About Surface Horizon

Online
First broadcast 84 days ago

About Surface Horizon

35min
Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, director of Lafayette Anticipations and curator of the exhibition, talks to artists Jean-Marie Appriou and Marguerite Humeau about the genesis of Surface Horizon.
She discusses the new perspectives that this unprecedented collaboration has opened up, both in terms of their practice and their vision of the world.
Talk
Online
Thursday 01 Jul 2021
from 07 pm to 07:35 pm

With

Jean-Marie Appriou develops a reflection on sculpture by exploring materials such as aluminium, glass, bronze and clay in unconventional processes.

From his experiments of an alchemical nature emerge human, animal and plant figures which meet and complement each other, giving rise to different scenarios. This fantastic and marvellous universe draws on a variety of inspirations, from Egyptian mythology to Pre-Raphaelite painting, from science fiction literature to cinema and comics.

His work has been exhibited at the Consortium Museum in Dijon, Central Park in New York at the invitation of the Public Art Fund, the Lyon Biennial, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, the MAMVP, Paris, the Château de Versailles, the David Roberts Art Foundation, London, the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, the Vienna Biennial, as well as in the galleries of Jan Kaps, Cologne, Simon Lee, New York, and Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; C L E A R I N G, New York and Brussels.

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Marguerite Humeau’s work stages the crossing of great distances in time and space, transitions between animal and mineral, and encounters between personal desires and natural forces.

The work explores the possibility of communication between worlds and the means by which knowledge is generated in the absence of evidence or through the impossibility of reaching the object of investigation.

Humeau weaves factual events into speculative narratives, therefore enabling unknown, invisible, extinct forms of life to erupt in grandiose splendour.

Combining prehistory, occult biology and science fiction in a disconcerting spectacle – the works resuscitate the past, conflate subterranean and subcutaneous, all the while updating the quest genre for the information age.

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Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel is director of Lafayette Anticipations, Fondation des Galeries Lafayette. In 2020 she was the chief curator of the Riga Biennial, "and suddenly it all blossoms", and director of the feature film based on the exhibition.

From 2011 to 2019, she was curator at the Palais de Tokyo where she curated, among others, the cartes blanches to Tomas Saraceno, ON AIR (2018-2019) and to Tino Seghal (2016). She has also curated the exhibitions of Marguerite Humeau, FOXP2 (2016), Ed Atkins, Bastards (2014), Helen Marten's Evian Disease (2013), or David Douard's Mo'swallow (2014), as well as the group exhibition Le bord des mondes(2015).

She regularly collaborates with international institutions, with the projects 72 hours of truce: exploring immediate signs (2013) and Bright intervals (2014) at MoMA PS1 (New-York), FOXP2 (2016) at Nottingham Contemporary, Landscape (2014) with the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) or Des présents inachevés for la Biennale de Lyon (with Oliver Beer, Julian Charrière, Jeremy Shaw and Benoît Pype, 2013). In 2017, she was co-curator of the exhibition Voyage d'Hiver at the Château de Versailles.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel regularly publishes in French and international journals and catalogues, and participates in numerous seminars and juries in France and abroad (FIAC, French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale etc).

She has a degree in Art History, History and Political Science from the University of Paris I - La Sorbonne.

About

Transcript

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

Hello. I am delighted to welcome you today for a conversation with the artists Jean-Marie Appriou and Marguerite Humeau. We have come together for the exhibition Surface Horizon which opens today and will run for several months at the Lafayette Anticipations Foundation. I am Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, the curator of the exhibition and director of the Foundation. Today, I am delighted to be able to speak with you, my dear friends, about this adventure, this odyssey that is taking shape before our eyes and throughout the Foundation. We are in its inner courtyard, but we know that the project extends all the way to the top of Rem Koolhaas’s building. I want to discuss this slightly unusual project—unusual because it was put together over a few months, and has required both of you to completely revisit your practices as sculptors, notably through plant compositions and works created in clay and earth. In short, an exhibition that has tried to embrace the feeling of vulnerability, of fragility that has enveloped us over the last few months with this rather crazy gamble: how can artists today react to the upheavals and tremors of time, how can you, through your practices, renew our understanding of the world and the visible? Through this conversation, we will try to explore these territories.

I’ll perhaps start by asking you how it all began, what idea sprouted and how this exhibition began to be created, to come together. Marguerite, it all started with an invitation that was extended to you a year ago. We will then be able to go through the whole exhibition and discover the works.

