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Ode to Moray Eels

Group exhibition with Fabienne Audéoud, Cécile Bouffard with Eileen Myles, Pauline L.Boulba, Claude Eigan, FSB Press, Gustave Girardot, Aminata Labor, Natacha Lesueur, Ingrid Luche, Béatrice Lussol, Bruno Pélassy

Curating by Mathilde Belouali
June 21 - October 13, 2024, opening on June 20 from 5pm to 10pm
4th Floor, Tour Panorama, Friche la Belle de Mai

An exhibition produced by Triangle-Astérides in collaboration with the art center Les Capucins in Embrun and in co-production with SCIC Friche Belle de Mai

Disliked for their awkward manner, their sullen look, and their life in the depths, moray eels have a bad reputation. As is often the case, it’s unwarranted: they only attack when they feel threatened; otherwise, they’re indifferent and sometimes even affectionate. Some are born female only to become male later in life or vice versa. Due to their apparent strangeness, they are associated with Ursula, the “villain” of Disney’s Little Mermaid, in whom an unclear gender identity coincides with evil intentions.[1] It also led to them symbolize a liberating kind of life and desire that falls outside of the norm in Ode to Moray Eels (1984), writer Mireille Best’s lesbian bildungsroman.

It is not surprising that this exhibition borrows its title from a book, because it draws on the porosities and exchange that occur between visual arts and writing, both in artistic practice and in the history of places. It is based in particular on the history of an art gallery that grew into a feminist and LGBTQ+ bookstore as well as an important cultural site in Nice. Founded in 1998 by Françoise Vigna and Marie-Hélène Dampérat, the galerie Vigna, over the course of its four-year existence, provided free and dense programming, guided more by friendship and experimentation than by the conditions of its commercial existence. It reflected a generation of young artists that some linked to the studio spaces at Astérides in Marseille—which became today’s Triangle-Astérides, contemporary art center and artists’ residence[2]—before becoming a bookstore and thus an intermediary between artistic, literary, and activist scenes on a regional scale.

The Ode to Moray Eels exhibition aims to pay homage to this “essential and little-known places” and to the “intermediary characters” who animate it, those who do not pursue single, linear careers, but who “establish links, constitute a transition, maintain communication between individuals or groups, materialize a passageway.”[3] By bringing together artists with whom the galerie Vigna and then bookstore collaborated, as well as visual artists, performers, and publishers that uncover and extend other histories of visibility, struggles, and admiration, the exhibition hopes to outline queer geographies, galaxies of affect, and a joyous, subjective, and partial collective biography. Despite their twenty-year gap, the generations brought together here often share a common aesthetic, unabashedly flashy but without grandiloquence, in which the body (vibrant, fragmented, or constrained) has a singular place. They likewise share a taste for researching and approaching moray eels, discreet but essential idols, hiding away in the recesses of official histories.

[1] On this subject, see Ariane Temkine’s thesis on the recurrent association between villain roles and various kinds of deviances from hegemonic gender and sexuality norms in Disney’s animated films, titled “Virus et antidotes : le queer coding dans le cinéma d’animation (1937-1999),” in progress at EHESS under the supervision of Anne Lafont.

[2] The Triangle-Astérides association was born out of the merger of the Astérides studios with Triangle France in 2018. This year, it celebrates its thirty-year anniversary, a fitting context for a retrospective view, to which this exhibition notably contributes.

[3] Laure Murat thus defines the role and importance of Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach, and of the bookseller couple that they formed in Paris in the interwar period. See: Laure Murat, Passage de l’Odéon [2003], Gallimard, «  L’imaginaire », 2024.