Deep Sea

Surface Gallery, Nottingham, 2016

Installation, overall view

Photography credits Gavin Conwill Photography

Deep Sea was the culmination of a three-week residency, which was awarded to Céline Siani Djiakoua as the Surface Gallery prize for the Nottingham Castle Open 2015. It was a show concerned with the migrant crisis, imperialism and patriarchal oppression. Using large scale drawings and ink paintings, tinted fabric and a sound installation playing unsettling noises of sea creatures, the exhibition evoked the struggles of opposing feminine and masculine forces at work within the world. The overwhelming presence of the colour blue reminded of the deep seas and the fluid and sensual qualities of water. It was a show to be experienced both sensually and intellectually.

The exhibition made references to a text from the feminist French philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray "Speaking of immemorial waters" , in which the feminine genre is represented in terms of the metaphor of the sea and is in dialogue with Nietzche, who embodies certain negative aspects of the masculine. Her writing is part of the 'ecriture feminine' - a form of literature which seeks to recover the repressed feminine, the unacknowledged body, and to give them a place within language. 

The figure of the mermaid, a large scale drawing on the wall, played as a personification of the sea as described as in Irigaray's Marine Lover - the sea represents the feminine as oppressed by patriarchy - the over-exploited earth and oppressed peoples. A series of large scale ink drawings were hanging from the ceiling, over which an accumulation of tracing paper cut outs of silhouettes was added, the whole installation giving the viewer a sense of looking above from within the water and seeing drowning figures. Small graffiti drawings on the wall were giving a more intimate, diary-like view of the battle, abuse and exploitation of the women's body.


Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou were also used to reinforce the multiple themes. The images were rearranged to tell a story of colonisation and domination of the "savages", which could be seen as a parallel with the exploration of, the unknown bottom of the sea and the fear of and fight against the sea creatures.

Finally, two tracing paper pieces, placed apart from each other, displayed circular cut outs of a couple embracing and a view of the Pangaea, offering the idea of reconciliation as going back to a state of harmony and balance -  purifying the masculine energy of its aggressive patriarchal quality.


Sound piece, extract


Deep Sea Sound Piece - Extract
00:00 / 00:00

Reading of Luce Irigaray

Voice : Céline Siani Djiakoua

Editing :  Ioney Smallhorne (commisioned) 

Heading 2

Installation, overall view

Paint and felt tip pen on the wall, 5 x 3 m

All following extracts are from "Speaking of immemorial waters" in Marine lover of Friedrich Nietzsche by Luce Irigaray.

"Let me go. Yes, let me go onward. Beyond the place of no return. Either you seize hold of me or you throw me away, but always according to your own whim of the moment. I am good or bad according to your latest good or evil. Muse or fallen angel to suit the needs of your most recent motion.

And heaven or earth, rock or air, foothold or abyss, midday or midnight, according to the day that tolls for you. And I am broken by all these to-ings and fro-ings. As weary of hope as of despair - since both amount to the same.

Are you waiting for me to scream out so loudly in distress that the wall of your deafness is broken down? For me to call you out farther than the farthest recesses you frequent? Out of your circle?

But isn't that your game: ceaselessly to bring the outside inward? To have no outside that you have not put there yourself? My scream would then merely be the sign of your recall."

Large scale drawing on the wall, details

Small scale drawings on the wall, pencil, details

Manipulated black and white prints of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou.

"Thus, when finally you allow her to speak, it is only to bring about - your perspective, your art, your time, your will. The last pattern of your being that she must still reproduce or mimic. And this takes her away from her surfaces, her depths. Her face, her lips, her world of harmony, her tuneful flow mastered by your creation. All these are veiled or bent to suit your viewpoint. She is cut off from herself in this way in order to join in your game. Becoming speech in your mouth, a stranger in her own body. As motionless as you can wish, she speaks the "yes" dictated to her by your latest movement, your latest will, your final plastic necessity. Her song accompanies and celebrates the latest work your music has paused at."

"For isn't that the way the State begins - with war between men alone ? The State, that cold monster that claims to be the people and, over the heads of the herds, hangs a belief in love and the sword of desire. The State that speaks of good and evil in a single language and, in that one language, decrees only lies. For there is no common language that speaks the truth. And the State has stolen his language from each individual and then mixed them all up in one death wish."

"Already those sea lovers have pulled out thousands of such fish. And it is their sadness and their triumph that they can still pull death out of her over and over again. Will they ever get to the bottom ? And determined to force that enigma, they continue to return to the sea, hoping to take her last fish.

But it may be that wholly (toute entière) she is not yet theirs. that her mystery remains whole. Has yet to appear to them. Because her ultimate depth does not return to the light of the day. And the voices of her abysses is not to be folded and gathered up into a single thought. Rather it (elle) will bring down every sail chartered, if it makes itself heard."

Tracing paper, cut out and collage 1 x  3 m

"Arrive at your skin and say to you : come back this way once more, and heedless of the membrane enveloping us, let us embrace once more. And instead of a tearing, let it be a return to something that has never taken place. The embrace of the earth and air and fire and water, which have never been wed. Forget the knife-cuts, the chalkline partitions. Forget the appropriations at frontiers that belong to no one and are marked by arbitrarily solid lines that risk the abyss at every moment. The forfeit of the will,the insecurity of the debt, the death of the gods, the end of being."

© Copyright Céline Siani Djiakoua

© 2021 by Céline Siani Djiakoua

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