Marguerite Humeau

The project started during lockdown. At that time, I imagined a kind of disaster scenario: you could see the queues in front of supermarkets—it was a time of crisis. I said to myself that if there was nothing left to eat at some point, the only survivors would be those who knew about weeds and how to eat them, so I asked a forager to educate me, to teach me how to eat with weeds. That’s what I did for a few weeks and that’s how the project started. There was then a long period of research with different experts—soil experts, landscapers, foragers, high school students from the horticultural high school in Montreuil, and specialists—but also with myths related to plants, theories such as the doctrine of signatures—an ancestral theory that connects the forms of plants, their dynamics and their contexts to the human body, or to the human more generally. That’s how the project really started: you invited us to create a new kind of garden. Jean-Marie, your challenge was to design sculptures entirely...

Jean-Marie Appriou

...on site, in clay...

Marguerite Humeau

... and, as for me, to create plant installations—at least that was the initial idea even if it evolved. So, the odyssey was really built with plants from the very beginning, it was really a matter of taking all the lists of plants that we had created with all these experts and telling a story, the story of our relationship with the soil. That’s how it all started and how Surface Horizon came about.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

The whole exhibition is ultimately an invitation to rediscover, recognize, restore dignity, attention, love—let’s dare to use the word—to that which surrounds us, to what we have unlearned to see, to recognize, to look at as worthy of attention. Weeds are the starting point, which then led to a reflection on the soil, recognizing that we are now in-between worlds. We see the old one slowly fading away and watch the new one appearing before our eyes with an anxious expectation mixed with insatiable curiosity, a bit like these two characters by Jean-Marie Appriou standing behind us. The exhibition’s title, Surface Horizon, comes from the idea of cohabitation, of the end and a rebirth, a beginning. Perhaps you can tell us about it? We can then discuss this first chapter that spreads throughout the ground floor of the Foundation between Conquête, this installation of plant beings with Jean-Marie’s work Murmur, but also with Lévitation, a work that unfolds throughout the ground floor and that comes to take—or take back—the power and the space of the Foundation. 

Marguerite Humeau

Surface horizon is a technical term related to soil. I think there was a deep desire to create a myth for our contemporary era and to think about who are the heroes and heroines of these myths; what are the new mythological figures that can accompany us in this transformation? So, the surface horizon, a term that comes from the ground, seems to be the place that will give birth to all these forms and ideas. Surface horizon is an underground layer just below the organic horizon—the layer that you see when you go for a walk in nature or in a park. The surface of this organic horizon is where all dead matter is deposited—it’s the apparent, visible layer. Just below that is the surface horizon, which is invisible and contains all the dead matter that comes to sleep, to rest, or to slumber there sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, months, thousands, or even millions of years. Some of these materials turn into mineral matter and others come alive again and return to the surface of the earth. It’s like a mythical place where you meet the dead and the living, and beings that are certainly floating between these two states.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

This gives us the opportunity to talk about your works Jean-Marie, Murmur and Fire on the Sea, which can be seen on the ground floor of the exhibition. Can you tell us about these characters? We know that in your practice there are often mythological beings who run through our imaginations and our consciences. We are aware of your love for Hades, Ophelia, and those many other characters. Here, it seems to be the characters that could inhabit this new contemporary imaginary that Marguerite was speaking about. Can you tell us the story of these pieces? 

Jean-Marie Appriou

I call them the divers—the piece is called Murmur but... What I like about this piece is that when Marguerite and I started discussing this proposal you made to us, Rebecca, there were these pieces that were in a kind of levitation between levels: there was an underground world—underwater, aquatic, subaquatic—and a world above the water. 

When you came to the workshop I was making these pieces which you saw in clay, as they were being moulded, and that’s when you said to me, ‘But these pieces then become bronze, they go to the foundry, they have another life, and then what happens to this clay?’ It will crack, it will be destroyed. You then said to me, ‘Well, we could do something with that, with this earth.’ We called them ghosts, which we don’t see. They genuinely are the originals that I worked with my hands. This was also a reminder of the moment when we had this revelation at the very outset of the project, so we wanted to place them there like sphinxes or guardians with this glassy look that welcomes the visitor from both sides as they enter the Foundation… 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

… and start this odyssey which takes us through the Foundation in nine chapters. The exhibition was conceived as an initiation story. The idea was that the visitor would be completely immersed in another possible world. On the first floor we discover the oracles of the desert. Marguerite, can you introduce this room with its presences and then Jean-Marie could you tell us about this magnificent, delirious dance that you also perform there. 

