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Artist Talk: Asser Saint-Val

Date: April 12, 2022

Time: 12:00 - 1:00 pm EST (Eastern Standard Time)

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About the Artist:

The biology of skin color, in a profound manner, has always captured my imagination - why it matters that my skin is dark or my hair is dark and kinky, for instance. These questions became pressing when I moved from Haiti to the US, and experienced racial discriminationfor the first time. I began researching neuromelanin, the pineal gland, consciousness, and expressed my findings in paintings. Thisinvestigation led me to examine many facets of my identity, spirituality and the realm of thought form. This fascination with neuromelanin springs from a desire to understand the profound nature of my identity.

Neuromelanin is a dark pigment secreted by the pineal gland, found in the center of the brain. René Descartes theorized that the pineal gland is, “the principal seat of the soul, and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.” Dr. Richard King posited, “On a philosophical plane, the pineal gland is the biological doorway through which the life force of African spirituality passes in moving from the spirit to the material realm.”  My paintings are quasi-figurative, by turns humorous and grotesque, and bring together ideas, people and incidents central to modern debates about neuromelanin. I use a blend of traditional art media, and a wide range of unconventional organic materials - coffee, chocolate, ginger, tea and flour among them - to convey the rich layers of neuromelanin. My pictures, objects, and environments are a surreal fantasia on loosely linked themes such as under-recognized African-American inventors, the politics of sexual desire, and the complex aesthetics, narratives and metaphors attached to neuromelanin. Painting felt limited for conveying these complex ideas. A need for fuller expression led me towards multi-sensory, interactive art installations. Through this medium, I could invite the viewer to participate.

My most recent installation, “The Philosopher’s Stone,” is a collaboration with Patty Suau (Designer), Nicole Combeau (performance artist), Adrienne Tabet (body painter), and Itzel Manon (Cellist), exploring this ancient myth. The Philosopher’s Stone is often described as a magical elixir which is impossible to find; metaphysically, the concept is a reference to the search for one’s soul. The installation consists of a helium sculpture, king-sized bed, binaural recording headphones, cacti, cello, aromas, black licorice, and performance. To immerse in the work, audiences lie on the bed while viewing an ambiguous sculpture, floating within arm’s-reach. Participants wear a pair of 3-D sound headphones and listen to a non-linear conversation in English, Spanish, French, and Creole, while experiencing thirteen different aromas and interacting with a disguised female deity. Meanwhile, live melodies on the cello fill the space.

My work seeks to stimulate questions about the self, reality, and imagination through a surreal experience that engages the senses. I encourage participants to tap into a hidden side of themselves, to activate their essence through rest and meditation. The spiritual nature of neuromelanin has the capacity to link us to a higher state - a universal consciousness that connects us as human beings. This new interdisciplinary work has expanded my own consciousness, socially and spiritually. Participants describe the impact of the installations as magical and transformative.