Interview with Soasig Chamaillard
On the occasion of the release of the new collaboration between Artoyz Originals, we spoke at length with the artist to discuss her art, her desires and of course this new Super Mary OH figurine! which will be released on 06/01/2023 at 6:00 p.m.
How do you become a Toy designer and what is your background?
First, I don't consider myself a Toy designer, I consider myself more of a visual artist because I don't limit myself to one type of creation In my career, I started by wanting to be a singer, then a stylist, then a children's designer, then a toy designer, then doing stop motion animation in short, I really wanted to do a lot of stuff. Visual artist is good for me because it allows me to experiment a lot of things.
When did you come up with this desire to transform this icon that is the Virgin Mary?
At one point, I was a little questioning about my work path. I had done fine arts, I had made little monster figurines for several years and then at some point, since I had no one to edit me, I was only doing reproductions and no more creation. So I decide to stop completely for a year and use this year to experiment with a lot of things.
The year before that, when I was still making little monsters, I had gone to a flea market with my father and we had come across a holy virgin. He saw me stop in front and he asked me if I liked it as a kind of object. And yes I liked it, I don't really know why, but it fascinated me. He told me "you just have to buy it, it's not expensive". I said to him “Whoa, it's not okay, I'm not going to bring this home! “, I did not feel legitimate to have this type of object at home, and not even for the religious side, it was something else that bothered me. Two months later, I visit him and he had found one at Emmaus. It was broken and no longer held up, but he was super happy with his business, he had to buy it a pittance, and he offers it to me.
So I find myself with that and during my year off, I have this piece which is in my studio, lying down since it does not stand up. And since I'm experimenting and I'm also a little bored, I tell myself that this piece, although I don't know what to do with it, I can at least put it on its feet.
She was missing a foot so I made him a new one and when I was done I was like, "That's crazy, her foot is my foot."
All designers, sculptors take their bodies as a reference so often in what we do there are references to his body and its particularities.
Without realizing it, I had appropriated this piece. I thought about how to fully appropriate it and arrive at a result that could make me assume to put it in my house. I'm a big fan of Japanese culture and I thought to myself that in this culture, the Geisha is a feminine icon, very present and very important. It has nothing to do with the Blessed Virgin, but the association of the two raises a lot of questions about the image of women.
Thus was born "Sainte Geisha".
Then I realized there was plenty to do. I was giddy with the prospect of all that was possible and that's how it started...with an unwanted gift.
How many iterations of the virgo have you produced?
I don't really know... I think I'm at a hundred pieces, counting the very small models with butterfly wings.
When you choose to reinterpret a Virgin Mary, how do you choose the theme? Do you have a list or is it based on the feeling of the moment?
On one side I have a notebook with a growing list of ideas. And sometimes, I have ideas that come up, and they excite me so much joy that they will pass before the others. There are ideas that have been in the notebook for 10 years, they will come one day, but it is not their time yet.
So I choose according to my excitement, but also meetings. "Sainte Goku", for example, is a friend who was a fan of Dragon Ball and he made me read it again and it was great that we shared this friend and me on it. It was important for me to do this piece because behind it, there was a friendship with a person.
On your site, you can find the step-by-step steps for making your figurines. Is it important for you to show how you work?
So before answering, I'm a little embarrassed by the word figurine when talking about my work because that's not how I envision it. The figurine is something for me that you can play with, that you can manipulate, that exists in several copies, whereas my work is a unique piece, sold in galleries... So, for me , these are works.
Concerning the stages of work, there is always this idea of departure which is to leave on a holy virgin of recovery. For me, the transformation of a serial object into a unique object is very important. When you see my finished work, it looks so much like a mass-produced product that you could almost forget that it's a unique piece. The work steps allow you to see the progress made. As an artist, I love to see how other people work, so I suspect there must be a bit of curiosity about how I work too. If there are ingenious things, I'm happy to show them too.
What are the fundamental differences between making a unique piece and making serial pieces?
For me, it was a childhood dream to have my work come to life as a figurine. I love toys and figurines so much that it's a bit of a consecration. I can't do that job so it's great to have companies like Artoyz that can do that. What's great about these figurines is that they're accessible. I find it great that people with different incomes can access my work.
When you start to reinterpret the Virgin Mary in your works, do you envisage the transition to figurines or not at all?
