Lampoon, performance Yann Marussich, photography Emilie Salquèbre
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Are we ever completely still? Yann Marussich’s investigations of immobility through performance

«My work is about pain, accepting it, going with the flow of pain, to not feel it, not be affected by it, and this has been my work for over thirty years»

Discipline and dance – Yann Marussich

Yann Marussich never envisioned a career in performance art, after initially starting as a professional dancer at the age of seventeen, followed by several years as a choreographer and theater director. He came to be regarded as a concrete and revered figure in the world of dance. Yet today, he utilizes his body in an almost opposite manner, honing in on the extremes of immobility and questioning the influence of pain through the medium of performance art.

Years of discipline and a strict routine contributed to the artist’s ability to mould both the body and mind for the requisites of dance. He recalls, «I stopped school at the age of seventeen because I was a professional dancer. I left everything. Went to work at a dance company near Bordeaux, and after two years, I went to work in Paris. I started to work with my body early on; it has been a constant discipline. My education consists of the education of the body. I created my own type of school for myself».

In parallel to his profession, Yann Marussich continued to push his body’s strength in his free time. «Whilst in Paris, I practiced martial arts, where I became a French champion. I was a fighter, but I specialized in the technical aspects rather than the combat. Also, I did fight, but it was not my favorite aspect; but I preferred the kata» (from the Japanese meaning ‘form.’ Kata is a sequence of choreographed martial arts movements intended to be practiced alone). «When I was a dancer, after dancing all day, I would go to the martial arts classes to relax, perhaps for three hours a day.» In 1989, Marussich won second place in the French Cup of Viet Vo Dao in combat and won the Coupe de France in individual technique. 

Squat performance

Not a stranger to being on a stage, Yann Marussich exhibited his first performance on a small scale. «When I came back to Geneva, I was living as part of a squat. For twenty years, I lived in a squat, which was relatively normal in the city in that period. There were other creatives, artists, workers, a mixture of people living together. Each squat had an open space, maybe a bar, a communal place to relax. Within these spaces, I developed several performances, but without any intention to do something further or in any way serious. I had no pictures taken, no video, no title even. A performance done by myself, sometimes with a musician, which has carried through to how I work today».

Yann Marussich distancing himself from the world of dance

Marussich decided to take a leap of faith and distance himself from the world of dance, a sector he had known professionally for over fifteen years; instead, he wanted to move towards exploring performance art full-time. «I never thought that performance would become my main source of income or how I would build my career later. In 1999, I decided to quit the theater and quit dancing altogether. It was an exponential change in my life. I thought to myself»

«‘What is important to me? What brings me the most pleasure?” and the answer was what I was doing in the squat open spaces, performance. For this reason, I changed everything… and as is often present in my work, I do everything with risk. It was a difficult period, as nobody knew about performance then. In 1999, the world of performing arts was a desert. People questioned my decision to quit dance and choreography, but I knew that I wanted to venture into new things»

Bleu Provisoire

«In Geneva, I found a festival producer, and he invited me to do a performance, where I exhibited Bleu Provisoire for the first time in front of a public audience. It was a lengthy process; it took two years to prepare and perfect». Marussich’s first documented performance in front of a larger audience was Bleu Provisoire (2001) at Festival de la Bâtie, Geneva; a complex intraoperative piece within a controlled setting focusing on the relationship between the body, its natural secretion, and chemical interference.

Even though immobile, the artist investigates the constant movements within one’s being. «I practice meditation, from my days of martial arts, I enjoy the stillness. I want a moment where I am immobile, yet there is still movement in my body. What is moving in my body without moving? My secretion, my perspiration, my tears, and so forth. The only problem is that natural secretion is almost transparent, difficult to see, therefore having little impact on the audience. I wondered if it was possible to change the color, in this case, blue. This was our research for two years, a complicated process until we found a way to make it possible»

A provocative piece leaving a large impact on the spectator and even on those not present, instead hearing of this new performer utilizing the body in a way that no other had yet experimented. In the 2018 music video when the party’s over by Billie Eilish, Bleu comes to mind demonstrating Marussich’s influence in the world of dance, theater, performance arts and within popular culture. Yann Marussich’s works cross over several contexts, from contemporary performance to body art to BioArt, the latter focusing on the living aspects and life processes involved within an art piece. 

«After one year, I decided to stop performing Bleu as it took so much preparation, two whole days. I continued with other performances. One curator in particular insisted for almost three years, to the point of hassling me, to perform Bleu in Paris. His name is Jens Hauser, he specializes in Bio Art, and actually, he was the father and founder of BioArt. I conceded to performing Bleu when I came across an easier method to its execution».

