“I have to remember: The reason I chose this life is because I have a need to feel free, to do what I love when I want”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
LD: I am from Paris, more precisely from Belleville in the 20th arrondissement. Starting early in my childhood, my parents dragged me to museums and galleries. I enjoyed, but never imagined becoming an artist myself. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a flight attendant! It’s funny because travel and the element of air are an important part of my practice today. It wasn’t until high school that I realized only the practice of art allowed me to accept my hyper-sensitive nature and to flourish without having to memorize facts or meet other people’s criteria.
AT: When did it become serious?
LD: It all started in 2008, I was in a preparatory class for art schools: the CAAP of the Lycée Pablo Picasso, in Val-de-Fontenay, with teacher and artist Charles Gallissot. I was 18, with a camera in my pocket, and curious eyes. For the first time, I had space in a workshop and was working with all the curious objects I found on the street. A few months later I took the competition at the Beaux-Arts in Paris…
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
LD: There have been several, and there continue to be more. The First was artist, André Mignot, who taught me to weld, to see things on a large scale, and to look around me. Then Marie Thurman, a painter, zen person, and philosopher, gave me confidence in myself and taught me to critique works of art. In 2014, when I graduated from le beaux Arts, I met Maya Sachweh, who became my agent in Paris. She facilitated my first solo show, and continues to support me, and introduce me to important people. And finally, I met Annika Pettini in 2019, who recently became my agent in Milan, Italy. Thanks to her, I’m developing a new network and starting to learn how things work in this new city and country where I now live part-time.
TILIA, 2020, Aluminium, linden seed, 35x45x28 cm
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
LD: My practice is above all an intuitive and empirical exploration of the characteristics of industrial materials, especially metals. I also examine, in my work, the peculiarities of natural elements that I find at the seaside or in the mountains. First I study their potentials and their breaking points, then I combine and synthesize them. By dint of trying I move things, break them, start and start again, try them on the floor, on the wall, on the ceiling, in a corner, I end up finding interesting connections which tell my personal stories.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
LD: From a very young age, I have had a feeling of vertigo, I know that life is precarious, that it does not answer to anyone. We can fall, die, be destroyed from one day to the next. However, we resist, we keep standing up, and that encourages me. I try to show it in my work. I want to make viewers feel the tension of my sculptures and installations, both their fragility and stability. My aerial pieces constantly oscillate between lightness and heaviness, balance and cantilever, attraction and risk. The notion of danger is often part of the experience.
AT: What are your favorite tools and materials for working?
LD: My favorite tool is my body! I rarely use tools and even less machines to work, because I don’t want to cheat, I want to show how materials hold together on their own, without welding or glue I don’t like to hide anything. I hang with weights, ropes, elastic cords.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
LD: I’m very focused, I forget my phone and the things that bother me. I try to be calm, to be quieter and ready to welcome my ideas. I never know what it’s going to look like, because my work goes step by step, putting the materials together. It might take a few minutes, or a few months, but at one point I feel it’s good.
À RIEN, 2020, Cooper, elastic tensioner, 45x105x40 cm
OBLIGÉ A RIEN, Metal, stone, 120x80x80 cm | APOSTROPHE, Elastic, copper tube, millstone, 350x70x80 cm
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
LD: When I feel I can be proud to show it down to the last detail. Sometimes I leave a sculpture in a corner for months, because I am blocked, then one day I finally find what is missing, and I can finish it. It’s inexplicable. It’s my view of harmony, of correctness, it’s very subjective.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
LD: The inspiration comes from the profound visceral fears I have within me. It comes also from the wonders, discoveries, and surprises that I experience when I travel in wild or industrial landscapes. I am equally intrigued by a beach as much as a factory. There are two places I go to every year to collect objects and take pictures: Bages, in the south of France, and Ile de Ré, on the coast.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
LD: Yes, the Brazilian artists I discovered during my exchange at the School of Visual Art Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 made a big impression on me. Particularly the manipulable Bichos of Lygia Clarck, the kinetic sculptures in the streets by Franz Weissmann, and the monumental flying waves by Iole de Freitas.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
LD: For me, Instagram is a very important professional tool to communicate and also to meet people easily. I have chosen to post only good photos of my completed sculptures. Thanks to Instagram I have had opportunities to participate in several exhibitions. I think social media is very helpful for artists to gain visibility.
TOULINE, Cooper, rope and flower, 2019
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
LD: I find that it’s often the same people who are privileged (often men), and that you always have to be in contact with the “right” people. As an artist it is not easy to find your place in this system because there are so many of us. Furthermore, I find that our status as an artist is not fully recognized in society. In my opinion, we should fight a little more for equal opportunities and change a lot of rules in the art world. Perhaps this is my French revolutionary side speaking…?
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
LD: What I find most challenging is not to feel guilty during times of emptiness and questioning, and to continue to believe in what I’m looking for, and above all not to be afraid of being alone with my ideas. I have to remember: The reason I chose this life is because I have a need to feel free, to do what I love when I want and to make my own schedule. When my work is exhibited for the public, I always have jitters before the opening, a bit like an actress taking the stage. What touches me the most is to speak with someone who looks at my work with attention to feel that they understand, with their imagination what I am trying to say through sculpture: That fragility is a great strength.
AT: What do you do besides art?
LD: I create the scenography for a friend who designs scarves during all the fashion week shows. I’m part of an Instagram group that fights for the cause of women artists. I do yoga. I take care of my plants. I have a ping-pong poem-photography conversation with my poet friend Philippe Longchamps.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
LD: After this long period of waiting, after exhibitions postponed, or even canceled, I’m full of energy and desire. I want to continue exhibiting my work in places that I like. I want to experiment with new techniques, finding new materials, collaborating with artist friends, create large installations, and above all travel!
SOUFFLES, Bronze, 50x50x1 cm each, 2020
"Léa Dumayet’s art practice is essentially sculptural. Its starting point is an instinctive and empirical research of the characteristics of materials, especially metal, from which she studies the potentialities and breaking points. Her sculptures and installations are often fragile, bearing an unstable equilibrium. Nevertheless, Léa Dumayet invites the spectator to experience the tensions and sense of danger. Léa Dumayet’s work constantly oscillates between contradictory notions: lightness and weight, balance and vertigo, natural and industrial, attraction and risk...It is up to the active viewer to discover its hidden meaning" (Maya Sachweh). Léa Dumayet (b. 1990) is a French visual artist currently living and working between Paris (FR) and Milan (IT).