I first heard of Amélie Deschamps perhaps 15 years ago. Originally from France, she was living in Copenhagen. The story I heard was that she would sit in the subway station and give away water in clay vessels. Or rather, try to. Most people were too suspicious to take the water. I was struck by her gesture in its simplicity, and in what this simple gesture elicited in others—mistrust and confusion.

I heard other stories about her through the years: she was organizing a dog contest in Paris of street-cast dogs in an art center; she was living in Greenland, learning traditional Greenlandic embroidery; she had had a baby and was creating an outdoor light installation in Iceland at the darkest time of year.

In the tradition of artists like Bas Jan Ader, changing mediums is an essential condition of Deschamps’ work–a kind of shapeshifting she describes as “a need of a constant renewal. You cannot just sit with your ideas and make them like a castle you sit behind.”

When I finally had a chance to meet her, she was working on an organic farm in rural Quebec, and asked if I needed any vegetables. She brought 40 lbs of tomatoes to our first meeting. She also told me the story about giving away water in the subway wasn’t true. It was warm drinks in a square in wintertime.

Originally from Normandy, she lived in Sogndal (Norway), New York, Copenhagen, Brno (Czechia), Paris, Nuuk (Greenland), and the medieval village of Chinon (southwest of Paris) before settling in Sherbrooke, Quebec with her then partner and young daughter, where she has lived since 2013.

Impossible to pin down, her work might best be described as ethnographic. A documentary-based exploration of everyday life, she then ‘embroiders’ it, as she says, using the real as a source of fantasy.

One of her latest mediums is a 9–5 job with an artist-run centre in Quebec called Sporobole, where she is in charge of educational programming. When I speak with her, she is on her way to meet with The Museum of Science and Nature about a collaboration she wants to initiate that will allow kids to work with their collections to research what stones sound like. She is also working on a partnership with the Mont Mégantic Observatory that will partner artists with astronomers to create works.

At a time when the professionalization of art means artists are advised to ‘brand’ themselves and move in strategic ways, Deschamps resists, or perhaps is too preoccupied with her ideas to pay attention. I spoke with her just as she was just submitting an application for a residency in France. “There were some typos I intentionally left in,” she said, delighted. Alarmed, I ask her why. “Thé call is orientated towards artists whose work is about languages and encounters!”

Here is our conversation.

Can you describe your practice?

That’s a question I often sidestep dance with.

I start with writing, some sort of elaboration of a synopsis. A condensate-in French: condensé which phonetically also means to dance with.

When we were kids we had access to a thick milk, sweetened, concentrated that boosted our brains which was then in charge of integrating that fuel to our nervous system and diffusing it through the flesh. So it’s something like that that I start with. Dense texts, that for me have the capacity of a fast compost to generate forms from.

Amélie Deschamps Circle 6
Circle 6 – Amélie Deschamps in collaboration with Inuk S. Høegh and Arild M. Kalseth (click for video)

Sculptures, documentary-footage based videos, sound pieces, installations, light sculptures, performance, etc… It can digress hundreds ways, depending on the context, the people I work with, from fellow artists to technicians, accountants in the structures I’m to perform in.

What are you working on / thinking on lately?

I’m working on a series of discussions with people I have come to encounter in one way or another and with whom I’m developing a monologue with no regards for time and space. Plugging on. It takes the form of a written multilingual texts, such as Hello Kitty, a Conversation I wish I had with Lenny Bruce’s daughter.

These texts (condensed) are the potential for exhibitions, performances.

The new (fictional) discussions are with: a scientist working within an astronomy activity centre devoted to making science accessible to kids; a designer who won an Ig Nobel Prize(to recognize achievements and studies that “first make people laugh, then make them think”) for turning himself into a goat; Jacob, a 9 year old professional conjurer who officiate in the streets of Sherbrooke where I live, whom you can hire for birthday parties, to name but a few.

You moved to North America–to Sherbrooke, Quebec–three years ago from France. Can you talk about your experience of moving continents?

It took me a while to absorb North America.

To me it all comes down to density. Population in Europe is not just more fleshed out, it’s also evolving on a much smaller territory. Also urbanism is so different.

Again, more dense. We have vertical and horizontal layers of civilization, literally. So growing up in this, my personal electromagnetic field evolved in a way that is challenged by such vast spaces like where I am now evolving in eastern Canada.

Waves, so to speak are bouncing more vigorously out there—short waves. It affects the way you relate to the environment, a system of interdependence that seems to me more intricate in Europe. That for me results in a whole different resonance frequency between my body, other bodies, and the geography, topography, and dare I say wildlife.

