french artist mehryl levisse brings bdsm fantasy
to the bowery
out magazine (online)
text by chris thomas
Discussing the professional mourners, lovers & decrepit mansions that inspired Birds of a Feather Fly Together.
Tucked into the side streets of the Bowery, the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery has become host to a queer dreamscape that’s as bizarre as it is arousing. For French artist Mehryl Levisse, his first solo show Birds of a Feather Fly Together has given him a chance to grapple with the childhood shock of learning his aunts were professional mourners and the decaying mansions near his his home in Champagne-Ardennes.
Between towering wallpapered walls and sensual portraits of himself and ex-lovers, six hand-sewn masks penetrate the center of the room on spikes like erotic voodoo heads. Stitched together with everything from Calais lace and tapestry shreds to pearls and human hair, they inject the room with a cryptic BDSM flair that’s punctuated by the inclusion of two masked performers who lie coiled in the windowsill.
Levisse's display is a provocative, romantic ode to the memories and bodies that Levisse has grown up exploring and it’s created one of the most alluring gallery shows of the year. As the artist settled into the city for the exhibition that runs through July 9, OUT sat down to talk inspiration, death and queer visibility.
How did learning your aunts are professional mourners impact your art?
I know them quite well, but I never saw them in their “professional environment.” Not knowing how they would actually cry and mourn has always left room for imagination and fantasies. One of my teachers once told me “don’t look elsewhere to get inspired, you have everything inside yourself.” I always keep this in mind and fuel my creative production with personal feelings, stories and fantasies.
The ultimate piece I will produce will be post-mortem. I will have planned and staged everything before dying (I am already working on it even though I am only 31 years old), so even if I will never become a professional mourner, death is actually inspiring some of my works.
What draws you to the people you choose as models in your work?
Bodies are the central subject of my photographs, so I like to use the ones I know best. I could not work with a body I don’t know well…
How do you navigate visibility in regards to your queer identity in the art world?
My practice is very intimate and I put this intimacy into the spotlight. Who I am having sex with influences my work, but I never show anything truly sexual. I only suggest.
What do the six masks represent for you?
Each mask has its own identity. They are born out of curtains, carpets, sofas and other pieces of furniture one can find in the decrepit mansions of Champagne Ardennes where I grew up, or in Urbino, Italy, where I spent summers as a child. I always sew the masks myself and they have the shape of my head. In a way, these masks and my photographs will document the evolution of my body over time.
Mehryl Levisse's Birds of a Feather Fly Together will be on view at the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery from June 7 through July 9.