Marguerite Humeau

In Oracles du désert we discover a large greenhouse that brings to mind a mirage or a kind of crystal ball, and we see ghosts of plants which appear on the surface. They seem to appear and also sometimes multiply, as if they simultaneously belong to different spaces and times. On one side of the greenhouse, we enter an infinite desert and encounter these famous desert oracles which are plants that I have selected as they are bio-indicators of soils that are about to become infertile, and therefore become uninhabitable by Man. For example, one of the plants indicates the pollution of the soil by the chemical industry, while another is indicative of soil over which heavy machinery has been repeatedly driven. We enter into a dialogue with these oracles, which are like the great sages of the desert, announcing the dead-end and the void that awaits us. On the other side, we perceive the floating presence of a human being who is part of this work; a clairvoyant person whose presence travels throughout the exhibition, for the duration of the exhibition and in all its spaces. This presence, on the other hand, speaks to us of infinite possibilities, of the many potentialities still to be explored, of all the futures that are still open to Man, who is far from being at a dead-end. This person embodies these potentialities, putting us in contact with our surface horizon, that is to say our inner life, and helping us to see in the life of plants, in their modes of communication, in their relationships with each other, things which clearly still lie dormant within us. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

The allegory, the metaphor of the soil, the idea of this activity that connects the worlds dying out with those being born, is obviously a way for this exhibition to pose the question of our humanity: the kind of humanity we can embody, how it is lived, how it unfolds. This haunting presence that inhabits this exhibition, but which we are unable to identify, is a clairvoyant that is present just like any one of us. It will randomly decide to address one of the visitors who are present and to thereby go and awaken, to sprout within us the range of potential worlds that we may not have imagined. That really is its role. It faces the other forms of humanity deployed by Jean-Marie, these amphibious humanities—so to speak—which constantly pass from one world to another, which are this tribe, the community of the Ama.

Jean-Marie Appriou

Yes, the Ama. I was inspired by the ama, female divers in Japan who dive to great depths and are known for fishing for pearls. In fact, 90 percent of the time they fish for octopus or seaweed. I began from these ama that dive and collect seaweed and underwater plants. I did everything on site so that these divers would interact with the columns and the architecture of the space. There is another room on this floor that deals with the sowers, in which there are reeds that seem to capture waves which then spread on the surface of the water. They are as if between two worlds, with their faces half immersed. They take root. Marguerite and I had discussed a myth of the sower, the gatherer, and the forager. There is another piece with a big boat, which deals with the foragers. I saw the foragers as a vessel, a desire to go out and find things, to always be on the move. To find things that have been sown, harvested, some of which have been forgotten, whether they are flowers, food, vegetables. There is this desire to go out and harvest these things, to look at them. Humans are gatherers, sowers, foragers: there is not only one way of being. On this floor, we move from one state to another.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

And we discover our relationship to the world, to everything that surrounds us and the way in which we come to gather it, or not. This is what takes us to the level above, where the works take us into our inner worlds rather than outer ones, but still accompanied and helped by our acolytes, our new collaborators, the plants that inspired our thinking for the exhibition. These works are steles inspired by funerary art and the figure of the recumbent in particular, by a well-known form of romanticism in the history of art which is closely linked to the cult of death, rendering disappearance impossible by giving it a monument that makes it visible forever. Except that what we come to honour and celebrate here are emotions. Marguerite, can you tell us about these emotions rediscovered—you could say excavated—through these steles, and Jean-Marie could you then discuss your interpretation and the way in which these emotions intoxicated you and gave rise to these collaborative works? 

We discover that the whole exhibition is about territory, about our perceptions, and about trying to broaden them. But you have also played along as artists, creating works that disrupt the idea of the lone, individual artist in order to develop the idea of an exquisite corpse, a four-handed work in which ideas, forms, and gestures respond to each other. Let’s perhaps talk about emotions and then about the way in which you were able to produce these works and pay tribute to these inner states awaiting rediscovery. 

