Interview by Jay Ezra
Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
Editor: Alyson Luthi
“Los Angeles is in itself a Mount Olympus where
everyone dreams of becoming a demigod … and glamour
—Lucille Lillotis often followed by chaos and darkness.” — Lucile Littot
Lucile Littot is a French painter, installation artist, performer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She graduated in 2008 from École Supérieure D’Art de Rueil-Malmaison. Littot has shown in Paris, London, Berlin, Prague and Los Angeles. Her films Melancholic Sabbath (2011) and Érèbe (2013) belong to her trilogy on Death and the Maiden.
Jay Ezra Nayssan is a Los Angeles artist, photographer and curator. Ezra has earned degrees at UCLA, HEC Paris, and NYU. In 2014, Ezra was co-curator of the MAD AGENCY 440 Hope residency.
The early 20th century saw several artists reviving classical myth and history in their work—Picasso and the Minotaur, de Chirico and Ariadne, Picabia’s Transparencies and Leger’s nude figures are wrought with mythological references. Even modern and contemporary artists such as Mark Rothko, Richard Prince and Matthew Barney have continued to look to ancient mythologies as a thematic repertoire.
It’s with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to sit down with LA-based French artist Lucile Littot, who has not only preserved this tradition but also evolved it into her own practice of modern myth-making.
Jay Ezra: Artists often use well-known and familiar mythological figures in order to place certain allusions and innuendos in a modern narrative. Your paintings make references to several mythological figures, and your film Érèbe is centered around the Aphrodite-Bunny. Where does Érèbe take place and who is the Aphrodite-Bunny?
Lucile Littot: Érèbe is a loose tangle of short-films, chiefly inspired by select portions from the novel Aphrodite by Pierre Louys. The shorts are then delicately sewn together with my own texts and narrative, creating a unique allegory on the contemporary human condition. The main characters are Demetrios, the city’s famous sculpture who is wicked, selfish and idle; Chrysis, the fame and power hungry courtesan; and Aphrodite, the iconic statue of the city.
In 2012, I moved to Los Angeles and began to read the story of Aphrodite. After a few months, it felt as if I was meeting the fictional characters from the novel here in LA. Perhaps they were hidden in a different skin or working under a different name but they were in front of me, in the flesh. I was also reading Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and fell upon his essay Between Reality and Hyper Reality. I recalled one of my favorite quotes, “Everything you live is inspired by real events,” and so Érèbe was born.
Los Angeles would take the place of Limbo, the passage between the realm of the living and the dead where the souls of suicides, assassins, poets and infant children are condemned to wander. I deliberately used cliché locations in the background such as the Hollywood Sign, a smog-filled sky or a 21st century gothic-revival mansion because they provide the perfect cartoon-esque irony for the characters to recite their ghostly, narcissistic monologues.
I decided to transform Aphrodite into a giant, white rabbit-human and baptized her Aphrodite-Bunny. She’s a cross between Peter Sellers in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972) and a pin-up model.
JE: There is an undeniable resurgence of mythology/fantasy in the arts today, especially in literature and film. Why do you think that is?
LL: Myths were created in order to reassure mankind that they are in fact monsters. Homer’s The Metamorphoses, for example, is cruel poetry filled with the sublimation of the human existence. There’s incest, murder, unrequited love, treason, orgies – nothing is taboo.
Los Angeles is in itself a Mount Olympus where everyone dreams of becoming a demigod and having their name engraved on a star and where glamour is often followed by chaos and darkness. After all, illusion and myth-making are essential ingredients in the creation of a Hollywood legend. Speaking of which, I just can’t wait to go see Maleficent next week, if only to hear the sweet voice of that creature Lana Del Rey whisper, “Once upon a dream . . .”
“After all, illusion and myth-making
are essential ingredients in the creation
of a Hollywood legend.”
— Lucile Littot
JE: Madness Grandiosa is taking place in a small cottage where a young couple both recently passed away from terminal illnesses. Does this play at all into the context of your work or the show?
LL:I think that when you so graciously offered me this house to do the show in, you knew you were going to fulfill my every wish. This place looks like the Haunted House at Disneyland. And alongside this couple’s eternal sleep, which is very Shakespearian, it was just gold. R.I.P.
I like to show my work in places that have a history and soul because that’s when my surroundings are realized. I grew up in Paris, a very morbid, melancholic and splendid city. My affinity for bizarre dolls and grotesque puppets came from watching carnival processions in the north of France with my grandmother as a child. I live in MacArthur Park, a predominantly Latin American neighborhood, which is filled with curios and boutiques that celebrate the macabre and surreal. All of these surroundings play vital roles in my work and feed my hunger for everything baroque, decadent and of delirious passion related to Dark Romanticism.
This specific show, however, reminds me a lot of Eco’s On Ugliness, a book that discusses the kitsch, the pathetic imitation of the grandiose and absurd rituals. Madness Grandiosa is special because the ensemble of sculptures work as a kind of ex-voto to the empire I have created in Érèbe.
“All of these surroundings play vital roles
in my work and feed my hunger for everything
baroque, decadent and of delirious passion
related to Dark Romanticism.”
— Lucile Littot
JE:The couple left behind hundreds of books which we boxed up and stored away together while preparing for the install of the show. Which books did you keep for yourself?
LL:Since I don’t like cooking, I decided to pack up all the cookbooks. I did keep a book on Rembrandt as well as a 1968 version of Andersen’s fairy tales that has the strangest cover ever. I also decided to take home a faceless scarecrow doll, a denture, a statue of a cherub kissing the emptiness and a small box that has “You Light Up My Life” written on it.
JE:Although your sculptures, paintings and film are wrought with notions of fragility, yearning and tenderness, there seems to be a very destructive and wild (almost violent) quality to your work. How do you explain the accord between these contrasting aesthetics?
LL:I deliberately use materials in my work that have strong feminine connotations—dolls, feathers, garter belts, silk flowers, velvet bows, blond wigs . . . the list goes on. But then they’re cut up, tied to each other, covered in wax. I think the expressionist forms taken by the sculptures speak for themselves.
My paintings, on the other hand, are a kind of self-portrait of me in various states of mind and each one evokes a certain mythological figure. They are a kind of representation of my megalomaniac nature but not without a healthy dose of comical self-deprecation. They remind me of my friend who, before announcing some kind of bad news, always begins to laugh out loud.