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Encounters in amnesia | Photo sequence | 2019 | Marie Borgia©

We hope you and your loved ones are well. In this exceptional period, when it is essential to take care of each other, CULTURAMA N°37 speaks of health and old age in the 21st century. During quarantine, what is really there, between our four walls? "All men's misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to stay at rest in a room," Blaise Pascal once said. And in such context, Art opens windows. CULTURAMA can become your skylight to feel and enjoy the fresh air, the light of the days to come...

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Marie Borgia
Olivier Terral
Sophie Deschamps

It might be useful to think of photography as a deep and narrow space between novels and films.”  
Robert Filliou

Marie Borgia
Keep on playing | Triptych of photos | 2016 | Marie Borgia©

Eric of CULTURAMA: Rencontres en amnésie is an itinerant photo-video-project, which is also a book published by André Frère Éditions and prefaced by Christian Gattinoni. How did it all come to life?

Marie Laigneau Borgia: I started taking pictures of my father who had Alzheimer's in 2015 when the official diagnosis was announced to us. He joined one of the protected units at the Résidence de La Tour in 2016. As he became aphasic, I had to deploy new modes of communication, so as not to interrupt the dialogue. He was a painter, eternally curious, full of life and envy, and participated in all my interventions as part of the Rencontres en amnésie project. He passed away  in December 2019. I dedicate this work to him.

Encounters in amnesia | 2018 | Marie Borgia©

Rencontres en amnésie was designed for the COLISÉE group1, at the initiative of Valérie Blache, neuropsychologist, and Marie-Line Triquet, director of nursing homes at the Résidence de La Tour, in France. This home includes two protected units for 56 residents suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The supervisory and nursing teams are trained according to the principles of Maria Montessori. My interventions consisted in bringing the participants to question their image, their history; the obtained material was then completed with brain imagery carried out by professionals.

Between verbal and non-verbal communication, the work was built on the study of self-portraits, autobiographies, identity photos, family photos, using practical tools such as photolanguage, Proust’s questionnaire, and all texts of an autobiographical nature. At the end of these sessions, I photographed the residents who wished to be physically involved in the image.

 1The COLISÉE group manages medical and social establishments present in France and several other countries.

Keep on playing | Triptych of photos | 2016 | Marie Borgia©
Encounters in amnesia | Photo sequence | 2019 | Marie Borgia©

“The objective is to maintain a social, cultural, individual and group life, according to each person's abilities, to fuel their desire to meet others, to discover, to create, no matter what disability they have. A person with neurocognitive disorders still has desires, is curious, is more than ever in search of meaning, understanding, means of expression, wanting to create a bond with others and with himself, despite his disorders.” Valérie Blache, a neuropsychologist.

Encounters in amnesia | Photo sequence | 2019 | Marie Borgia©

Eric: Here is an excerpt from your book's preface written by Christian Gattinoni: “Death is neither below nor beyond. It is near, it is industrious, it is tiny.” Marie, your book shows the great importance you attach to dialogue when exchanging with your models. When they confided in you, what impressed you the most?

Marie: It was when I asked one of them, a man, what quality he likes best in a woman. He replied, “Her being alive!”


+info: Instagram

Keep on playing | Triptych of photos | 2016 | Marie Borgia©

Art is what makes life more interesting than Art.”
Robert Filliou

Olivier Terral
Finishing the Bernard B. painting | 29 November 2011 | Olivier Terral©

Eric of CULTURAMA: Before discovering your Empreintes de vie project, I never imagined that a cancer service could be a place for artistic creation. How did you get that idea?

Olivier Terral: This project is the result of technical, personal and collective circumstances. It is technical because my work has been strongly influenced by the arrival of digital media: shortly before the turn of the century, I started experimenting with pixels. My very first artistic practice was to take puzzles of several thousand pieces and repaint each piece in one color each. The assembled image represented a portrait. My work plays on the possibility of having at least two levels of reading depending on the distance.

Finishing the Serge V. painting | 25 January 2012 | Olivier Terral©
It became collective after the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. The United States imposed having a digital passport that registers people’s identity photo and digital fingerprints. Around 2005, these passports arrived in France: the media kept talking about them, which gave me the idea of taking portraits from identity photos and then recreating a new version of them, using only fingerprints in a digital frame.
Last touches of a collective painting created with the staff of the oncology department of the Beaujon hospital | 7 December 2012 | Olivier Terral©

It is personal thanks to my experience which has led me to reflect on the individual, producing paintings created by affixing one’s fingerprints. I wondered whom I should propose the project to, and quickly realized that anyone could participate, so the real question was why offer it to this or that person. The timing also corresponded to a period of existential questioning in my life. It occurred to me that the fear of death breathes life into my art: I try to leave my mark in the world through my work. This is where the idea of collaborating with a palliative care service crossed my mind. I was fortunate enough to come across the head of the department who understood my approach, who immediately trusted me, and who offered to let me get involved in the cancer service where existential questioning remains constant. And this is how I arrived at Beaujon hospital in 2010 — the place and the year in which Empreintes de vie were born.

