For Lucile Olympe Haute, a feminist reappropriation of the earth and nature goes hand-in-hand with a feminist reappropriation of the technologies that surround us. Interview with an artist, activist, teacher, researcher, cyberwitch, coder and specialist of web-to-print.
Makery: What in your background has influenced your current artistic and personal activities?
Lucile Olympe Haute: I grew up in the countryside, where I developed an interest in digital technology through my father, who was a computer technician. He was always tinkering with electronic equipment. He picked up all sorts of broken devices, and I watched as he fixed these machines. We had a Minitel and a computer very early on. In terms of maternal influences, there’s my grandmother, who got divorced in the 1950s, kept her farm and “didn’t get aother man”, as she put it. You have to consider this in the context of that period to appreciate her journey, the activism that it represented. I’m kind of a combination of the two, with on one side feminist political activism (although my grandmother never considered herself in those terms), and on the other side issues concerning our relationship to technologies. And finally, in both cases, the question of autonomy. That doesn’t mean being autonomous and self-sufficient in everything, but trying to develop one’s own tool and analyses, having a critical view.
Makery: What were your first artistic experiences?
L.O.H.: When I arrived in Paris, I discovered a whole world and a new vocabulary: noosphere, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Donna Haraway, texts collected by Annick Bureau and Nathalie Magnan. This led to all sorts of questions concerning digital identities, relationships between real/imaginary and virtual/actual, performing in these worlds, avatars…
I was already performing with digital tools – smartphones, video projections, avatars. But I was interested in that moment where the performance provokes an eruption, something that spills over. Today I would say that I’m trying to reach a “state of grace” but at the time I just talked about “eruption” and “overflow”. Digital technology predefines a lot of possibilities. Performing implies overflowing possibilities.
I was fascinated to see what digital technology was doing to us. Like the anthropologist Amber Case [watch her Ted Talk “We Are All Cyborgs Now”], I thought that from the moment that we use a smartphone, that we send e-mails, we are already cyborgs. This affects our perception of the world, our body postures, our social interactions. Case takes the “cyber” out of its science-fiction fantasy, which is sometimes pretty kitsch (such as the representation of technologies invading the body). It becomes commonplace, there’s nothing spectacular about it anymore. It’s everywhere in our existence. “Cyber” is just the world of humans transformed by human technologies.
Makery: You’ve also worked in Second Life and with avatars…
L.O.H.: That’s a bit of a caricatural pop fantasy too, because the 3D avatars of 2005-2010 weren’t very sophisticated. It’s a very primitive field, but there was something quite compelling about manipulating these rudimentary characters. I was interested in feeling and studying how life in these virtual worlds changes us as individuals. How we perform differently when coupled with this extension, which is of another materiality.
Makery: You also tackled digital ghosts…
L.O.H.: When you perform a character in these worlds, a sort of legend develops, it continues to exist beyond your presence. What we build exists through narration, fiction, being perceived by others. After leaving Second Life but continuing to work on avatars and identities, I collaborated with Silvie Mexico on Technological Ghost, a video poem that was shot and edited in 360°. This project made me realize the importance of the physical body, the sensory esthetic experience.
Makery: In parallel, you also focus on graphic design and publishing aspects. What’s the connection, and how did it come about?
L.O.H.: With live performances, documentation is always an issue. What is left afterwards? What medium do we use to document? These are editorial and formatting issues. Do I keep only comments, description and preparatory documents, staying in the text format, or do I also embrace the visual representation? That’s how I came to graphic design and publishing, both in print and on screen, from the very beginning.
Makery: How do all these activities relate to your Cyberwitch project?
L.O.H.: In 2017, we heard the word “witch” being used in new contexts, around the rise of #metoo. In parallel I discovered Reclaiming, a modern spirituality tradition that combines celebrating the Goddess with feminism and political activism for ecology. There are connections with Wicca (an American reappropriation in the early 1950s of traditional European witchcraft). Today the organization is focused on progressive social, political, environmental and economic activism. One of its activists is Starhawk, a Reclaiming witch whose writings have been translated into French. Emboldened by her translated books, many people in Europe decided to engage in this political and spiritual activism. They started a Facebook group, and I joined it right away. We practice in a group, and I’m also developing a personal spiritual approach.
