Louise in China A 90-minute documentary movie. By Yves Bourget. With Michèle Clément and Xuefeng Chen.
Louise Labé was a poet who lived in Lyon, in the XVI° century. She came from a modest background and was the daughter of a ropemaker. She would later be nicknamed “La Belle Cordière”, “The beautiful Ropemaker”. When Louise was born, in 1524, the Renaissance movement, which spread from Florence to Paris, was reaching Lyon and flooded the city with cultural, artistic and commercial wealth. Lyon was prosperous and welcomed. No less than four fairs each year ! Bankers, Florentines and Germans settled there – Lyon was one a capital for book printing – artists, poets, musicians, painters… cames and lived there.
The economic development which followed this cultural vitality benefited craftsmen, like Louise’s father. The family business flourished. Louise was one of the first women of her family to be freed from the constraints of work and maternal tasks. She had time to learn by herself, especially in the only cultural area opened to women, the printing workshop area of her neighbourhood. The young girl devoted herself to creation and poetry and never had any children. She was the first woman to be published during her lifetime. She contributed a work of quality to literature, a work characterized by a new and liberating voice, especially for women, since she had freed herself from her modest origins. “The first feminist” is an other nickname of Louise.
Xuefeng, known as “Xue” (Shuey) is a Chinese artist who has been living in Lyon for twenty years.
Xue was born in 1976 in Yunnan, at an altitude of 2000 meters, in a shamanic community where she spent her childhood. As a child, Xue runs barefoot after chickens and hens or across lotus fields, observes insects and wild animals, enters into dialogues with nature, forests and high up lakes. And Xue draws. She draws on piece of cardboard as paper is scarce.
At the time, China is openings up to the outside world, society is changing fast. Xue attends high school, receives drawing lessons. In high school, a painting teacher, moved by Xue’s talent, takes her under his wing and steers her towards Yunnan’s arts. Her talent provides her with scholarships and allows her to join the prestigious traditional painting academy of Hangzhou. Thereafter, Xue specializes in contemporary art and manages to go study in Berlin, and afterwards at the “Ecole Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs” in Strasbourg. She settles permanently in France during the 2000s. From Lyon, Xue develops a career as an international contemporary artist.
In 2017, Xuefeng Chen, Michèle Clement (specialist of the sixteenth century) and myself produced a radio documentary for France Culture. Entitled “Louise Labé, a Yunnan artist”, it compared Louise Labé’s life to Xue’s artistic process, since both women had in common their moving up and down the social ladder in order to be recognized as artists. Their humble origins enrich both their works. Each artist’s life sheds light upon the other’s, each woman holds up a mirror to the other. Space and time, though separating them, can reveal the truth of human condition, as sources of creation.
To extend this work, we are currently developing a film project. The three of us are going to go in China. We intend to explore Xue’s journey while she guides us to the places where she spent her childhood, from the village where she was born to the painting academy in Hang Zhou, near Shanghai. We would like to meet the people who accompanied her on her human and artistic journey : her family, her friends, her schoolmates in high school, her fellow students from the art college, her mentors and teachers. The motive for this trip is Louise Labé. How can a woman, from modest origins, living in the XVI° century, create such a beautiful, powerful and high-quality work ? Searching answers to this question, the movie will explore the mystery of art. What are the principles operating in an artistic creation ? What about their universality ?
We intend to talk about Louise Labé to the people we are going to meet there : the villagers from Yunnan, the students, the art teachers. With the support of the Aubusson tapestries, Xue created tapestry works about Louise Labé. We would like to punctuate our tour in China with exhibitions of this work, which tells the story of this poetess, who was such a social and artistic phenomenon. With this
story as a starting point, we hope to engage into dialogues about Louise Labé, the principles of creation, their connexions with the human condition. These conversations may sometimes result in artistic productions made by the students, teacher or artists that we’ll have met.
In February and March 2018, Xue and I made a first trip to China, following the footsteps of Xue’s life and art, in order to research locations, make preparatory interviews with the characters of the movie which will lead us to the writing of this 90-minute documentary.