‘I didn’t plan to be an artist. I didn’t want to be an artist. I was really scared of this job because it’s so insecure. The cliché of the artist suffering in their studio – it’s a reality. Initially I was interested in architecture, design, interior design, object design, as well as social design, and the questions surrounding why we have to produce objects and what their functions are.
I grew up in Cherbourg, a really small, quite strange city, and left for the School of Fine Arts in Lyon. The first year of the course there is quite general and then in the second year you’re supposed to choose your specialization. My choice was going to be object design, but the department closed just a few months before, so, I decided to do art.
“My experience in Haiti changed my vision of the world, my vision as an artist.”
I remember a beautiful conversation I had with the artist Katinka Bock, my teacher at the time. It was a very important, decisive discussion for me because she told me: “You can be an artist. You are able. You have the capacity.” For me she’s a role model. I love her practice of course, but it’s more the figure of the woman artist who has children and is very strong and fragile at the same time. That same year, I had another important meeting, this time with Lynne Cohen who came to Lyon for a conference. She was preparing an exhibition in Cherbourg and when I met her again, we did a studio visit and she was very generous. She gave me energy, hope, and encouragement. You need that. Both Katinka and Lynne are powerful women, who inspired me.
My family was very supportive, but a bit afraid, of course. They trusted me and they said, “OK, go live your life.” After five years in Lyon, I decided to try and understand what it really is to be an artist. I spent six months with the artist Michel François in Brussels. It was Michel who gave me the power to say, “Go to Haiti.” My mum is from there but she hadn’t returned for a long time. So I went with my aunt and we organized a summer art camp for children near Port-au-Prince. This experience changed my vision of the world, my vision as an artist, and my sense of what I have to do on this earth as an artist – profoundly and completely. I wrote texts, took photos, and made a film. I came back from Haiti with a lot of images and a renewed sense of my own photography practice.
“All geniuses become geniuses because they make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
I think I base my practice on my mistakes. All geniuses become geniuses because they make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can learn so much more from them – you have to accept them. Your ego wants to see you only as successful, and society doesn’t recognize the value of mistakes either. We are taught to always do our best, be the best, and find success. We are not taught, “You are going to fall, two, three, five times, and then you’re going to learn something and understand.” Maybe there’s something truly important in the fall.
I always put energy into my work. I believe in the energy of things. Each of my sculptures or objects has a healing intention for people, humanity as a whole, or for the earth. On the side, I’m a healer; I do energetic healing sessions. Last fall, at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, I offered free healing sessions as part of my exhibition. It was the first time I directly introduced this into my artistic practice. I wanted to give that to the visitors to my show. Generosity is something important to me. It’s something that we miss in this world.’
Lillian Davies lives and writes in Paris.
All photos by Marion Berrin for Art Basel.