As the sun set beyond the High Line in New York last night, French multimedia artist Prune Nourry continued her healing process through her artistic process, raising a blowtorch to sticks of incense in the plaza outside the Standard hotel. She stood before her latest sculpture, The Amazon, a 13-foot concrete bust modeled after a First Century Roman marble of a wounded Amazon warrior, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nourry came across the work while battling breast cancer, and found inspiration in the passivity of the warrior despite its broken body and bloodied breast.
“She was wounded, but so calm,” Nourry says. “And I wanted to give some of that [calm] back to this sculpture.”
Nourry’s Amazon is bisected by hundreds of red incense sticks, an expression of the Chinese acupuncture that helped ease her pain throughout her treatment. And with assistants likewise armed with torches, the artist paid the healing forward, enveloping in perfumed smoke an audience packed with friends and family, including the French artist JR, actress Jennifer Lawrence, and director David O. Russell.
“I felt a lot of emotion,” Nourry tells us afterward. “To me, the process of making the sculpture has been catharsis, and having all my friends around and creating a ceremony—I would call that a rite of passage. When you heal and you are surrounded by the one you love, so it’s good to have this symbolic moment to thank everyone.”
Another longtime friend and collaborator, jazz artist Jon Batiste, opened Nourry’s performance, trumpeting a melodica like a one-man second line as he parted the clapping crowd lining Washington Street before settling down to a piano and performing a series of works from a forthcoming album which he wrote while visiting Nourry as she sculpted The Amazon in a Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse.
“She reached out to me a year ago,” Batiste recalls. “She was excited about the idea of doing something together because a lot of my work is about going into the public sphere and breaking down a performance anywhere. This intersected [with] what I’m all about.”
Still he wasn’t prepared for his own reaction to the sculpture. It was instantaneous, feeling haunted by the sculpture’s amber glass eyes, which make the warrior’s suffering present. “Prune really understands how to evoke emotion in a way that’s immediate and visceral,” Batiste says. “As a jazz musician, to play one note and to make somebody cry, it’s the equivalent of that, and the smoke enhances that in a physical way—it’s getting in your eye.”
Nourry and Batiste will return to the piece in September for a more intimate performance, in which she’ll shatter the warrior’s breast, exorcising the root of its pain. At the last moment Nourry decided not to do this Thursday night, seeing her action as an introduction to the next.
“I love the idea that the healing process is something that takes time,” she says. “So I didn’t want that to happen all at once.”
Prune Nourry’s “The Amazon” is on display through the summer at The Standard Plaza, 848 Washington Street, New York, New York.