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Marie Hervé was nominated by Der Greif to join FUTURES in 2023. We caught up with her to discuss her latest achievements and to delve deep into her selected work, "The Island on the Island". The project is a reinterpretation of a collection of family archives. Comprising several generations of sailors who have documented their sea crossings through photography, the collection depicts a journey around the Mediterranean area and the Atlantic Ocean, without dates or geographical indications. Using these documents as a basis for visual research, this new body of work explores the construction of family myths, their transmission, and the methods of preservation. It proposes memory as an open history, shaped randomly by successive archiving.
Der Greif: Hi Marie! Could you please tell us about your personal and professional background to begin with?
Hi! First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss my work. My background is quite diverse: I started as a writer and philosophy student, and later transitioned to photography when I enrolled in the Ecole de la photographie d'Arles. During my time there, I quickly realized that exhibiting photographs on walls wasn't really my thing. Instead, I began printing images on paper, creating zines and small books. Since then, I have worked as a photo-book-maker, blending images, text, and installations.
Being born in Marseille, France, into a family of sailors, I have always had a strong connection to the Mediterranean region. My research initially stemmed from my personal interpretation of family archives and the stories I heard as a child. I started exploring the writing of history and the politics of conservation, examining the various ways in which a territory is defined through personal narratives and archives. Essentially, I discovered that the Mediterranean is far from a fixed entity; rather, it is an ever-evolving collective invention shaped by its own myths, colonial issues, laws of the sea, and blurred borders. Over the past 5 years, I have traveled extensively throughout the region to construct a parallel geography.
Der Greif: You were nominated as a FUTURES talent of 2023. Can you talk about what this meant for you?
I was honored to be nominated among incredibly talented artists, and I thank Der Greif for this amazing opportunity. In these strange times of Covid, it is so important to be part of a community of art workers, and I was happy to connect with some of them and discuss our work. I also feel that being considered an "emerging" artist or being "young" in general is challenging in many ways, mainly because the system does not always recognize young artists as actual workers. In that regard, projects like FUTURES helped me acknowledge the value and importance of what I do.
Der Greif: What have you been working on lately?
I am currently developing a duo project with fellow artist Elsa Martinez, and we will continue our journey around the Mediterranean. I am also working on a series of publications with my publishing house MYTO Publishing (co-founded with artist Clémence Elman and Siouzie Albiach) for the year to come. Recently, I have also been working a lot on my last project in Palestine, in the frame of Soil Futures Residency exchange at Riwaq (Ramallah, Palestine). A book is in the making, and I am waiting for the last prints to be ready–it should be out very soon, and it is the most important thing for me at the moment, especially given the ongoing atrocities in Gaza.
Der Greif: Could you unveil the story behind your project “The Island on the Island,” which was selected for FUTURES?
At the beginning, this project was born as a sort of tribute to my grandparents, who kept a collection of photographs in the family house. Coming from a generation of sailors, the images were all made of abstract waves and watery landscapes - often quite frightening or mysterious - that opened the possibility of creating an imaginary geography. I started to question my view of that area, and at some point, I needed to go and see things for myself. The title "The Island on the Island" was a way to evoke the complexity of what Predrag Matvejevitch called ‘mediterraneanity,’ which means not being Mediterranean but becoming Mediterranean: the realization that there is no such thing as one "Mediterranean identity" or history, but instead a constellation of voices colliding - islands, on islands, on islands.
Der Greif: Can you expand on the themes that your photography explores? Perhaps you can tell us more about your interest in visual documents and narratives and what value they still have in contemporary image-society.
I think that the word value is exactly what led me to archives in the first place, and images considered as documents or even proofs. This is an old debate that has been going on since the invention of photography, and I felt like this ambiguity still existed in the various uses of images in the "contemporary" or the "postmodern" era. My idea was that there are infinite possibilities of using a single image, and that it works as a ruin - it has nothing to "tell" other than its own fragmentary existence: the image opens the possibility of making them "say something" or invent something, in a fill-in-the-blank kind of archeological game. There is no value and meaning per se, and this may vary from one viewer to another, from one culture to another, and so on. Images can either become a precious instrument or a tool of violence and marginalization. So this is all about the production of value and the notion of truth and falsehood in visual production. What comes with that idea is the fact that museums, institutions, and the art market have a responsibility in building narratives and producing knowledge through artifacts that include photography; and there is still a long way to go when we look at the Western idea of valorization. That is why the Mediterranean works as a troublemaker in its openness and resistance to fixed definitions, allowing me to reimagine what the function of images could be when documenting this chameleonic territory.