Any artist’s main goal and driving force is creation. Creating life could be deemed the ultimate achievement. Sébastien Rien, a 27- year-old multidisciplinary artist who has been fascinated by reptiles and marine creatures for as long as he can remember, found a way to regroup his passion with his work as an artist. His current project, Sang Mêlé (literally translated as “blended blood”), sees him play God by crossbreeding colubrids in order to create new hybrids.

Photography Sarah Eechaut

Messing around with snakes is no innocent choice; such is the strength of mythology associated with them and the fear they seem to elicit in a vast majority of people. “There is a clear will to demystify the animal,” admits Rien, “but they’re also of an extreme beauty, colour and texture wise.” Working in collaboration with other breeders, Rien purchased several snakes, mostly red ones, and began experimenting three years ago. “You can predict the outcome of the colour and pattern, but there are no guarantees.”

One could obviously question the true artistic value of this project. After all, this could very well happen in nature. Yet the boundaries of artistic creation keep on being pushed, as technology, scientific research and biology merge into new forms of expression. Commonly referred to as BioArt, made popular in the late 90s when Eduardo Kac introduced Alba, the world’s first transgenic fluorescent rabbit, Sébastien’s work is more traditional in that he simply exploits accidents and genetic flukes. But the selection on top of that is key in differentiating his approach to that of a scientific researcher or a mere breeder. Sang Mêlé is a study on form and colour. “Just like a painter, I chose my colours by selecting certain individuals, and like the sculptor, my work operates in shapes as the snake is a three-dimensional object,” he explains. Sang Mêlé could there- fore very well earn its place within art history, even though having living creatures as a main medium definitely challenges its archetypes and the way people perceive art. If anything, the dichotomy between nature and human productions is one in which Rien does not believe, as he firmly stresses. “We often speak of nature as being something external to our productions but when you think of it, if we are products of nature, than our very own productions are those of nature too.”

Having worked on Sang Mêlé for three years, he lacks distance and results. His livestock currently counts about 18 specimens and he produced one baby in August, which sadly died a few weeks later. The product was a blend of four different species, and Sébastien is unsure as to the exact causes of this failure. The defunct one has now been recycled into another project. “It sounds sordid, but I’ve always kept all my carcasses in a freezer,” he says with a mischievous smile. Frozen into interesting shapes, his colubrids, boas and pythons have become sculptures, which he then photographs. Busy with countless other projects, such as his collective Phase 3 or Le Bestiaire – a line of silver pendants cast in the shape of small animals’ jaws, created in collaboration with jewellery designer Artamonoff – Sang Mêlé currently remains a non-profit side-enterprise (the artist can’t sell the products in order to keep the process going). It is also a never-ending one: “there will always be new ways of pushing the selection in other directions. It’s a work in movement, like life. Like the world.” And just like life, this project doesn’t have an ultimate goal, if only perhaps, achieving the creation of specimens that will be as far removed from their original forms.

Sébastien Rien’s photographs of frozen specimens will be displayed at the MAAC
Rue des Chartreux 26-28 Kartuizersstraat
1000 Brussels
From 27th May to 25th June
maac.be