Anaïs Tondeur | Contagion

The medium of sound is often perceived as that of communication and language; an upbeat song from its guitar riffs and rapid drum beats to relay joy or a broken cry to convey sorrow. Visual artist Anaïs Tondeur inventively utilizes the sound of laughter to perceive, in one’s own body, the mechanics of it, its physiological components, its quality as a gesture and its significance in society for ‘CONTAGION’ through ‘When the World was a Laugh’. The online exhibition held by the Science Gallery Bengaluru shares a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, both contemporary and historic, artistic and scientific, individual and collective in order to support better understanding of the present pandemic and its circumstances. ‘CONTAGION’ examines the transmission of emotions, behaviours, ideas and diseases, their fascinating and occasionally frightening spread and the why of it, why it matters to our lives and how we lead them, how we imagine the future to be. Curated by Danielle Olsen and Jahnavi Phalkey the international exhibition aims to create a platform that is inspiring and informative, a notion to implement a space for better understanding and through the works of artists, we witness these answers unveil and unfold.

Anaïs Tondeur, thus, creates, ‘When the World was a Laugh’. The video installation draws the viewer into a dark chamber and in this space, allows one to experience the vibrations of laughs recorded around the world, vibrations that give birth to miniature landscapes. Each week, the video reveals the mutation of the world shaping and shifting under the oscillations of a sound piece created from the artist’s investigation of contagious laughter. We find this approach to perceiving the elements of such a time as the pandemic innovative; despite the harrowing and tragic environment the pandemic creates, the artist presents forth an alternative, a positive interpretation that invites laughter from across the globe. Yet, it is not experienced as a series of sounds in isolation but design through which the landscape of these vibrations are represented. In our attempt to understand the intricacies of these origins and their derivations, we converse with the artist as she discusses its inception, its aim and herself.

Q |Can you talk about the premise behind 'When the World Was A Laugh' and how you have created it in terms of concept and ideology?

A |This participative project was born in the first days of the pandemic, back in March 2020. I was looking for gestures of care and reparation. In my reading of the new book by anthropologist David LeBreton I came to discover the role of laughter in cosmogonic myths such as the Kojiki in Japan. This early Japanese chronicle tells about a birth of the world in a laugh. It narrates ways a laugh took the earth out of the shadows. This story draws us back to the birth of two siblings, Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun and Susano, her brother, God of the Sea. The relations between both are tumultuous. Following a terrifying exaction of her brother, Amaterasu withdraws into a cave, plunging the world into darkness. The other gods and spirits strive to find a means to take her out the depths, as all forms of lives are suspended. They organize a gigantic, orgiastic party. The laughs of the countless gods are of such intensity they attract Amaterasu. She thus leaves her cave, restoring light on earth. This renaissance of the world out of a laugh appeared to me as a promising image for the difficult times we experience. This is how I opened an international call to track the most overpowering laughs. I received around one hundred laughs from around the world. The installation 'When the World Was A Laugh' took shape from this worldwide collection of laughs.

Q |What inspired your journey in the art industry?

A |My artistic practice evolves as a reaction from the disruption between our existences and the world. Anchored in ecological thoughts, my work unfolds in a political engagement. With each project, I thus attach myself to give to see a state of the world, to make it tangible through a sensitive experience, the dangers we create and which little by little destroys the very possibilities of life on earth. Yet, what gives me the drive to engage in such practice is the urge to imagine other ways of cohabiting on the planet earth. For this, to develop other modes of attention and perception allowing to reinsert our human existences in the cycles of living. As a visual artist I like to collaborate with other practitioners and thinkers, such as scientists in both natural and social sciences: anthropologists, philosophers, oceanographers, biogenetiscits, geologists or pedologists. These collaborations are unfolding as part of expeditions, artist residencies or immersion in scientific laboratories. From these encounters I give form to fiction and experiences through which I explore these other possible conditions of being to the world.

Q |What mediums have you used in creating 'When the World Was A Laugh'?

