Quai de Brazza, 33100 Bordeaux, France

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Alligator Wine – Bettina Samson

Address Quai de Brazza
33100 Bordeaux
Opening hours Office and studio workshop open from monday to wednesday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Opening Thursday 16 May at 6.30pm featuring music and performances staged by EBABX

Free entry Wednesday through Sunday, from 1pm to 7pm (excluding bank holidays), with late-night opening on Thursdays until 9pm.

Both anthropomorphic and experimental, Bettina Samson’s work attempts to straddle time and space with her protean practice. Her pieces are inspired by historical anecdotes; excavating the origins of scientific discoveries, as well as both artisanal and industrial practices, through which she often ends up revealing the paradoxes of Modernity.

This survey exhibition presents a decade of work, including glass sculptures, ceramics, photographs, engraved glass and installation. Additionally, the artist has created new work for the occasion, a large-scale analogue photo, Silver Nuclear Dust IV, as well as four large ceramic sculptures.

This heterogeneous body of work is tied together by an ambitious choreography devised by the artist. The space is organised through graphic motifs and specifically crafted plinths inspired by the inscriptions of a young Shaker woman, Emily Babcock, dating back to 1843. After practicing mystical trances, members of the Shaker community would retranscribe their experiences, giving way to reams of obscure signs and symbols. These indecipherable forms often mirror the elaborate contortions of Samson’s sculptures and represent the artist’s perpetual effort to create work that plays on the tension between grounding and overflowing.

The inaugural exhibition at the new art spaces at Bordeaux’s Fabrique Pola, “Alligator Wine” presents this series of work in dialogue with a new in-situ installation, La Vase et Le Sel (Hoodoo Calliope) created by the artist in Bègles for the Art Commission for the Garonne de Bordeaux Métropole and will be unveiled on the 6 June 2019. The installation mirrors one of the exhibition’s key pieces Anima (Steam Whistles). However, while the earthenware sculpture’s Anima whistles have expressive but mute mouths, transcribing the anthropomorphic qualities of the Walt Disney whistles from the 1928 film Steam Boat Willy from which the work takes its formal cues, the large-scale La Vase et Le Sel is a functioning steam organ, an audio gas sculpture. Adorned with 38 bronze whistles, all perfectly attuned in their own way and placed atop a large metal frame, the sculpture occupies a small strip of land between the Astria Waste Treatment Plant and the Garonne River.

La Vase et Le Sel explicitly embodies the specific history of the site on which it sits; its slender form blending into the industrial backdrop, it is powered by steam emitted by the neighbouring Astria plant. According to the rhythm of the river tides, the whistles will play a number of original compositions inspired by polyphonic, experimental, African and Haitian music, as well as by the brass bands and Funeral Jazz of New Orleans. The organ emits the music of history, reconstituting a voice and reconstructing a repressed story; that of the distant shores of Louisiana, distilling a global cultural trajectory which implicates Bordeaux’s involvement in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade, the Haitian revolution and the redefinition of a cultural identity at the turn of the 19th century.

These leaps from abstract sculpture, to minimalist glassware pieces, to almost figurative installation works, find commonality in an immanent historical experience which comes to define Samson’s practice.

While the use of materials might be heterogeneous, they are tied together through their resistance to fixity. Raw ceramic appears as stone and rigid corporeal shapes appear elastic. Crevices and holes produce motifs within molten materials shifting as it cools. Borosilicate glass confuses continuity with improbably convoluted forms. The kinetics of the figure amalgamates with animism, while the darkness of a radioactive dust illuminates negatives in the absence of any exposure and accidents that occur in the creative process ultimately become elements in their own right. These points on the compass won’t necessarily have a discernible link between them for the artist creates disjointed relations, marries diverse elements, whether in terms of intellectual content behind the work or in the media she uses. These pieces bridge temporal or spatial chasms, allowing Samson to approach the social, the relational and the historical all at once

Jessica Saxby


(1) During the ceremonies of this ‘ecstatic’ millenarian movement, founded by Ann Lee which had its apogee in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States, Shaker followers experienced ecstasies in which they shake or move rhythmically (hence their nickname). Egalitarians and even feminists, with radical singularity, they preached the communality and celibacy. They are well known for their “minimalist” furniture.

​(2) La Fabrique Pola, home to artistic and cultural practices in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of France, can be found on the right bank of Bordeaux in a vast warehouse renovated by Nouvelle Agence Architects and was conceived of collectively. This new site and its exceptional setting opens a new horizon for the visiting public with a number of participative events. This new adventure at the Fabrique Pola starts at the beginning of May 2019 with an open house, before setting out its artistic intentions with a subtle and spectacular programming devised by the residents of the project as part of the Season Freedom, culminating on Friday, 13 September 2019 with further festivities.