Based in Paris but raised in Normandy, photographer Romain Leblanc is fascinated by the place of myths and the sacred in contemporary society. His current exhibition is a lose interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ – with a slight switch; The famed table and its 13 seats is set up in nightclubs, with empty bottles of spirits, in kindergartens, with cookies and milk, in trailers – and there is no guest to be seen, as if the meal had just ended. “Absence is the best way to talk about human presence” said the artist. Dazed Digital chatted to Romain as he was setting up a real size table in the chapel, in the middle of the prints. We talked atheism, meals and Adam&Eve.
Dazed Digital: Why did The Last Supper painting inspire you?
Romain Leblanc: I’ve always been interested in classical painting, and this specific piece fascinated me – it’s theatrality, it’s texture—, but I was also intrigued by its impact today. From fashion shoots to car ads, to the Sopranos, its reproductions are endless. It is present in the Western world’s unconscious.
DD: But your reproduction is a little different though…
Romain Leblanc: Yes, I knew that by creating yet another identical version, I wouldn’t say anything new, it would just be repetitive and bland. So I thought it’d be more interesting to keep only the scenography and remove all human presence, and also remove it from a religious environment. The location, the places, are of course a very lose adaptation, but the 13 chairs and tables placed frontally remain. The empty glasses, spilled glasses at times, give the idea that the meal might just have ended. What better way to talk about human presence than by noticing its oppressing absence?
DD: Do you consider this a religious project?
Romain Leblanc: This moment depicted in the painting is a key point in Judeo-Christian culture, yes. But this is not what my project is about. I was raised Catholic but I’m an atheist. I’m interest in the contemporary place of myths and the sacred. Which is what a meal is: something universal, that cultures over the world have sacralized. It’s a moment of reunion, and in contrast, the photos make the tables’ emptiness chilling.
DD: A lot of your work is usually dedicated to shooting couples, right?
Romain Leblanc: Yes. My long-term project, ‘L’Echappée’, currently on show at the Maison des Arts d’Evreux, is a series of photos of couples, entirely naked, in natural landscapes. It was shot Estonia, and the idea was to strip couples bare, literally and figuratively. You see them eating, fucking, sleeping. I thought, what happens if you remove all urban packaging to a relationship and dump the pair in the middle of a barren land? It’s a bit of an Adam and Eve moment, a universal and timeless metaphor of love and relationships.
DD: And what’s the connection between the two?
Romain Leblanc: Their mythical power and their theatrality, but also the idea of tapping into a very familiar imagery, which everyone can somehow identify with.
‘Le Dernier Repas’ is on until December 11th 2011, Chapelle Saint-Julien, rue de l ’Esplanade Saint -Julien, Petit-Quevilly, Rouen, France