9:30 AM (EDT)

Ersy Contogouris

Assistant professor, Université de Montréal

Deborah de Robertis


The Origin of the World and The Mirror of the Origin: Deborah de Robertis’ Activation of the Gustave Courbet Painting (in French) 

Deborah de Robertis presenting her work Miroir de l’origine (2014)
In 2014, the artist Deborah de Robertis performed The Mirror of the Origin in front of The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. Barefoot and wearing a short golden dress, she sat down before the painting, opened her legs, spread her lips with her fingers, then remained nearly still, looking straight ahead, for about six minutes. It is this performance that Ersy Contogouris and Deborah de Robertis will discuss. Contogouris will start by sharing some thoughts about how she believes de Robertis appropriates the painting, embodies it, even activates it, and makes us rethink the original work. This will be followed by a discussion period between Contogouris and de Robertis on the subject of this performance and, more broadly, on the artist’s career, her artistic practice, and the very personal and incisive manner in which she embodies canonical works.

Ersy Contogouris is an assistant professor in the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. Her research focuses on 18th and 19th century art, as well as on the history of caricature and graphic satire, which she studies through the lens of feminist and queer theories. She is interested in the history of the performance of the “statufied body” (attitudes, tableaux vivants, and others) from the 18th century to today. She is the author of Emma Hamilton and Late Eighteenth-Century European Art: Agency, Performance, and Representation (2018) and the guest co-editor, with Mélanie Boucher, of the issue “Stay Still: Past, Present, and Practice of the Tableau Vivant” published in the journal RACAR (2019). Contogouris/

An Italo-Luxembourgian artist born in 1984, Deborah de Robertis is a conceptual artist who primarily creates performances and videos, but also photographs in which she stages herself. She rethinks the models of art history in order to re-enact the “point of view of the feminine nude.” In this perspective, during her studies at the École de recherche graphique (ERG), she made several video-performances, notably Le modèle à la caméra [The model with the camera] (2008), the evocative title of which is a mise-en-abyme of her research subject. Since 2014, she has been working between Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg. In 2014, she exhibited her body with The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet at musée d’Orsay, during which she opened her genitals to exhibit what she defines as the “l’œil du sexe” [the eye of the genitals]. Responding to the accusation of sexual exhibitionism, the artist condemned the “censorship of the gaze.” Her performance Mirror of the Origin supports the hypothesis that the opening of her genitals symbolically exposes what she defines as being a “hole,” a “blind spot in the history of the gaze.” It is this performance that Ersy Contogouris and Deborah de Robertis will discuss.  Through her gesture she reverses the point of view on an artistic, political, and historical level, a position that the philosopher Geneviève Fraisse describes more broadly as a “looking body.”