How did your relationship with the environment build up?
It started with my desire to represent the structure of society. The subway dust I used at the beginning, for instance, to create my Pack of Wolves in 2011, first symbolises the fact we are all interconnected. It comes from a million people passing every day through Châtelet metro station in Paris: the idea is that the body of each individual is to be found in the structure of our society. The dust of these wolves also carries a story about the earth, the seasons, displaced by shoes – hence the reason I named every wolf after the particular month I collected the materials. What interests me in materials that are waste is that they’ve got something to do with disgust, they are repulsive: this is the case with dust, but also with the dead skin I use to create blooms. Others relate more to natural disasters: such as my sculptures with olive trees that perished during the winter of 1954, the coldest of the last century, marked by Abbé Pierre and his appeal to the French government, by the creation of people’s aid (Secours Populaire). There was a social response to climate-related events. We are currently seeing the same with global warming.

Are you an upcycling extremist?
Ha, ha! Seen from a distance, recycling is pushed to the limit in my work with the dust, as well as skin from feet collected from chiropodists. And asking people to give me the contents of their vacuum bags is quite unusual; it’s almost a caricature of what upcycling could be! But far from this, I’m expressing the long term, cycles, I’m doing what nature does better than me. I am organising the symbols, not applying them or directly using them, and defend my uselessness in the face of a hyper productive world.

What is your next project?
Creating the Beast of Gévaudan for the museum in Mende. It will be made from dust provided by inhabitants of the city of Mende, so it’s a collaborative project. Running from 12 October to 16 November 2019, this exhibition brings together Mende City Council, Frac Occitanie Montpellier, the local association l’Enfance de l’Art, and the French Ville et Pays d’art et d’histoire heritage label.
© Fanny Begoin

Learn more about Lionel Sabatté

Find all the articles from Letter #11 — September 2019