Questions & answers
Christophe Rey / Anne Emmanuelle Marpeau

How did you come to start making ex-votos?

— As a child I was very close to my grandfather. He was a man of the sea who fished for lobster in the Raz du Sein. Before he lost his leg and he had his wooden one, he was in the lifeboat crew. He almost never spoke. You could say that I put into my boxes all the stories he never told.
Twenty five years ago I decided to come back to Audierne, in Finistère, where he lived. I wanted to live and work without being dependent on anyone.

What materials do you use?

— Wood, cotton, tissue, paper. The same things they would have used to make ships in bottles.

Your work is highly detailed, how long does it take you to make an ex-voto?

— The time is of no importance. The only thing that matters is being true to what we feel. There are things that have to be said.

You travel abroad to discover new maritime cultures. What role do these trips have in your work?

— Certainly there are the trips, the life at sea, the long hours along the coast. But my life, it is working in the studio. Here everything flows naturally. I do not look for inspiration, I have it already? I know what I need to do. Here has nothing to do with happiness, but there is something of harmony.

In the most dreamlike of your boxes, life and death rub shoulders….

— “Sea-folk live with danger.”

The work of men at sea was and is a harsh, daily struggle. Man, because he plinges into the dark depths, rises also to the gates of heaven. Sometimes after a strom, a powerful wind will all at one clear the sky. Nothing can compare to the intense pleasure of being at the seathen. Holding your breath as a boat laden with hope is launched, being in the peacefulness of a sure anchorage, waiting for the tide to change, raising your hand in the wind toward the black-backed gull that accompanies you.
The fleeting moments make the ephemeral eternal. They are the flux and reflux, the perpetrual alternating of life and death.
Over time, what remains of life is it poetic dimension.
We can never forget the stories of those whose lives are tied to the sea, of those for whom the sea is their destinity, indeed their fate. The presence of the sea is inexorable. I hope these tales will be as a liturgy, pure, fervent and grave, that they will say some of the mystery of our existence.

Anne Emmanuelle Marpeau
catalogue d’exposition « Such is a sailor’s fortune »
Dowling-Walsh gallery, 2010.

Translated by Tony Baker, and L. Davis Hammond for the Catalog 2013/ Galerie Doyen, Vannes.