Sébastien Robert is a French sound artist, photographer and researcher based in The Hague, The Netherlands. His on-going artistic research You’re no Bird of Paradise focuses on indigenous rituals that are in danger of disappearing due to technological, geopolitical and/or ecological issues.
Rather than simply documenting them, his research aims to study in-depth their sonic, visual and contextual singularities while reshaping their musicality into new universes and translating them into tangible artworks made of endemic materials which will last over time.
This research isn’t bound to any specific format. It is based on a site-specific approach in collaboration with the local community as well as other artists, researchers and scientists without any preconceived ideas on the outcome. Each case of study gives birth to a singular artistic project influenced by the field experience, the material gathered and the theoretical research carried out before, during and after the expedition.
Under the influence of global deforestation for consumer goods, not only complex ecosystems disappear, but also centuries-old indigenous culture and knowledge are constantly under a threat. Where in the West nature and culture are separated, they are inseparably one in indigenous cultures. When a landscape disappears, so do the associated cultures, traditions and advanced knowledge of the natural world.
Rite Of Passage is Sébastien Robert's newest installation. It is part of his project The Kultrun of Cañon del Blanco under the umbrella of the on-going research You’re no Bird of Paradise about indigenous music and rituals that are in danger of disappearing.
Initiated in Chile in 2019, this project studies the influence of the Kultrun - a Mapuche drum - on the crystallisation of the Araucaria Araucana’s resin – a Mapuche sacred tree considered as living fossil – and explores the possibilities of preserving its ancestral rhythms in that medium.
With his installation, Sébastien carries the patterns of the Kultrun and documents their influence on the formation of the crystals. This is being done using a technique called sensitive crystallisation that allows the formative forces of any organic material to be revealed pictorially.
/ You can watch a video documentary on the genese of this project here: Link
Most litterature tackling the subject of cultural appropriation in sound art is either produced by scholars in their own academic bubble analysing the work of others, or coming from too politically correct publicity interviews. Given this observation, Sébastien set himself the challenge of producing a different body of work by giving space for sound artists to express their own views.
By talking directly to them, Sébastien wants to understand their inner motivations, processes and positioning towards this complex subject. Throughout open-ended conversations, Sébastien explores the definition of cultural appropriation, the issue concerning re-contextualisation, the fine line between cultural appropriation and respectful ingenuity, the different possible processes, and the expansion of the working field.
Without pretending to come to definitive conclusions Sébastien presents a landscape of positions in which he also positions his own work and questions. The digital format fits the current circumstances and his accessible approach. It makes it possible to read in-between text and sound which gives depth to the argument.
/ This thesis is nominated for the Master Thesis Prize. You can read it here: Website (Password: ArtScience2020)