A |The mediums at core of 'When the World Was A Laugh' are human laughs, animal and elements sounds which can be heard as laughs. Initially, I had planned to travel around the world to record bursts of laughs. The sanitary constraints lead me to redefine my plans. I thus set a worldwide call for laughs. I was very moved when I received around one hundred laughs from Australia, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Morocco or India. This process of call actually multiplied the possibilities of the recording. Contributors could grasp laughs as they emerged via sound or video recordings, a process in fact much more adapted to the ephemeral and uncontrolled nature of laughter. I then classified each collected laugh into a typology which can be explored in the Collection of Laughs on Science Gallery exhibition’s page. This association of emotions and colours developed as a palette which formed the ground of a sound piece composed by the sound designer. In this speculative sound fiction conceived as retrospective investigation, we unravel the threads of the propagation of a laugh. We were keen to perceive its diffusion from individuals to individuals, within a group, a space as well as between human and other than humans, from our everyday lives back to the origin of times. I later played this sound piece under the membrane of a drum. At the surface of the skin, I threw particles of dust which are set in motion by the vibrations of each laugh. The laughs of the collection thus generate a miniature landscape of everchanging topography. The main video showcased at the Science Gallery online exhibition sees the evolution of this landscape, the emergence of a world shaped by laughs.

Q |Through the collaborative effort in creating this installation between you and Floriane Pochon, how have the artists influenced each other?

A |As always in a collaboration both of our approaches influenced the work. I had the chance to collaborate with the sound composer Floriane Pochon for several years. Time is key in such work so to develop a shared understanding of each other’s practice as well as growing a common reservoir of references. Yet, this had been instant with Floriane as we have in common a large field of inspirations. A love for wild territories, an attraction for mineral and underground spaces, a deep attention to other than humans. We also share our readings of fictions and researches by philosophers Vincianne Despret and Baptiste Morizot, art historian Estelle Zhing Mengual or the science fiction writer Alain Damasio. I have a deep admiration for Floriane’s work. She brings to life spaces through sounds. In a very haptic manner, she creates worlds we can touch with our ears.

Q |In your opinion, how do you perceive Paris's contemporary art scene and its growth?

A |There is at present a rich energy irrigating the Parisian art scene, I am thinking especially of a movement inter-relating art and ecology. These practices are porous to other forms of experimentations and knowledge, involving anthropologists, philosophers, historian and natural scientists. Institutions, curators and laboratories such as Musée de la Nature et de la Chasse and SPEAP (the arts and politics laboratory initiated by Bruno Latour) or COAL nurture such crossfertilized endeavours which reflect and attempt to imagine and embody other modes of being to the world.

Merging natural sciences and anthropology, myth-making, and new media, visual artist Anaïs Tondeur’s practice is anchored in ecology thought. Creating installations, photographs, or videos, she seeks a new aesthetic, in the sense of a renewal of our modes of perception, to find other conditions of being in the world. She has been an artist-in-residence in several art centers and scientific laboratories, which include LeCentQuatre-Grand Paris Express (2018-19), Artlink (Ireland, 2019), the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Paris, 2018-17), and the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES, Paris, 2016). Tondeur has presented and exhibited her work in international institutions such as the Centre Pompidou (Paris), La Gaîté Lyrique (Paris), Serpentines Galleries (London), BOZAR (Brussels), and Biennale Di Venezia, (Lieux Infinis). Visual artist Ana Anaïs Tondeur created ‘When the World was a Laugh’ in collaboration with sound artist Floriane Pochon. Floriane thinks and writes with sound. She creates sound forms, hybrid forms, but also forms of transmission in active collaboration with French and international artists. Since 2013, she breathes for Phaune Radio. Since 2014, she has been crossing sound and literary writings with Alain Damasio for the sound arts studio Taraburst. Since 2016, she has also developed virtual reality audio sites between Montreal and France with Eric Chachi, for Paper Beast.

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6th September, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings