The Silent Revolution
Edwarda emerged from the singular desire of a 25-year-old girl, Sam Guelimi, longing to express a hushed sensitivity. A missing button, a lost glove, a silk ribbon all came to embody silent eroticism.
Inspired by George Bataille’s novel Madame Edwarda, where the author explores the contradictory, sometimes-destructive nature of sexuality, Guelimi too seeks its constant ambivalence and porousness.
Today the founder, who is also the creative director, is allowing her personal tastes and lustful memories to guide her – moments of her past, a line of a book, or an inch of a painting find themselves amplified and sublimated throughout the issues.
Far from a news-based editorial structure, Edwarda offers texts by authors (dead or alive) and discussions between philosophers; the photo shoots resemble personal diaries following various women into intimacy, some snapshot style, some more theatrical.
Currently celebrating its second anniversary, Edwarda has also published books of photos and has held exhibitions in Paris.
If Bataille described Madame Edwarda as the “lustful key to internal life”, this modern-day interpretation is certainly true of Sam’s concealed existence.
Interview by Alice Pfeiffer.
Portrait by Sébastien Agnetti.
“The images are, to me, fragments of stories. You chose to enter at a specific moment, not before, not after.”
Hello Sam, how did you end up where you are today?
I was simply allergic to university, to the obligatory lectures, and the alarm clock early in the morning. So I preferred staying at home, watching films, listening to music and reading books. One author led me to another. What are the consequences of this solitary education? To this day, there are still names I can’t pronounce properly, having never shared my new knowledge in fancy parties (where you never learn much more than the correct pronunciation of the artist you admire). And by the way, another one of my weaknesses is that I can’t measure anything: I don’t know what level zero is of intimacy. I owe the woman I am today to my friends. I have played and I have dreamed, and I have refined who I am through them.
Are there any specific moments in history, art, any places, that are key to who you are, and what you’ve put into Edwarda ?
I’ve come to realise that the people that surround and have accompanied me to this day can’t be separated from the different pre-furnished flats I’ve had to live in and move from every three months (no warrantee or anything needed to move into those!) – these were often highly unlikely cohabitations.
First, rue de Savoie (by Saint-Michel): I lived with Dirty de Bataille, Loulou, PJ Harvey, Felicidad de Berthet, Marcello Mastroianni (in La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini).
All I wore was a dress that you button in the front, which looked like the one Isabelle Adjani wore in L’Eté Meurtrier. There she is, sweating, and dancing at the firemen’s ball. Or Marlon Brando, in The Fugitive Kind...
Secondly, rue de Charonne (by Bastille): Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot), Stendhal and his fiascos, Betty Blue (played by Béatrice Dalle), saying, with this artificial voice: “you were going to have a chilli all to yourself with the heat!” I spent all my money on Belle Époque champagne because I loved the bottle. Dominique Ristori (the director of the Common Research Centre, an institute of the European Commission), then my neighbour, used to leave an article from La Recherche (the leading scientific research magazine). It started with “and in the morning, right when she was about to leave, by foot...”
Thirdly, rue Saint Honoré (by Place Vendôme): Ingrid Caven, Albertine by Proust, the Prince of New York (Abel Ferrara). This is when I met Jefferson (John Jefferson Selve, today editor-in-chief of Edwarda). We were drunk and danced to Maria Callas, a smell of pomegranate hanging in the air, which came from Santa Maria Novella, in Florence. The funny part is that each of these apartments, for their peculiar connections, could have led to an issue of Edwarda.
How did Edwarda come about? What was the concept, and the desire behind it?
I had the strong desire for this internal erotic life to be inscribed, to find an incarnation. My friends John Jefferson, Dominique Ristori, and then Ferdinand Gouzon (writer and journalist), became part of this. Other people, more discreet ones, helped me finance this dream publication.
Did you feel a certain cultural void? Something missing in the field of magazines?
No, what was lacking came from within myself. Edwarda was both madness and a necessity: I dreamed of a place where people could meet, where hypersensitivity would be the leading strength.
Why are you so attracted to eroticism?
Eroticism to me is delight. I want to indulge myself in this delighful experience.
What kind of eroticism are you talking about, and how do you maintain this across the issues?
The eroticism I wanted to talk about is called The Game. We play with sentences, colours, the creases in clothes, a haggard face when the body is open, gazes that grab you... these are rules you invent. All we want is for our images to be accessible, for it to be easy to penetrate them... and not so easy to leave them!
What has the evolution been since the early days of Edwarda?
From one issue to the next, it became obvious to us that we were chasing something unattainable: disorder. We, who feared the end of Edwarda, had it wrong. We never ended up being satisfied with the issue that came before, ultimately that meant that we still had a few more stories to invent: the starting point could be a ribbon around a tree for example (in the last issue: precision).
What are you trying to prove or break down about contemporary society and its relation to sexuality?
Our preoccupations are a lot more personal. For example, I discovered that, to me, Eroticism and joy form an indivisible whole. Edwarda is a lot closer to precepts than concepts.
Let’s talk about photography. What ‘use’, what vision and place do the photo shoots have? A series of photos where sexuality naturally seeps in, or a sexualized fashion shoot?
As I told you, in Edwarda, eroticism is something that inscribes itself and finds an incarnation. Therefore, the images are, to me, fragments of stories. You chose to enter at a specific moment, not before, not after. When she is still wearing her clothes or when she unties her hair... and then you daydream about what happens next... guessing is desiring...
You have also been involved in various projects surrounding the magazine, correct?
Yes, after a first exhibition of my photographs at Ofr [Paris-based bookshop and art space], also celebrating the launch of issue 6, another show is currently in the pipelines. It will take place in April, at the Galerie Libertine in Brussels.
This will also coincide with Fatales, the planned title for spring. I am also working on group shows based around the images produced for Edwarda. Selecting and guiding photographers, depending on the theme and their sensitivity, is an important part of my work; it also includes finding the perfect model for the shoot, that I then dress with my clothes (or rather, undress).
The moment I most love is the editing. What is exciting to me, is that I have to pick one story from thousands of options. It is subjectivity that gives the magazine its singularity.
So it’s a multi-media and multi-layered sensitivity you are promoting?
Yes, every issue is the outcome of meetings and collaborations with writers and filmmakers. Those lead to a text or an image that wouldn’t have been born otherwise. I love the idea that there are sentences that have yet to be written, floating between the writer and me, which one day inscribe themselves onto the pages of Edwarda.
Essentially Edwarda is privileged enough not to have to bend to the need for news but rather to allow encounters to bloom naturally and out of our love for something specific. From one issue to the next, collaborators grow increasingly closer to Edwarda. I remember my first meeting with writer Yannick Haenel, in a Parisian café. Because we got on so well, a beautiful text was born, The solitude of Anna Thomson - that evening, we felt that it was going to overwhelm both of us. I could also tell you about Mathieu Terence. We met at Café de Flore, we were shy, and thus nothing happened. As he was about to leave, he gave me Les Jeunes Filles de l’Ombre. And that’s when I really got to know him-after I read the short stories. It was magical, because I realised that we dreamed of the same women, women who were equally desirable as they were intelligent. I mean a sensitive intelligence. Since then, he has written six short stories for Edwarda, which, I hope, we can gather and publish. I can also tell you that Dominique Ristory and myself are thinking hard about a book that would tell a story, with a mixture of words and images.
How do you keep the magazine alive, business-wise?
I admit we are very lucky. Edwarda is an independent publication. The generosity of various art patrons that supported us when we launched the magazine has ultimately enabled its freedom. The readers, some of whom are loyal subscribers, allow us to finance the printing. But today, we need to think of advertising to help Edwarda grow. This would allow us for example, to have access to exceptional places for photo shoots, which our current production doesn’t allow. Or to cover Edwarda models in beautiful dresses and sumptuous jewellery: my wardrobe is limited! We are in contact with several advertisers who seem to understand us, and the upcoming collaborations won’t only be commercial but creative. Others, less bold, will probably not even grant us a meeting. But we aren’t as touchy as in the beginning. We cope with those refusals.
Do you have any idea of your circulation and readership?
Around 3000 readers show interest and loyalty. We always try to improve our work, to make them shiver and show them secret passages.
Who are they?
We don’t know that, but they are part of our quest for beauty and sensuality. Because of these non-utilitarian concerns, Edwarda is a luxury publication.
Where do you draw the line between eroticism and vulgarity?
Being vulgar isn’t the point. Edwarda has a transient aesthetic proposition. We are experimenting. It can be successful, but we are never safe from landing beside the point. We will be vulgar...when we fail. And we get close, because we don’t want to be cautious and stop earlier. Erotic excitement is at the border. It implies taking risks.
Vulgarity isn’t excess like it is portrayed today: too much lipstick, too many curves – these overly feminine signs don’t scare us. We play with them, we invite a dissonance, because it’s from discordance that the blur emerges. Not in the linear, the smooth. What if vulgarity was equal to conformity? Desire is never vulgar.
Unconsciously we all have limits, and that’s for the best. We’re lucky to be able to play with those. We are going to take good care of these limits, otherwise the game is over: there is no more transgression today... the fun is about stopping right on time.
You’ve been compared to l’Imparfaite before, as they also are an erotic magazine, which emerged round the same time. What is the main difference between Edwarda and l’Imparfaite?
There is one major difference: they graduated from Sciences Po, I didn’t!
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This is a #reprint of a contribution originally published by the magazine Nico in 2012. We #reprint it with the kind permission of its publisher, Luxembourg-based Maison Moderne (Luxembourg).
Copies of "Nico - Confessions: Eroticism in Media" are still available here.