Anonymous | Beaujon hospital | 7 December 2012 | Olivier Terral©

Eric: Did your visits to the Beaujon hospital strengthen your fear of death or, on the contrary, did they give you hope? As a result, has the project itself changed along the way, along with your feelings?

Olivier: Death is actually a shortcut that I use to present my approach. It is more correct to speak of existential anxiety. Because from this experience, I learned that we cannot know how we will live our own end; the experience in itself, overall, offered me the hope of finding peace within myself when my time comes. Indeed, my feelings have changed a lot.

Last touches of a collective painting created with the staff of the oncology department of the Beaujon hospital | 7 December 2012 | Olivier Terral©

At first, I was afraid that I could not manage my emotions. However, I quickly learned to open up entirely in the relationship with the patient, to allow myself to cry, not to lie to myself or to the patient. When I meet them to present the project, I tell them about ¾ of my life; then I mostly listen. These testimonies, which accompany my works, provide the portraits and the project with humanity.

I had a unique place in the service. The relationship was egalitarian between the patients and me, which they appreciated very much. I allowed them to be active, to develop themselves artistically, which contrasts with the feeling of infantilization they can feel with the caregivers or with their loved ones.

I started with sick people, but my point was and remains to show that we are all going to die one day, that wondering what we will leave behind is a way of finding meaning. It is a method, not a solution. In this sense, I felt the need to create collective works where everyone can offer their print — their identity — to build a painting that will carry a message by its representation, but especially by the way it was produced.

Œuvrons ensemble | Participatory work of 1 158 people started on June 19, 2013 and completed on September 4, 2016 | Olivier Terral©

Eric: The question of the inheritance between individuals and generations underlies your work. Do the family members of the deceased accept his or her painting? If so, do you think it represents more than a trace in their eyes, that it helps them through the mourning, this difficult moment where anxiety and existential fear strike stronger than ever?

Olivier: The question is legally clear: the contract that I establish with the patients explicitly refuses any passage of the work to the patient’s family, who does not own the painting but rather leaves this trace as a donation, a memento, to society. There was, however, a case where this rule was not applied: one of the patients followed a particular philosophy, believed in reincarnation and angels; he liked classifying his family and friends according to angelic profiles. For example, he saw me as a seraph: a type of angel who surrounds the throne of God.

Tous ensemble | Participatory work composed of 6 tables representing the 6 faculties of the University of Rouen | Olivier Terral©

Another patient was in remission, and he refused to see the painting again because it reminded him too much of his illness.

The last example: Céline, after she passed away, her parents claimed that her painting was the only good memory of the end of their daughter's life. In reality, 95% of my participants are no longer alive. The relationship I had with them lasted, took the most human forms, created a real exchange, and revealed that we are all doomed, that death is always at the end of the road. The mere fact of seeking meaning in life is a way of leaving a trace, we build ourselves together as social beings, all affected by the mortality which unites us.

My heritage is there, in this thought, and it is full of meaning.


He who has a reason to live, said Nietzsche, can endure almost any ordeal. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, while a meaningless life is torture, however comfortable it may be.
Yuval Noah Harari
Sophie Deschamps
Head #3 | Biennale of Issy-les-Moulineaux 2019 | David Lynch©

Eric of CULTURAMA: The last Biennale of Issy-les-Moulineaux, of which you are the president, united artists around the title “Contemporary portraits: Selfies of the soul?” If you were to launch a biennale on general health, what would be your angle to approach it?

Sophie Deschamps: In 2019, the theme of “portraits” allowed us to bring together very different artistic approaches, including those of Marie Borgia and Olivier Terral. One’s look, as the window of the soul, is what a person shows. But what happens when it no longer exists, or when it is altered? Imagination and flashes temporarily restore presence.

In the name of | Photo installation | 2018 | Lorenzo Montanara©

Esteban Ruiz, for example, organized an artistic event in Cordoba for patients with Alzheimer's disease. The results were truly spectacular. In Marie Borgia's film Rencontres en Amnésie on residents of a nursing home with neurodegenerative diseases, we see certain glances, even if they’re fleeting, which translate a fugitive presence. Each time, it is a matter of using imagination in order to get the patients out of their illness.

Art also improves communication, acting as a medium. As such, it allows loved ones as well as caregivers to better communicate with patients. For his Empreintes de vie project, Olivier Terral joined the palliative care service at Beaujon hospital for a collective creation process. Illness, or any disability, isolates you from others. And in general, Art is a great way to restore communication and avoid exclusion.

Self-hybridization | Photography and augmented reality | Peking opera | 2014 | Orlan©

Contemporary Art Biennale of Issy-les Moulineaux

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The poor, the mad, the immigrants, the disabled. No one cares about them. Except when it comes to proving how normal your own life is. And who are we to judge the lives of others?
Mons Kallentoft

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