contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / October 2021

Elyse Galiano


cup 18 cm x 39 cm x 10 cm, coffee pot 25 cm x 48 cm x 15 cm, porcelain tableware, natural hair

The sculptural installation “Conversation” by Elyse Galiano is a composition of a coffee pot and a cup, both with gold rim. A braided plait of black natural hair connects the two pieces of tableware. It seems as if the pigtail came out of the spout, meanders to the ground, ends up in the cup, and fills it with hair. Thus, the dark hair reminds coffee being filled from the pot into the cup, even though it defeats laws of gravitation.

At first glance and regarding the title of the oeuvre, it could be meant as a one-way conversation, where the communicator floods the recipient with information. However, on closer inspection of the weaving direction, it becomes evident that there are two orientations: one going out of the coffee pot and a second coming from the cup. Both meet in the curve as an untwisted strand of hair. Consequently, the two objects are sending information. The question remains, if something arrives at the opposite.

Beyond that, the material of the “conversation-thread” should attract our attention. It is natural hair of a certain length. In several cultures, long hair was and still is an expression of femininity. In her work, Elyse frequently uses natural hair to reflect on the female role, often with a glance at historic role expectations. Here, this dimension comes once more into play and has its specific expression in the braided plait, which is in many cases part of regional traditional costumes. There it stands for local patriotism and traditional femininity and with that for chastity and virtue. In terms of communication, the pigtail might underline a restrained form of conversation, where the women should rather listen than talk. This attitude is questioned by the context of Elyse’s obedient braid.

The ancient tableware reminds traditional coffee or tea parties of women. Even though the coffee pot and the dark “liquid” evoke coffee, the cup is by its form ambivalent and might be intended for coffee or tea. Thinking of the common reputation as gossip parties, one might understand why the communication direction of the pigtail is ambiguous: a group of disordered chattering women could be imagined. Due to a normally restricted communication, the here liberated women wanted to share their information regardless the needs or feelings of the others. Moreover, they were often enough more concurrent than friends.

However, the gold rim of the porcelain might give an allusion to upper-class women. Underlined by the choice of this tableware, Elyse refers to the traditional French “Salon de Conversation” in the 17th and 18th, but also until the beginning 20th century. Here met literate people from Bourgeoisie and Aristocracy, with the aim of an intellectual exchange. Frequently the discussions were held as verbal jousts in an elaborated language. Many of the most famous Salons were guided by women, which had as hosts a certain social and political influence. In this sense, the “conversation-thread” could be interpreted as a conversation in several directions.

Focussing on woman-dominated meetings, they could also give the possibility of positive exchange and support. Networks could arise, which might be expressed by the braided hair. Whereas the unplaited part of the pigtail could refer to the freedom of the individuals and their relations. Another indication for this liberty might be the overflowing hair in the cup and the self-acting braid from the coffee pot. Women could develop freely; surpass themselves and breaking new ground with the support of other women.


Elyse Galiano

Born in 1980 in Strasbourg, France, Elyse lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. After her education in applied arts in Strasbourg, she studied fine arts in Besançon, France, which she completed with the diploma DNSEP (level Master) in 2004. To extend her practical skills, she entered in the Atelier de Couture (tailoring studio) of Caroline in Ixelles, Belgium. During her studies, the artist frequented internships and artist residences. In particular, she made work placements at the Nouveau Théâtre in Besançon and the Opéra la Monnaie in Brussels, where she still occasionally assists in the making of decors and costumes.

These activities were guiding for Elyse’s artistic practice. Often, her installations evoke stage designs, where fabric plays an important role. Concurrently, she works as scenographer and costume designer for several theatres like the Théâtre de la Guimbarde, Charleroi, Belgium and the Lily & Compagnie, Tournai, Belgium. Her experience in tailoring are a good base for these tasks. Since 2006 arises a passion for embroidery, which is reflected in her creative outcome. Thereby, the thread is increasingly replaced by natural hair, like in our artwork of the month of March 2018.

Beyond that, Elyse processes natural hair and resembling materials in sculptural installations, like the series “de corps et d’esprit” and “de l’intime”. For monumental installations like “orphélia” or “macrale” she uses brass wire. Going along with the integration of hair, is an interest in the female history and the women’s place in society. An expression for this research, are the works in the artist’s first solo exhibition “Apolline, Constance et les autres…” (Spazio Testoni, Bologna, 25 November 2017 – 13 January 2018). There was the embroidery of the title giving series, the display portraits in natural hair (de corps et d’esprit), a brass wire installation and one room dedicated to female handiwork (ouvrage de dames). Like for the canvas hair embroidery, Elyse stitched texts from ancient manuals for female manners. Nevertheless, this time the dimensions are limited to handkerchiefs and the stitching is by “normal” threads.

With her sculptural installations, she was represented in many solo and group shows, mainly in France, Belgium and Italy. After the double personal exhibition “Fil rouge” with Donatella Lombardo at the gallery Contemporanea 2 in Florence (April 2018), the Milanese Manuel Zoia Gallery dedicated its booth to Elyse’s works at the BOOMING Contemporary Art Show in Bologna (January 2020). Here was our artwork of the month of October 2021 “Conversation” the first time on view.

Moreover, she created decors for festivals, gives workshops in embroidery and intervenes in schools (Mus-e asbl, Brussels). During her long-lasting activity at various theatres, she made textile features, stage designs and costumes for several productions. Her last interventions were the scenography for the plays “Alba” and “Rouge, fil rouge” for the Théâtre de la Guimbarde. Currently, Elyse works on the scenography and costumes for the staging “Lisières” at the same playhouse, which is scheduled for August 2022.