The funny thing is that when I was doing little monsters before 2005, I had contacted Artoyz to find out if they could edit my work and it was not possible at the time. It made me very sad because it was the only box that interested me.
I moved on and since I was in the unique piece I had not planned at all that it could turn into figurines. And it was Artoyz who contacted me...like I sent a message out into the universe...Which came a little later, but happened.
Even if I was super happy, we discussed very quickly the quantity of figurines. I absolutely did not want to flood the world with figurines, to keep it exceptional. We also discussed manufacturing conditions, environmental impact, child labor, etc. I didn't want them to be figurines made at any price.
You've been iterating around the same icon for a while. Is there a phenomenon of weariness that sets in?
For now, I'm still having fun... I think it's because the holy virgin is me. They are only projections of me as a woman in a society and the culture in which I was immersed.
When I was doing little monsters, I did that for 5 years, and then I got bored. I wanted to be creative and for me it was no longer possible to be so by continuing to pour plaster to mold figurines... Hence my love for the unique piece now.
I have too many ideas jostling at the gate to bore me. Besides, when I spend too much time on a piece, it's hard. My biggest piece is Super Mary Oh, she is 1m35…. And I drooled. It was super long, I had to hold on. It took me several months to do it.
Most of the time, it is between one to two months, but it varies according to the models. The Super Mary Oh, it took me like 5 months.
Have you ever had problems with the fact that you touch on something sacred in your works?
At the same time, there have been radicals who fell on me, but also liberal Christians who are numerous and who appreciate my work. I even had sisters in a convent who told me that they liked my work very much.
But I don't feel like it's a matter of belief or faith. It's more a story of extremism.
In the future, would you see yourself reinterpreting other icons?
I can't really answer this question because on the one hand, I'll find it great that I spend my whole life doing this, I love artists who are a bit crazy, a bit obsessive, monomaniac because they develop a unique thing that no one else can have.
On the other, I don't want to force myself or force myself if one day I get tired.
Afterwards, with this project around the Blessed Virgin, I'm already working with other icons, who come from pop culture, so I don't feel like I'm at an impasse.
You were talking about obsessive artists, do you have any major inspirations?
I am often asked for artist references except that artist references, I don't have many. I love art, I go to museums, I don't remember names very much, but I marvel at a lot of things. I realize that my references are Pop culture. I'm going to talk a lot more about cartoons from the 80s, toys too, my real culture is more in there.
My parents were super open, so I spent 4 hours watching TV on Wednesdays. And at the same time, I had asked my parents for a religious education because I was very curious. I went to catechism and when I got home, I watched cartoons and all of that came together without any problem. My culture is that. I was in a very small provincial town so we didn't go to the museum. I haven't had much access to art except for a college teacher who is a fan of Kandinsky, but that's about it. It came to high school where I started to be passionate about Niki de Saint Phalle, although I only understood the feminist scope of her work later.
Among the different universes that you reinterpret, is it necessarily things that come from childhood / adolescence or are you also permeable to what is currently happening?
I am necessarily inspired by what surrounds me, but there, I cannot give you specific examples... I know that I went to Japan and there, I saw distributors absolutely everywhere. When I tell you everywhere, it's on every street corner, there is at least one drink machine. I found that quite amazing. When I came back from Japan, I lost my dad. It was a very difficult moment, I was crying a lot and I was like "but this is crazy, I'm full of water" and I had this image of the drink dispenser filled with bottles of water. And that gave the holy virgin distributor of spring water from Lourdes: "Holy Water". This piece is very personal since it combines my trip to Japan and the loss of my father following this trip.
My work is not always in Pop culture, it is also personal and nourished by what happens to me.
I also sometimes have commissioned work and at that time I feed on the person in front of me. This is a casual chat and from this chat, I'm trying to find where we connect. It could be pop culture or something else. I did Holy Beast, a Drumming Virgo for a musician who runs a drum shop and I loved doing that.
Tell us a little more about the Super Marie OH, what is its origin?
This piece comes at a time when there are several elements that happen to me. I meet a person who is part of a collective named "La Barbe", I discover that the simple fact that a woman puts on a hairpiece causes an impossible shock in men's assemblies. I realize that the hair is hyper masculinized and that as soon as it is associated with femininity, it is dramatic and very violent.
This is also the time when I start to hear about feminism in video games, all the concerns about harassment, but also the lack of representation of strong female characters in this medium.