So, artistically, I find it very stimulating. To relate to my body as a sensor, not in a spiritual or intellectual sense, but as a result of a sensorial experience. At first the experience was just… ungraspable, deaf-feeling. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew something was going on.

I was getting the vibration, but couldn’t put my finger on it in the usual manner. It took time for me to understand what was going on on a deeper level. The way, if you go to see a painting, you see the image, but it takes a little while for a transition to happen inside you. This new landscape shaped my experience in ways I had not seen coming. It definitely relates to a broader field of psycho-acoustic research in science and sound arts that’s been going on for decades.

Amélie Deschamps with Cargo Cult II
Amélie Deschamps with Cargo Culte II

We set up Cargo Culte in 2010, a collaborative revue and exhibition project, which is a Eurocentrist term made up by anthropologists in the early 20th century to explain what they perceived as appropriation rites of technical devices by colonized population in Melanesia.

I’m working on the third opus around these questions of resonances and immigration, with an exhibition in 2018 in Québec and France.

Have you read the interview with Marina Abramović where she says having children holds back female artists? What’s been your experience of motherhood as an artist?

This debate for me has several roots.

(In)equality first. Contraception and therefore conception is a cultural responsibility that sits on women’s shoulders without being much openly questioned. We responsibilize young girls way more about contraception than we do with boys. From that assessment, it’s quite easy to see how that would lead to perpetuate further inequalities.

Already there, the seed is planted that birth control is a feminine responsibility. And it is, in the sense that they are visibly the ones to bear the child(ren). But that is a very western, modern way of considering what is from what can be seen. That can lead to such an unbalance between the way males and females relate to their offspring.

This obviously influences then the way women (artists, but not just) envision motherhood and career. The experience of motherhood is also rooted in the way you relate to your partner. And then there is the fact that artists do not have access to maternity leave. Which is a gross anomaly and conditions a lot of things in THE WRONG direction.

There is also a romantic figure of the artist, that no matter what if you love your art it will be there. It is not true. We need to eat.

Time and work. I tend to see that the matter of motherhood is more linked to the way we relate to work, and time culturally in a broader manner. How we measure efficiency. I tend to think I have found my balance as a mother and an artist by re-defining my relationship to these concepts, which are culturally biased and need more or less time to adjust to. It is another model, which gives me another kind of suppleness, as a certain sport would give you more muscle power towards one goal, where another sport would bring your accuracy elsewhere. I have come to integrate this new flexibility as a new set of skills, as a new way for me to work, which is different from artists who don’t have children perhaps, but with no scale of more or less, not as a matter of quality. Motherhood gives you another insight on things, which I have come to find very enriching, to say the least. But that comes with time, self trust, and support from a partner and network of friends and professionals.

Amélie Deschamps
Amélie Deschamps and her daughter

Mostly, it just opens windows in different ways. It is true that it is hard, but it’s also, like everything else, what you end up making out of it.

Relationships. I had no plan. I had some really rough times mostly I feel because pregnancy and early motherhood is inner-orientated, and also mobilizes your energy in an un-inconspicuous way. At some moments my memory would just be gone about notions I hadn’t been dealing with for a while (art references, readings, difficulties in operating a software I knew by heart, etc…) Your mind and body is learning so many new things that it takes time to absorb it I think.

Also that shifted some of my work partnerships, dynamics, as I didn’t function the same way (also moving to the countryside) all of which took time to process, and honestly was a source of grief. And only when I stopped fighting that with my old schemes and accepted where I was at did I find balance and regain elasticity. And joy.

And in the end, it all comes down to your self-esteem, kids or no kids.

In one of your texts, you write: “One of the advantages of being a bird lies into the inalienable right to sing at the top of one’s lungs.” Could you say more about that?

I am so sold to the idea that voicing things out is a healing process on so many levels. Remain a bird.

There are three other passages from your work I wonder if you could comment on?

Deleting all unnecessary input like the importance of being earnest.

Yes in some contexts, if you know your weirdness cannot be grasped as a gift, when it might expose yourself to hunger games, it is important to know how to chameleon.

Kafka deleted this scene from The Castle’s manuscript:

“The castle is already by itself infinitely more powerful than you are. One could nevertheless wonder if it would take over; but you don’t exploit this doubt. On the contrary, it seems that you’re doing everything to lead him to victory; that’s why you suddenly start to feel fear in the middle of the night – without any reason – and increase right there your helplessness.”

The power of the inner spark, guts on the table.

Playing with the mold to break it better.

Well that speaks for itself, don’t it ? 😉

For more of Amélie Deschamps’ work, visit her website.