Sabine Mirlesse captures volcanoes and seismic lands
Sabine Mirlesse is a Franco-American artist, whose photographic drawn and sculpted stories resonate with earth, geology, rituals and footprints. Her love for earth, whether seismic or volcanic, led her to work on two projects; the linguistic study of 3 Italian volcanoes and the book Pietra di Luce, published in 2019 by éditions Quants.
How was born your almost hypnotic interest for the mineral matter, the one that trembles, breaks, even explodes?
A large part of my early childhood was spent in southern California during the a time in the early 90s where there were quite a few earthquakes, including an especially large one in 1994. I think because of those experiences I was aware from an young age of the reality of an earth that moves below our feet, a living entity that can spontaneously and radically remind you of its presence, resilience, and power— so much more powerful than any human. Growing up on the San Andreas Fault line, doing earthquake drills at school, visiting the La Brea tar pits when I was kid where mammoth bones had once been found, hearing about the tremendous Mount Saint Helens eruption just a decade before from people who had witnessed it — all these things painted a vision of the land as a mysterious character all its own. Combined with going for walks in the canyons, creek beds, and visiting the desert regularly, I think I naturally developed a kind of sensitivity to landscape, its mineral makeup, and respect for the stories held therein.
Pietra di Luce, the first limited edition artist book of the publishing house Quants, “invites us into a geological reverie, from the depths of the earth to the immensity of the milky way and its stardust”. How did the edition serve your photographic work?
Not every photographic work makes sense as a book – but this work, inspired by literature and local storytelling of the region, seemed to find a sense in this form. It was an opportunity as well to amass and condense a large body of work that contains many different materials: color and black and white images, stone sculptures, embossings, oil monotypes, drawings, photograms, archives, all into one volume. A way of organizing the research and creative work. As a book it becomes something someone can hold in two hands and spend time with as well. Read from front to back as well of course and the notion of traveling through the images/work was a big consideration in making the layout, and having a true center of the object.
After the geological reverie, you’re devoting a future project (on which you wish for now remain discreet) to three volcanoes which have recently erupted in continental Europe: Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli.
I’m currently developing a few new projects in parallel, but this next work you’ve asked about is organized around the three volcanoes that have erupted here in continental Europe since the invention of photography: Vesuvio, Etna, and Stromboli. (This excludes Iceland – where I already made a body of work around the 1973 Heimaey eruption).
What volcanic experiences do you consider in this project?
Volcanoes represent the origin of the world but also one’s destruction and end, and for me, personally, they also have a link to freezing time. Not only the physical freezing of time as preserved in the ash as happened in Pompeii after Vesuvio’s eruption, but also the way that when a major eruption happens, as I experienced firsthand in Stromboli this past year, the moments following are a kind of freezing of time— or stopping of time, even. When an explosion like that happens, the sound occurs and then everyone just looks at the blackened ash filled sky, silently, to decide which way to move, how to react. That instant felt, for me, like time standing still – everything melts away, none of your typical concerns seemed urgent any more. Beyond the experience of an eruption itself, at the top of a crater, looking down, you become intensely aware of your being a small part of a landscape, the earth’s story. It’s related
to the sublime as a deeply human experience, but also to the anthropocene and the traces we leave compared to what will never be able to leave behind. Smoke is a visual communication tool that’s been used for centuries around the world. One of the elements I’m working on is the relationship between those smoke, spark, and steam images I’ve taken in and around the craters to seismic and sound readings – like a message spoken. In Stromboli they talk about the voice of the volcano for example.