Ingrid Berthon-Moine: Interview

Seriously? It's about seeing the humorous side of life in art… Ingrid Berthon-Moine is a French artist living in London. Editor Jamie Maclean recently interviewed her over lunch at Erotic Towers. Her work is featured on her website and here in our latest GALLERY feature.

JM  I’m not sure whether, at some stage during our earlier conversation, I mentioned the closing scene in Patrice Leconte’s film Ridicule, about the decadence of Louis XVI’s court at Versailles: two émigré aristos look across La Manche towards revolutionary France as one deplores the lack of l’esprit, or wit (as we Brits call it), in the country of their exile. “But the English,” offers the other by way of consolation, “have ‘humour’”.

Your work appears to be full of Gallic wit: Marbles is a group of close-up photographs of the testicles on classical male statuary. As well as the rhyming slang reference (marble halls = balls) there are other clever word-play references in your choice of subject and its naming. Do you think that you use ideas to create humour or humour to create ideas?

IB-M  Neither! I don’t make a piece to be funny or work on an idea until I find a funny outlook to it. Both come at the same time, in an unplanned symbiotic process, they complement each other. Saying that, having lived in Great Britain for a long time has helped me to see the humorous side of life on numerous occasions, so why not applying it to art? I really appreciate the banter with complete strangers in the UK. Humour is a connector.

JM There’s a strong sexual theme throughout much of your work. You say that your work ‘investigates sexuality and the human body as vehicles for questioning new forms of gender representation’. Are you suggesting that we’ve looked at women’s bodies for long enough – and that as with Marbles, now men should undergo a similar scrutiny – now it’s their turn?

IB-M  In Ways Of Seeing, John Berger explains how women look at themselves: through the eyes of men. He also demonstrates that women have been endlessly captured by artists, for centuries. Several points come to mind:

–       the construction of desire for men is shaped from childhood to evaluate, judge and appreciate (or depreciate) a woman.

–       have women learnt to look at the male body, its genitals or other body parts in a desirable way? From this point of view, I have two artists in mind: Alexis Hunter and her 1974 series of pictures The Object Series and Wolfgang Tillmans’s 2013 series of photographs Central Nervous System. The first is a strong feminist piece with the intention of objectifying the male body while the other is homoerotic and sensual. Although opposite in meaning, both series of anatomized body parts invite to the touch and trigger desire. But can we desire without objectifying?

The commercial and capitalist gaze is now focussing on men: now men are starting to feel this pressure upon their bodies. Not as much as women though. What would happen if women became as critical and judgemental as men can, very often, be? Sometimes I hear comments and when I look at the commentator I’m like ‘excuse me darling, but you are not exactly a living example of beauty yourself…’

Still, we can sense a masculine crisis, the growing number of exhibitions dedicated to masculinity in the art world: Nude Men; The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures The New Male; Be A Man!;The Male Nude; Masculine / Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day).  More recently and more mainstream (malestream?) in London at the South Bank Centre in February 2014, the 3 days symposium: Being A Man. I guess there is a need to redefine the male identity. Just look at the titles of some of the workshops proposed during this male weekend: Fatherhood: Past, Present and Future – Men Behind Bars – Educating Boys – Ganging Up – What’s Next? – Being a Male Feminist – Being a Dad – Being a Gay Man – The Professionals – Sex, Promiscuity and Fidelity – Being a Black Man – Crash and Burn – Men and Violence – Being a Bloke.

JM Alors tu m’aimes? is a video which satirises the relentlessly demanding beauty regime to which women subject themselves. And Red Is The Colour is another group of photographs, headshots of women with no makeup, but who wear menstrual blood as lipstick. The effect is dramatic, startling – and somehow rather moving.

Have we become so conditioned to the cosmetic industry’s insidious grasp on the way women ‘should’ look that we’ve forgotten how they actually do look? What do you feel about the way in which that industry ruthlessly dictates how women should present themselves to the world?

IB-M  What the cosmetic industry + plastic surgery propose is an unobtainable standard. Who can compete with Photoshop now?! The video of a young girl being beautified speaks volume here:

Personally I’m more and more inclined to look at the faulty bits of a body or a face and loving them. A bit of hair here, fatty deposit, scars, this is just human. After all when you love someone you love his qualities but also his faults.

I worked on fashion shows on several occasions. When make-up artists were asked the questions: how can I make myself up, teach me etc etc. Their answer were invariably… don’t put make up on, less is more.

Look at these porn stars here, before/after. I prefer the natural look, do they need make up? No.

Again, in the category before/after, the young singer Lorde put a picture of herself un-retouched on Twitter. She reacted against a Photoshopped photo of herself while gigging. She said ‘remember flaws are ok’. Simple, efficient – and just human.

JM And if preconceptions about how the sexes view one another start to collapse, what is left? In a more honest world, one without cosmetics, say, will we still be sexually, erotically attractive to one another? Will women still compete to be physically attractive (to both sexes) or will they concentrate on enhancing their less superficial attributes?

IB-M  It is tiring and demoralising to always be ‘attacked’: on a daily basis, posters on the tube, pages of magazine, TV commercials tell us that we look shit: not tall enough, not thin enough, not well dressed enough, not young enough. It’s a constant aggression I think.

Children as young as 8 years old find each other ‘sexy’! And when you look at famous people, you wonder how much of their time they spend under the scalpel or undergoing various treatments to never look like they are aging, to look like they will never die…

JM Currently you’re finishing an MA Fine Art course at Goldsmiths. What are you going to do next? Are there any projects in the pipeline?

Lots of projects in the pipeline, so to speak! I currently work on a piece on ejaculation and masculine ornamentality. I’m also very intrigued by the way hormones shape our lives, desire and sometimes economic disasters, so I’m on a few pieces on that. I’m collecting photographs for a book/magazine dedicated to a special male body part, again! Also trying to organize an exhibition in a laundrette which could be very good fun and a post card project with some of my university colleagues (thank you Jeremy Cooper for giving me the virus for it!).  And trying to develop some relationships with France as I would like to exhibit there as well. So I’m very busy.

JM Your website is a huge communicator of your ideas and a great platform for your visual and audio-visual work. But it’s free. So what do you think the future holds for artists: how are they going to survive commercially? After all, we can’t all possess the same business acuity as a Tracy Emin or a Damian Hirst…

IB-M  A web site is like a window to the wide world web. Nothing more than that, people can see what you do, that’s all. It is always better to see the work in situ, to have a sense of the piece. I have no answer about survival for artists. All I know is that artists are amazing, juggling paid work, producing pieces, travelling etc and all that for hardly any money. You have to be very determined or be supported financially. I do admire artists who keep making work, keep at it, success or not. We can all see that commercial success doesn’t mean critical acclaim…


Go to see Ingrid’s site here.

And our GALLERY of her work here.


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