their future through performances and real life? How do you reach this conclusion?

Elie Autin: Well, on stage, there is a moment when certain things are said. There’s a short poem that I wrote that’s going to be cited in the voice-over during the show. It evokes a near future that I want. So in terms of this performance, it will be present and stated. And in movement and dance, there’s a statement as well because that drives me a lot. I need to act and do things just so that I can feel myself. For example, for me, going out on the street is about making specific outfits based on the day, depending on where I am going to be, etc.— being active in that sense, in a political and engaging way on the street. So I have the privilege of being able to do a project at the Arsenic, but on the street, I also have the benefit of being a tall person. I'm 6'4, which also dissuades some people from getting too close to me. But it’s also about how I’m going to dress, how I perfume myself, and what I’m also going to wear as an accessory, whether it’s lenses, jewelry or shoes or jackets, bags, etc. It is about creating something and showcasing a specific image of what I want to look like.

Naïma Stark: I get the impression that you are creating a mise en scène in active life too.

Elie Autin: Yes, yes, I stage myself. It, of course, is something close to me. Well, who I am. But ironically, it was a little more complicated to own who I was for a while, etc. Because, well, I was questioning certain things, and I was already quite tall. But now, having realized that in any case, I will be noticed in the public space. Because of my androgyny, the fact that I often have very long braids, am black, am very tall, and often dressed all in black; creates a sighting. And it grew to the conclusion that people would watch me anyway, so I might as well take it and do what I want. And it’s also a privilege to do that in Switzerland. So it’s in that quote-unquote environment where I won't be assaulted, even if it happens from time to time, but it’s still more chill than in other places. In any case, it’s also through clothing and how I walk that I create something I hope is perceived by others. It is a way to state that the street is also ours, and it is also up to us to move into it. We’ll get there together, and we’ll have to push things a bit sometimes, or otherwise, we won’t get there. So I think, I can be a bit of a voice for queerness. Maybe not in general. But here, right now, in Lausanne, where black queer people aren't exactly running the streets, or it is not very ostentatiously, even if no one is necessarily obliged to. I kind of feel like in relation to this mass and this weight that is there, I sometimes want to challenge this normativity. Pffff.

Naïma Stark: And it’s too cool that in a microcosm, that is the Lausanne life. You are not letting yourself be diminished, in fact, and you are taking your place in the culture too. Besides, if I’m not mistaken, this is your first solo show(?) It is so cool! And I hope there will be plenty more. And anyway, I'm just so happy to go and see the show.

Elie Autin: And I wish, in fact, also through this title, Présage (Omen) sends a bit of a message. We will do something together from where we come to create a new contemporary mythology, especially with marginalized and discriminated against people. And now I’m talking about you and me, a better future for people looking like us, you know?
A huge thank you to Elie for her time and words,

The young artist will be performing this whole week at the Arsenic; if you have the chance, go, and witness her and her teams' incredible work!


Photographic credit goes to la Peau de Pêche


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