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Dance, Sculpture and TikTok: Gabriel Levie Talks Being an In-Person Artist in an On-Line World
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N: Hey Gabriel, it's awesome to have you here! Could you share a bit about your background and what led you to pursue dance and performance? What sparked your interest in the beginning?

G: Hi! Thank you for contacting me. I'm Gabriel Levie, I am 22 years old and I grew up in the south suburb of Paris. I started dancing at 7 with modern jazz and hip hop until the end of elementary school while doing a lot of gymnastics and circus.

Then I joined the Conservatory of Dance of Châtillon at 11 until I was 20, where I was trained in ballet and contemporary dance.

I entered the les Arts Décoratifs school of Paris right after graduating from high school, where I started mixing my plastic work with my movement practice. Today I am doing a Master's degree while working as a performer for the company Ethic Angels under artist Flora Bouteille. I also perform for other creatives in art or fashion.

N: When it comes to your practice, how would you describe the relationship between your performance work and your sculptures? Are your sculptures a separate entity, or would you say they are an extension of your exploration into human movement?

G: All my pieces start with a drawing, a motionless image composed of characters more or less human and a landscape. No dimension, very flat, in profile. I think of my practice as one cohesive piece, so yes, I will say that the sculptures are an extension of my body and vice versa.

I like to say that I am constantly translating an object into a movement, a movement into a sculpture, an animal movement into a human one.

I like to explore the notion of replicas, the idea of "fake"... I also like playing with the scale of objects.

N: I would love to hear your thoughts on the current state of the art world. On one hand, we have this growing focus on digital experiences, digital art, and the Metaverse, some calling it "the future of art". But at the same time, I think the pandemic has really highlighted how ultimately humans are social animals. As an artist whose work is more "in real life" than digital, what are your thoughts on this dichotomy? Where do you see the evolution of art heading?

G: Maybe the "craft" aspect of my sculptures will disappear at some point to welcome more digital mediums, but to me, the presence of bodies is essential. I feel it's the only way I can have access to an unfiltered and natural reaction from the viewers.

One body performing in front of an audience full of bodies.. I think it's easier to have a response in that way. Bodies don't lie.

My work is very illustrative and almost a sci-fi narration, but I want people to experience it in real life, in a real space.
I love a live show!

N: On the flip side, technology and algorithms have a profound influence on how we perceive and appreciate art, bringing certain mediums into the collective consciousness. Take TikTok, for instance. Despite 15-second dance challenges being somewhat unrelated to the "high art" of dance per se, TikTok has catapulted choreography and dance into the mainstream. Is this something discussed in the dance community? Have you noticed a surge of interest in dance as a result? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

G: Last year I was in Barcelona working with Lasadcum for the show "Aclucalls". It's basically a show with a traditional dance format, in a theater, but it's about the internet. "What it is to dance on the internet? ". It references our digital experiences, but portrayed on a stage with moving bodies. My experience in this dance project was a turning point for me. When I incorporate references in my work now I don't discriminate drawing from a platform TikTok, because I more concerned with the impact it could have on the piece rather than the origin of the concept.

I think of my TikTok feed like literal food, that can be poisoned sometimes, but it's a library of movements, shapes, and subjects.

I feel I had to learn how to domesticate this library to make it special.

N: I also would love to talk about fashion and your modeling specifically. We seem to be moving away from bland, apathetic, stone-faced modeling and embracing a more theatrical, personality-filled approach reminiscent of the '90s. Does fashion, or your modeling specifically, seep into your art practice or influence it in any way?

G: I am used to working with my image, which facilitates my stage presence and teaches me to be shameless, but I see modelling simply as a job. For the moment, not very impactful on my practice, which is good, I think. I prefer to let my "inner clown" speak in my art rather than in a modeling project.

But I think I like to play with the idea of beauty through my art. I used to wear a lot of latex deformed masks, second skins, and developed a range of different hybrid creatures.

N: I'd love to hear about a project that holds a special place in your heart. Could you share one that you're particularly proud of? Paint us a picture and tell us the story behind it.

G: I can talk about my last personal project, "Lower Body Playpen."
On a floor covered with puzzle-shaped carpets, four bodies – well, two, but one is cut in half and not really real – on a puzzle-shaped carpet, there are two sculptures:

Joints 1: legs covered with jeans printed leggings and wearing my last ballet shoes; the butt is up, the legs are folded.

Joints 2: the upper body part, my face reproduced in silicone, just like my hands which seem to disappear in the floor, as well as my hips on Joints 1. Both sculptures are dotted with little white demispheres, placed at every articulation of these two separated body parts. The other bodies are integral because they're those of the performers Dima Emelianenko and myself.

Dima is wearing a printed bodysuit from head to toes with fragments of old projects of mine on it, mixed with new obsessions, looking like a mind map. I am wearing a layered costume, very slim-fit, with the same white demispheres of the sculptures placed under my tights. In this picture, we evolve with a dance sequence with a very limited and specific range of movements.

We move as if we are the sculptures, freezing in the same positions sometimes, giving the viewers a feeling of alive fossils. I am working on the idea of domesticated bodies, questioning what it is to show a body today.

I like a body in a prowess moment or in a competition context. "Lower Body Playpen" is the door to my next performance, to the sport event, the competition. It's a warm-up; that's why we are on the floor. The freezing positions are a sort of rehearsal of a performative action that will be judged. We are training in our playpen, preparing for the next step with fake representations and replicas of real things, like toys.

All images courtesy of Gabriel Levie

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