Lecture & Artwork by Caroline Gueye

Le Langage des Objets: Restitution de résidence

This lecture was held on the occasion of the TALKING OBJECTS LAB event «Le Langage des Objets» by artist Caroline Gueye at Musée Theodore Monod, Dakar, Dec 4, 2021.


What is an object?

The encyclopedia universalis gives the following definitions: 
- a concrete thing that can be seen or touched
- a solid thing that is assigned to a specific use
- a subject, which presents itself to thought ("object of reflection") - which is the cause or motive ("to be an object of curiosity") - goal of an action, of an effort, of a desire, of a will
- by extension, the substance, the theme, the subject of an action  

These definitions from the encyclopedia universalis perfectly describe the work done by Viyé Diba, his exploration of forms, his practice of knowing natural, raw, organic materials, ... strategies of mediation and visualization of historical and contemporary heritages.

Another definition found is that an object is a "tangible and visible entity; concrete thing that produces shadow."


Seeing the objects

But how do we see these objects, to begin with. Those objects that would be invisible without light. If we are in a room lit by an artificial light: a lamp, and we turn off the light, then we are in the dark. We don't see anything anymore. Why is that? Because we are not luminous objects. In fact, almost everything around us is non-luminous (tables, chairs, ...). On the contrary, light bulbs, the sun, the stars are luminous objects. The reason why we can see the non-luminous objects around us is the reflection of light. For example, the moon is non-luminous, but we see it because of the reflection of the sun. The sun is a luminous entity which produces its own light thanks to nuclear reactions which take place in its core. It was first thanks to the light of the sun that we could be created, and then see the objects that surround us. It is thanks to this light that the Neanderthal man, 80 000 years ago, with the help of a flint and a piece of tinder, domesticated fire. And one thing leading to another, it is thanks to this that we have arrived at the ancient statues that are exhibited in the Musée Theodore Monod. Thanks to the light.

A whole history permeates the objects, not only the history that we know and that we want to communicate well – on the message that the objects transmit, their manufacture, their journey –, but the intrinsic history of these objects.

The wood in which they are conceived, or the metal or other material coming from the earth. We all come from stardust, including these objects. Since the 90's Viyé Diba has been in dialogue with the objects of the collection of the Musée Théodore Monod. This residency is in fact not the first time he has established this type of dialogue. At that time he decided on four working principles: the role of the material in the final result, the rules of composition, verticality and the question of rhythm. He created his concept from his analysis of these works.


Working with Viyé Diba


My work on the artwork that Viyé Diba realized in the frame of the residency, in addition to the exchanges with him, was a video and photographic documentation of the working process. Indeed, his concept was based on the details, the graphics of the object chosen in the collection of the Musée Théodore Monod.

I used microscopic photography to take pictures. This type of photography consists in fact of a very simple way to realize a microscope enlargement with a smartphone and a magnifying glass. Indeed, when you use only the zoom of the smartphone too close to the object, the image is completely blurred. With the help of the magnifying glass and the zoom you get an enlarged image like a microscope, a binocular or a macro lens. This work shows the details of the structures, and how sophisticated our heritage is. We realize how essential these details are for the final result. Isn't it said that the devil is in the details? The study of the details also makes it possible to realize that the role of the material is essential. The medium contributes to the purpose of the work.

And that, according to Viyé Diba, is very African. And I quote: "If you see how we make wood, we attack it, we dig, we make holes, the wood reacts, and this reaction is part of the final language of the work. All this aggression participates in the expression, participates in the final aesthetic result. The material participates in the definition of the work" and that, according to Viyé Diba, is very important.


The language of objects

Viyé Diba says that objects speak, have memories, ... and that they fall into disuse. The contemporary artist, I quote, “becomes the mediator to create a bridge between these objects and the population that is interested in them”. And thus there would be object:

- the 1st language is that of the materials,

- the 2nd language that of the forms,

- the 3rd language that of the museum object, its history,

- the 4th language that of the artist who creates a new narrative from the analysis of these objects,

- and finally, the language of the visitor and his reception of the contemporary work

- as well as that of the museum artwork.


Would there be a communion of languages?

Viyé Diba thinks that creation is a compromise between the material, the medium and the human sensitivity. One cannot create beyond the material. He says that one must first understand wood to be able to work with it. That metal is something else, fabric is something else, each material has a certain number of languages that must be understood and worked with, and that is why he says that objects speak. Viyé Diba's work is a bridge between the visitor and the museum work. He says that our relationship with the aesthetic is functional and spiritual and that it is possible to create a new aesthetic.


Development, modernization, recreated matter

In his work, Viyé also makes a distinction between development and modernization. For Viyé Diba, development does not mean modernization in the absolute. Modernization can be imported but development is created. We are in a logic of building modernization not development. The development would be an answer to our needs. He thinks that the Africans were developed in relation to their needs. And he established a reflection on the reasons of our “underdevelopment” that I will let him evolve.

Based on these paradigms, should modernity be seen as a return to our identity? Would an awareness of our reality be achieved through the way objects are made? Should we think according to the logic of modernization, rather than a logic of development, to be able to meet our real needs?

The process of Viyé Diba consists in a passage between the material which exists and the recreated material. He creates a new material, a textile using natural elements: from fibers to dye. His work not only reminds us of these ancestral and natural materials that were used daily to wash, such as bags, fabrics and which fall into disuse in favor of electric brushes for the body, fabrics made in China, plastic bags and other synthetic processes. In these elements that intertwine in his process, there is this idea of weft. He will reconstruct from the wefts a new fabric and crumple it, in order to create his material structure. He worked with tailors and carpenters to realize his work, of whom he says that they are people who experience the materials, who give the materials their language, these materials do speak. For him, this is very important.



Viyé tests strategies of mediation and visualization of historical and contemporary heritages. He asks questions about people who want to build Africa, about questions of identity that come up in the current context of global pandemic. He thinks that people go into the past, into their own history, to look for elements of the future. According to him, this is what is at stake. During this residency in the framework of "Talking Objects Lab", this focus on contemporary art with ancient heritage would have as its mission, and here I quote Malick: "to challenge society, so that it learns to reread the past through the present and the artists. Here the work of the artist will be simply the work of a mediator. A mediator to speak about an old heritage that people would apprehend better, through new windows, new readings, a new glance ".

Images documenting the process and evolution of Viyé Diba's work by Caroline Gueye.

Viyé Diba @Musée Theodore Monod, 2021, by Caroline Gueye
Viyé Diba @Musée Theodore Monod, 2021, by Caroline Gueye
Viyé Diba @Musée Theodore Monod, 2021, by Caroline Gueye
Viyé Diba @Musée Theodore Monod, 2021, by Caroline Gueye
Viyé Diba @Musée Theodore Monod, 2021, by Caroline Gueye