Et In Libertalia Ego — Un projet de Mathieu Briand


Mixed media

Et In Libertalia Ego
Un projet de Mathieu Briand

Past: February 19 → May 10, 2015

Starting in 2008, Mathieu Briand set up a temporary studio on a small island in the Channel of Mozambique (Madagascar). This is a sacred place, inhabited for generations by a Malgache family that agreed to allow Mathieu Briand to invite a number of artists* to create works in situ or send instructions for others to do so.

The project is called Et in Libertalia Ego, an allusion to the famous inscription in Nicolas Poussin’s painting Et in Arcadia Ego. The idea is to recreate Libertalia, the pirate’s utopia described in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724), whose origins are an ambiguous mix of fiction and reality.

The author’s name, Captain Johnson, may have been a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe.

Since 2012, la maison rouge has supported Mathieu Briand’s initiative and will present it in an exhibition running from February 19 to May 10, 2015. The show will then travel to Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in September 2015.

Episode 1


Back to Nature

In June 2008, I got an e-mail from my sister containing a photograph of an island I’d never heard of, taken from my aunt’s garden in Nosy Be (Madagascar). I decided to come see for myself as part of my own quest for Libertalia*.

When I arrived, I swam to the island. To my surprise, it was inhabited. Quite isolated, this very small island seemed to be home to a few dwellings and dense vegetation. I was greeted by young women and children who showed me around.

On the way, we met two men working in a banana grove. When we got back, an elderly man, known as «Papa» to everyone on the island, was waiting for us. A long discussion got underway. He informed me that he was the head of the family residing on the island and the chief of the island, not to mention prime minister to the prince of Nosy Be. He is also the custodian of traditions, in charge of communing with the spirits and presiding at rituals. There is a sacred tree on the island.

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Mike Nelson © Mathieu Briand

I asked if I could come back the next day with my video camera to interview them and they agreed.

«Papa» told me stories about his mother, how she had purchased the island from the French and planted banana trees, coffee trees and all sorts of edible plants to do business and be self-sufficient.

He told me that he was born on the island and had always lived there, as had his two sons and two daughters.

Throughout the year, the islanders go back and forth between their island and the fishing village on the main island, where they also have a house.

All kinds of stories circulate about the small island, the islanders, people thought to be buried there, those that had hoped to acquire it, or mines that it allegedly holds despite its tiny size.

I began to establish a relationship with one of the sons, Said. Brilliant at handling a pirogue, he took me around the island and its surroundings.

Every day, I went to the island, steadily strengthening my ties with the family.

Episode 2


By November 2008, I had a plan to follow in Captain Johnson’s footsteps and establish Libertalia.

However, I realized that carrying it out according to my original intentions was not feasible. I decided to adapt my project and asked «Papa» if he would agree to hold a ritual to ask the spirits to look favorably on our meeting. He did so, officially welcoming me to the island.

We held a three-day celebration during which a zebu was sacrificed by way of an offering. I shot videos and photographs of these events, which laid the groundwork for the work that I did later.

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L’atelier © Mathieu Briand

The next day, «Papa» called for me. He asked me to move to the island to help him and his family.

This fitted in with the purposes of the Defoe novel and marked the beginning of my project, Et in Libertalia Ego. I decided to build a rudimentary dwelling on the island to serve as a sort of studio* that they could rent in my absence and would help me further my project.

Episode 3


In March 2009, the Malgache government was overthrown in a coup d’état. Even so, I went back three times to keep my project going, adapting to overcome difficulties. First, I built a sturdy bungalow, a task that turned out to be long and complicated. As I came and went, I got the impression that the island was a mental space where I could experiment with art outside the usual studio environment or art channels (e.g. museums, art centers and public or private commissions).

I decided to invite other artists to share the experience. The new bungalow became my studio. The island represented territory that was at once physical and cerebral. I asked three artists (Thomas Hirschhorn, Pierre Huyghe and Damián Ortega) if they would send me instructions to create an art work or recreate an existing art work in a different environment (e.g. on the island).

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© Mathieu Briand

I selected works that were relevant to the project and could be made and installed using the resources available on the island (tools, materials and local know-how).

When these works were finally installed –unmarked and unnoticed — their only audience was the islanders. When I got back to France, I learned that Said had destroyed the works, seeing them as an emanation of black magic, and taken down a part of my studio.

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Thomas Hirschhorn © Mathieu Briand

One of my objectives — creating art works in an unfamiliar non-studio environment implying new constraints — was clearly met even if, paradoxically, it was validated by the destruction of the works themselves.

Artists invited by Mathieu Briand


Francis Alÿs 1959, lives and works in Mexico D.F. ,Mexico, since 1986

Grégory et Cyril Chapuisat 1972 and 1976, lives in Geneva, Switzerland

Sophie Dejode 1976, lives and work in Ardèche, France

Bertrand Lacombe 1974, lives and works in Haute-Savoie, France

Jacin Giordano 1978, lives and works in Easthampton, Massachusetts, United States

Thomas Hirschhorn 1957, lives and works in Paris

Koo Jeong-A 1967, lives and works in Paris, France

Pierre Huyghe 1962, lives and works in Paris, France, and in New York, United States

Gabriel Kuri 1970, lives and works between Mexico D. F., Mexico and Brussels, Belgium

Prue Lang 1972, lives and works in Paris, France

Richard Siegal 1968, lives and works in Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany

Juan Pablo Macias 1974, lives and works in Mexico D. F., Mexico

Mike Nelson 1967, lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Damian Ortega 1974, lives and works in Mexico D. F., Mexico

Rudy Riccioti 1952, lives and works between Bandol, Var, France, and Paris, France

Yvan Salomone 1957, lives and works in Saint-Malo, France

Gilles Mahé 1943-1999

  • Mathieu Briand, en dialogue avec Frédéric Bonnet Lecture Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 7 PM

    Dialogue between Mathieu Briand and Frédéric Bonnet.
    Reservation on
    Price : 9 euros full price and 6 euros, concessions

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10, bd. de la Bastille

75012 Paris

T. 01 40 01 08 81 — F. 01 40 01 08 83

Quai de la Rapée

Opening hours

Wednesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM
Late night on Thursday until 9 PM

Admission fee

Full rate €9.00 — Concessions €6.00

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The artist

  • Mathieu Briand