Victoire Thierrée is French artist working around military subjects: material, technology, aesthetic, strategy anything that are related. Thierrée started working on the subjects when she was still a student at École Des Beaux-Arts, by SIMPLY calling the French Army and asking that she wants to visit their drone base to take pictures.
smalltalk with Victoire Thierrée
“I wanted to take a picture the F-117 Night Hawk, the first military stealth airplane used by U.S. Air Force. I was on the road alone for a month.”
How did you start working around military subjects? (Victoire Thierrée) The beginning is actually a bit funny. I was in the second year of Beaux-Arts in Paris. I was with this guy who lived in Caen, Normandie, city in west of France. One day I went to see him there and he broke up with me. I took my car and drove to the beach. I was alone and I started to follow bunkers around the beach. I started taking pictures of the huge bunkers of the Normandie Wall. Ended up spending 3 days there and started reading about this subject: Bunker Archeology by French cultural theorist, philosopher Paul Virilio. Beautiful book. And then I started to read more about military tactics and contemporary strategies. And I was also going to Air Shows in France and Army Fairs (Le Salon du Bourget and Eurosatory). And I started doing researches on military drones. I told myself, as an artist I need to do work on this subject. I started like that. I thought I had to go to U.S. to see the airplanes and air show, to know who is behind the Army and Industry. I wanted to take a picture the F-117 Night Hawk, the first military stealth airplane used by U.S. Air Force. I was on the road alone and did this one month. When I came back to France it became more clear that I need to do this work.
What was the first thing you did when you came back to France? (VT) I started calling the French Army from Beaux-Arts’ corridor. “Hi I’m Victoire, I’m a 2nd year Beaux-Arts student and I want to go to your military drone base to take pictures”. And they said yes. I took a train and arrived in the base at 6pm. They asked If I brought dinner and I said no, then they replied “Okay because dinner is finished”. I went to the back of the kitchen in the base and took food from there. I was alone in a small room. It was my very first night in the military.
Are they usually supportive? wouldn’t it be too easy to communicate with people who are dealing with highly classified information. (VT) They are usually supportive and also that’s because I’m being very precise on my requests: What I want to do, what I need to see and what I want to shoot. I’m doing big research before making a call. In addition to that If you follow the rules it’s okay like you should not run away during the take off or you should not climb fighter jets and things like that (Laugh). It takes time to be trusted by these people and to be free, but I’m an artist I want to do what I want to do.
How do you find this subject is interesting? because it’s rare or its aesthetic, technology or.. (VT) I’m not a big army fan but I think it’s important world to work on as an artist. I want to show this world through my eyes and sensibility. It talks about violence, aesthetic, politics, technology, strategy… our current life is linked to this and many people are working in this industry. It’s a huge subject to discover further.
“I think it’s interesting to show and talk about the strategy, the weapon, the airplanes or camouflage… which created in military conflicts and try to understand why.’
Do you think it’s vital as an artist, who is working around military subject, to show society the impact of military and our current situation or should it be separated matter? (VT) One of my shows in Paris was called ‘Lisser L’espce’ literally translated into ‘The Smooth Space’ This concept was created and used by the Israeli army during recent conflicts where they don’t used the concept of street, wall or border anymore. They go into the first house they see with a tank and the soldiers make holes through the house. They use the private spaces as battlefields so the space of battle is really wherever they decide to start. I think it’s interesting to show and talk about the strategy, the weapon, the airplanes or camouflage… which created in military conflicts and try to understand why.
“The hardest part of doing art from this subject is making a good work that doesn’t look like a plain military object but which leaves question to the society.”
What is the most challenging part of doing work around this and what is the next step? (VT) The hardest part of doing art from this subject is making a good work that doesn’t look like a plain military object but which leaves question to the society. I more and more want to make sculptures and installations with materials that only exists in the military and space world. I’m doing a lot of researches and meeting industries to see what they are developing and building nowadays and checking the aesthetic of the materials and objects that come out from them. I want to challenge myself how far I can go in this world that I didn’t know at all few years ago. I don’t have any military in my family. Now I want to go to the deepest and the furthest I could in this very restricted world.
Has anyone ever said no to you and tried to stop you? (VT) Yes, people from big industrial companies who are selling armoury. But they usually don’t say cold No. So I never stop asking.