These thoughts collide and I remember loving Super Mario with my cousins in the late 80s. I had no problem projecting myself into a male character, and a lot of women did because of the lack of choice. Conversely, men found it much more difficult to project themselves into female characters since they had a choice and this resulted in a certain shift.
And then Princess Peach at the origins, it's a bit of a horror, it's really a princess to save. I don't want to wait for a mustached man to come and save me.
It is very important what we put in the hands of children. Because we will integrate a lot of unconscious things and we will take several years to deconstruct them.
So I make the Super Mary Oh. Since the Blessed Virgin represents all the western Christian culture in which I arrived, culture also rubs shoulders with the beginnings of pop culture. I tell myself that a holy Virgin, Super Mario, with a mustache that symbolizes the recovery of power, is strong. When it came out, it was the work that caused the most problems. It had been exhibited in Toulouse and the gallery received so many threats from fundamentalist groups that they preferred to send it back to me.
We come back to what I was saying earlier about extremism. That said, even non-extremist people, who have a bit of a problem with body hair and femininity, sometimes felt uneasy. I even have a friend of mine who told me “I love all your work, but that one, the mustache, is not possible”.
It's not the virgin in Mario that's the problem, it's really the mustache. However, this piece made a huge buzz in Japan.
Two years later, Conchita Wurst continued to feed my thinking about gender and hair during Eurovision 2014.
Do you consider your work as militant? Or at least feminist?
I think it actually is. The fact that I am working on the Blessed Virgin and not on Jesus does not come from the fact that I was offered one rather than the other but from the fact that I stopped before the Blessed Virgin and not before a Jesus. With hindsight, I understand that it represented a certain image of the woman in which I did not find myself and which made me uncomfortable. At the same time, I found her very attractive, but what was this attraction? An internalization of patriarchy?
It's not easy to build yourself up as a young woman. I fell on it, I'm still quite young. I build myself as a woman accompanied by the Blessed Virgin who accompanies me in my work and in my feminist evolution. I realized that I was already a feminist, but without knowing it, moreover, I didn't even know what the concept was at the beginning.
When someone asks me why I don't work on Jesus, I answer "Jesus doesn't need me, he already has an exceptional communication service."... Whereas the Blessed Virgin needs me (laugh).
Any last words before concluding?
This is also why my work is called apparition. The poor little lady, she has always made appearances and I want to make her visible and by extension make women visible.
I don't have any answers, but by mixing the Blessed Virgin with pop culture and the like, I create a whole bunch of questions. Everyone is free to find the answer they want.
With a hundred works to your credit, you have become a specialist in virgins, right?
Effectively. Which means that when junk dealers try to sell me something that's not exactly what they're saying. I can really contradict them and have arguments.
And then it also became a collection. At home, I have a lot of toys and the Blessed Virgin, which gives a rather surprising result when you don't know me.
At first, I bought the ones that bothered me, that were broken and damaged. They were abandoned, I had to save them. No doubt that I was saving myself maybe that I was afraid that I would be abandoned…. There was a mirror effect. I only buy damaged holy virgins anyway. Those that are in impeccable condition, they are self-sufficient, they do not need to be diverted. I have a lot of respect for the object the sculptor and if the piece is in great condition, well it will continue to live its life quietly.
Super Mary Oh, it's a piece with a very special story. It was sold in Paris, the elderly person who bought it in the gallery came to see her regularly at the gallery and spoke to her, until the day she bought it.
I thought it was great. And then in June 2020, I get a message on Instagram from someone who saw this piece at a flea market. I look at the photo and I discover taken aback that it is indeed my piece. With the person who contacted me, we are investigating. I don't have the money to buy the piece, but this person buys it for me when she doesn't know me at all and in exchange, I make an order piece for her.
We never saw each other, we never met and we meet 7 days later and she gives me back Super Mary Oh. It turns out that this person was Florence Servan-Schreiber.
It's quite unexpected to have been able to recover this piece, all on my birthday in 2020.
The mustache is quite special for me because my father all his life, he had a mustache and the only picture I have of my father in front of my work is in front of super Mary Oh... With his mustache.
I decided that it was impossible to sell it now and I kept it, it's a link with my father...And a very strong link with the mustache.
Find the Super Mary OH figurine! - OG at 6:00 p.m.
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