L’Homme-Béton

In recent years, as Yann Marussich’s works have continued to push the limitations and evolve, several works have adapted in relation to the spectator. Influenced by his trusted technicians (one of whom is his son) to no longer exhibit certain works in front of a live audience and in part due to the pandemic, Marussich has moved into video. «This year, I plan on doing lots of video performances. So far, all my video performances have been part of the project l’Homme-Béton – I did one series in Palermo with the Festival Le Mosche and another series of video performances in Montevideo in South America. With each series, I write and publish a book as a way to compliment the performance. An object made in parallel to the movement»

L’Homme-Béton (2017) is an exceptional piece of performance, where Yann Marussich places himself within a block of concrete and later excavated. Exhibited for the first time in 2017, the piece feels strong on varying levels, from its ability to convey the weight and texture of the concrete to the feeling of entrapment and immobility as the artist fights against it to free himself. Marussich takes into consideration every minute detail and aspect of his work.

«I aim to use materials that are either dangerous or common. Everybody knows what concrete is; everybody knows how it feels, its texture, its weight. The same with broken glass; people can relate to these everyday materials. Even through video, one is able to recognize the sensation of the texture. There is a strong evocation from concrete. Moreover, the material has a political standpoint because it is dangerous; it is a pollutant, damaging the natural environment. Certain aspects of this are linked to mafia control. I like that the use of concrete brings several discussions into the light. I decided to do an action that no other has done»

Yann Marussich pushing boundaries

As one project’s research reaches its closure, Yann Marussich looks ahead to how he can push boundaries further with his body, his mind, and contemporary performance. As the works are all-encompassing, a period of development follows the artist as he delves into the research of the next intricate project. «I am currently in a period of transition, as I have left the concrete work on stage. As it was so intense, I have been thinking about what I can do after this; I cannot go over that limit. Death would be the next extreme. I have to do something strong, the same level as the concrete, which is where I find myself now… For so many years, I have been inside objects, materials, from boxes to broken glass, now I need to fly»

Lampoon, performance Yann Marussich, photography Sarah Maitrot
L’ homme Béton, Montevideo, Uruguay, 2019, photography Sarah Maitrot

Arts at CERN 

Moving away from the physical, in 2019, Yann Marussich was awarded the Collide Geneva Dance Residency Award by Arts at CERN, an art and science program fostering the dialogue between artists and physicists. During the three-month residency, its start having been delayed due to the pandemic, Marussich will work on the project entitled D’Air, where he experiments with levitation. Accompanied by L’Ensemble Batida, Marussich aims to explore the possibility or impossibility of making a man levitate in the air and be ‘played’ by an ensemble of musicians, investigating how music could affect his floating movements.

«I started in November 2021 with a full team; however, the support does not end after three months. I will have an entry pass to the CERN spaces for one year. Due to Covid-19, it has been difficult to travel, especially back to CERN, where it is an extremely sensitive environment. The project is currently on hold. My aim is to work on video performances. The idea of levitation is complicated, but if I cannot accomplish this project here then it is impossible. This is the only space with the potential to make this project happen, as they are specialists in magnetism. It is not possible to exhibit this piece within a theatre, or in an outside space, as at CERN, there is the biggest magnet in the world. It will be done via video because I am unable to invite unauthorized members of the public into the CERN spaces»

Kamil Guenatri

Marussich continues to develop and expand his artistic research, exploring art forms and collaborations that are unusual for his style thus far. After a brief meeting, Marussich was asked to collaborate with performance artist Kamil Guenatri. Born in Algeria, the artist currently lives and works in Toulouse; his artistic work stems from his immobility caused by his disability, which has affected the use of his muscles. «Two years ago, I started working with Kamil. We started a collaboration on the triptych work, Noces de Vers (2021).

The title comes from the phrase noces de verre, which would translate as glass anniversary, as each year, the material changes according to the number of years of marriage celebrated. We decided to play on these words, and instead, it translates as worm anniversary. The idea of marriage we found appropriate as it is a collaboration between two people. I aim to find the movement within my work with immobility but with the still body. Therefore, in one work out of the three with Kamil, the worms are the source of movement, and they are alive. For me, it was a big change to work with another artist»

Bain Brisé (2010)

As a spectator to works such as Bain Brisé (2010), where Marussich is placed within a bathtub under kilos of broken glass; where he slowly emerges unscathed, one instantly fears pain for the other. Pain, or the fear of, continues to take precedence within each performance, yet as Marussich’s work has altered with the latest collaboration, the pain has been displaced.

«With Noces de Vers, there is no pain at all, which was a strange experience for me. There is the potential for pain. With Kamil, you have to be careful not to cause him pain, which is easy as he is fragile. In this performance, he pushed his own limits, which was extreme. Meditation plays a key role in all of my works. My work is about pain, accepting it, going with the flow of pain, not feeling it, and not being affected by it, which has been my work for over thirty years. My pain threshold is high; I know how to manage the pain, but I must say that my body is perhaps a little bit broken».

Yann Marussich

Living and working in Geneva, Switzerland, Yann Marussich (1966- ) is a performance and contemporary artist with a self-taught education of the body. In 2008 Marussich was the recipient of the Prix Ars Electronica for the category of Hybrid Art. His works fluctuate between BioArt, body art and contemporary performance, a continuous research pushing his body to new extremes. Since 2011, Marussich has been supported by the Department of Culture and the Municipal Fund for Contemporary Art (FMAC) of the City of Geneva.

Glesni Trefor Williams

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp / made in Italy
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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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