Adel Abdessemed

‘Lise’, 2011
video projection, 31 sec. (loop), color, sound
dimensions vary (aspect ratio 16:9)

This thirty-second shot shows a woman, Lise, suckling a piglet. The camera slowly approaches and frames the piglet’s snout as it suckles, while the woman affectionately strokes its head. No music is added—the only sound is the sucking of the animal.

This work sparked polemics at several exhibitions, such as the traveling L’Art à l’enfance show for the Musée Mobile in 2011 (for which this piece was made, only to be censored by the curators) and the all-night Nuit Blanche show in Mayenne in 2013. Objections mainly concerned the religious iconographical tradition that it evokes and subverts. The Christian imagery of virgo lactans—the virgin suckling the infant Jesus—is ironically subverted here through the presence of the animal, like those parodies seen in the margins of medieval illuminated manuscripts. At the same time, this video piece represents a kind of radicalization of images of suckling, involving a counter-act of non-natural nurturing that indicates the free, universal nature of this gift, as in the caritas romana where a woman suckles her father, completely reversing genealogical lineage. All these visual allusions, plus the presence of the animal, lend power to an image that confronts the viewer with the biological foundations of a nurturing process assumed and transfigured by art and by the history of sacred imagery, even as it reinforces and glorifies the physical dimension, which is one of the theological cores of Christian discourse. The presence of an animal traditionally associated with filth adds to the contrast, since the piglet is here presented in a tender, vulnerable light.

Angela Megoni