cécile di giovanni's urban totems

The French artist explores everyday items' relationship to violence in a new exhibition.

by Alice Pfeiffer
21 April 2015, 8:31am

Cécile Di Giovanni is a Marseilles-based artist who hijacks everyday objects - a Nike sneaker, a football, bits of old cars— and questions their potential as weapons, totems, sources of fantasy. The 26-year-old is especially interested in the connection between sports objects and what they reveal about human nature, conflict and sometimes war. She is currently working on an exhibition commissioned by the French Ministers of Culture and Sports that will open on May 13th at the Roland Garros museum, Paris. We met up with her to get her opinions on gender, tool boxes and social upheaval.

Where does your fascination for everyday objects come from?
I fell into art by hijacking everyday objects. This started at a very young age: my grandfather was ill and chose to live deep in the countryside with very little contact to other people. He spoke seldom and collected second hand objects, hoping to give them a second life. The aim was primarily financial - I don't come from a bourgeois background, so rather than throwing out a broken object and buying a new one, we tried to give it a new use beyond its initial function. This also became a way to communicating with him via handiwork - I even got my first tool box aged ten.

This cult of objects also comes from my Italian origins, on my grandmother's side: we are all practicing Catholics and I remember being surrounded by relics and totems at her house as a child, and feeling like I was in a museum of some sort. Art came later, as a means to interrogate objects and myths that surround us. What are they saying about us? Can they alienate us? Hijacking objects is often a way of pointing the absurdities of mankind.

Your work also focuses on the connection between sports materials and wars...
I started to work with sport materials because I wanted to expand my scope and had noticed many similarities to war, the two are intimately linked, notably because of the disciplinary aspect they both share. This study allowed me to explore how it is viewed in collective imagination and what it reveals about notions of anger, revolts, and resistance.

During the recent Ukrainian conflict, bodyboards were used as shields and baseball bats as weapons. Sport-related objects were brought into a sphere of conflict. I looked at what that meant - a survival instinct, a return to an anarchic state, a cry of despair faced with a questionable economic and social system perhaps.

From Sophie Calle to Orlan or Annette Messager, many famous French women artists have placed womanhood at the core of their career - where do you place gender in your work?
I have quite a physical relationship to my work: from metalwork to sculpture, people are often surprised that discover a girl behind the pieces. I actively choose not to position myself as 'woman' in my work. Just as an artist. Not that questions surrounding gender don't interest me, but because I long for an art world without male and female denominators. Where one would receive attentions based on the subjects the work raises. By wanting to defend my position as a woman, I risk marginalising it and making it the core of my work - which isn't my wish.


cecile di giovanni
roland garros museum