Reclaiming is part of an ecofeminist and non-technological movement. The common discourse varies widely, but it basically states that there is oppression, domination and exploitation, that these come from White Men and are manifested against women, non-Whites and nature. The goal is to deconstruct these relationships of oppression, domination and exploitation, in order to foster more respectful relationships.
Makery: How does all this translate into concrete actions?
L.O.H.: I gathered four friends for whom the term “witch” has a particular resonance. With one of them, I worked on avatars and the fluid identity of “you are one thing, but you are another at the same time”. For her, “witches” are also computer and coding “wizards”; another friend sees herself in the figure of the witch as queer trans-feminist activist; the third friend identifies with the romantic neo-gothic image of the witch; the fourth associates witches with ecofeminism. I recognize myself aross this spectrum. Coming from performance, I wanted to do something with it. I set up some lights and framed some shots; afterward the practice is free and spontaneous. We’re not shooting a film or a documentary, nor it is a proper ritual (no clear intention is stated). The idea is to express and be the witch who is inside us.
Makery: Can you talk about the Cyberwitches’ Manifesto and the Cyberwitches fanzine?
L.O.H.: I wrote the Cyberwitches’ Manifesto because the images were no longer enough to explain the issues. This text invites people to think together about different types of political actions. Queer trans-feminist activists and ecofeminist witches aren’t necessarily geeks. Conversely, coders, like the ones at Labomedia, can be skeptical about me associating magic and technologies. This text is an invitation to think about all this together: technological emancipation, relationship with the living, spirituality, even practicing together.
The fanzine serves two purposes: to spread cyberfeminist references, things that I’m thinking about, and to be the pretext for initiating people to the web-to-print process, as the zine is produced during workshops. I’ve been studying web-to-print for the past five years. It was the logical continuation of my learning to optimize graphical interfaces for the small, medium and big screen. The A4 page format is just one more media query. These skills give me autonomy.
Makery: Can you also talk about your performed rituals?
L.O.H.: After writing the Cyberwitches’ Manifesto and discovering the tradition of Reclaiming, I wanted to step back a bit from these issues of technologies. So I started elaborating performances in the form of rituals. There was a Ritual for 201 potatoes, where I wrote a text that also told a story of colonization: how the potato is a goddess that we end up feeding to pigs.
The event curator, Hélène Gugenheim (visual artist and performer), and I later made an installation called Terre Commune (“Common Earth”): a mound of soil to which the general public was invited to contribute their own soil. The ritual was based on a specific activation protocol, according to the Wicca calendar. At the height of the pandemic, we were inviting the public to put things into the earth, to spit into the soil and mix it all up. This energetically charged soil was brought into the forest where it stayed for six months. In spring, we went back to plant seeds in it.
After the Cyberwitches’ Manifesto was exhibited at HMKV in Dortmund for Technoshamanism, commissioned by Inke Arns, I was invited to the Langenhagen art center. There I made Protection Ritual for Beltane (with Waves and Gong). Beltane is a Gaelic festival situated between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, where traditionally people got ready to lead the cattle into the fields. For me it was a ritual with a gong, projected video, text read aloud, something written for the sound installation that was exhibited in the art center for people to play with. It was an invitation to consider things that we usually don’t notice, a way of performing with all this symbolic matter charged with spirituality, all with a tilted gaze.
Makery: You’ve come full circle with your work on Kombucha, which is no stranger to the idea of the Cyborg…
L.O.H.: I presented my work on Kombucha at the St Etienne Design Biennale at Les Limbes art space. So yes, we loop back to the Cyborg. In this exhibition there was the Manifesto, two videos, a gong and live Kombucha with its cellulose (Cosmic Talismans). The Kombucha fermentation chamber was also a meditation space. Visitors were guided by a voice that invited them to think of themselves as symbiotic beings with other life forms, in us, on us, dermis, epidermis, mucous, yeast and bacteria in our intestines… but also, and this is very important to me, to think of ourselves as symbiotic beings with the technologies that we use every day, our profiles or avatars on various websites and platforms, the electronic artifacts that we use as our devices. We are this improper, labile and heterogenous symbiotic aggregate.
Lucile Olympe Haute’s website
Maxence Grugier is the Chronicler-in-residence of Rewilding Cultures, a project co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.