Marguerite Humeau

We developed four steles, so four different emotions. The first is Ambedo. Ambedo is the feeling you get when you get lost in the cloud of cream in your coffee, when you realize that you’ve spent ten minutes watching raindrops streaking down a window pane during a storm, or when you immerse yourself in the movement of poplars caught in a gust of wind. These are micro-details of life that connect us to the cosmos. For Ambedo I took the figure of the moonwort, which is a fern whose leaves contain the cycles of the moon, from the full moon through all the lunar cycles that follow. I enlarged it and made it into a kind of lunar figure, almost a spaceman who seems to want to fly away. 

Jean-Marie Appriou

When you proposed your interpretation of these plants and flowers, I spent some time with your drawings and wanted to reinterpret or give my reading of these forms. For this stele, I saw a flight of crickets, insects that I associated with this plant. So, I modelled it in clay and then left a space so that it would be welcoming. It really is a collaboration and that was a great success.

Marguerite Humeau

Then there is Proia. Proia is the sadness and mourning of the end of a cycle, an era, or an experience and the simultaneous joy and excitement of the birth of another one, of the new. For Proia I chose the shepherd’s-needle, the Scandix, which is a plant that looks like hands, and enlarged it, imagining it as a kind of plant pietà. These hands seem to be carrying an invisible being, a being that perhaps belongs to the previous cycle, and yet they are hands full of hope, open to the outside and connected to two shapes that look like hearts, which come from the shepherd’s-purse that contains fruits that are 5 mm high—they look like little hearts formed like origami and are used as a tonic for the heart—which I have enlarged. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

That’s important too, because the plants to which you pay homage allow us to reach these states, the emotional states which are named in these steles. It’s the idea of a companionship between the human and the non-human and of a magical interdependence that allows us to access other states of consciousness. We then continue our journey to the third stele.

Marguerite Humeau

The third stele is Solaris. Solaris is the sensation of being both very strong, following an upheaval, and yet extremely fragile. At once extremely vulnerable and extremely solid. For Solaris, I used field horsetail, which has the signature of the spine, as an accomplice. It seems to be both highly structured and anchored in the ground like a spine, and at the same time it’s tiny and frail. It appears extremely fragile despite its spine. 

Jean-Marie Appriou

I saw an air element in this plant and so I wanted feathers and then a neck structure, so I associated a set of swans—as with the previous piece where I used mandrills, monkeys, who collect seeds and eat them with their hand becoming the tool they use to pick fruits in the tree. For this piece, I associated something much more ethereal and of the air. Something that takes flight. 

Marguerite Humeau

The final stele is Xeno. Xeno is the smallest unit of human connection: a glance exchanged with a passer-by in the street, or a burst of laughter at a strange coincidence. For Xeno I chose a tiny part of the lizard orchid which is thought to have aphrodisiac properties. The flowers that I used form in the millions and dance like a ballet, constantly brushing against each other without ever really becoming intertwined. 

Jean-Marie Appriou

I associated moray eels with this, in relation to what you just said. The moray eels form a kind of whole, brushing against each other, forming a knot, but without ever tying themselves up. This whole is always in motion, and I associate it with the element of water. There is this interlacing, this Möbius strip, this symbol of the infinite made by the moray eels which put these two flowers into motion. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

As we were discussing, the whole exhibition really touches on the idea of fragility in the most sensitive way possible, even in the materials that were used. Jean-Marie, most of the works that you have produced in this exhibition are made of earth, they are alive. Of course, Marguerite, we also have your installations, sculptures, and plant performances, which invite us to live at a different pace. We know that this exhibition is going to live a life made of decline and rebirth.

Jean-Marie Appriou

Yes, a life of water. We humidify the plants, but we dry the soil. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

A story that is really very much in line with other rhythms than those traditionally used in exhibitions and in recent art history, of the fixed, frozen, immobile art object, of conservation which is one of our obsessions. Here, on the contrary, we have decided to embrace the uncontrollable, to such an extent that we have, in fact, a chapter dedicated to a time other than the one we wish to impose on the world. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

We are now in one of the last rooms of the exhibition. A room dedicated to other rhythms, other movements, other understandings of time. We are surrounded by the work of Jean-Marie Appriou, Telluric Pendulum, the bas-relief behind us, and then here a singular, exceptional architecture, designed by Marguerite Humeau around the Magicicada. The Magicicada is a figure that is present throughout this exhibition, and also in Jean-Marie’s reflections on insects and other temporalities. Marguerite, could you introduce us to this rather extraordinary figure of the Magicicada and to its absolutely incredible powers, which inspired you and Jean-Marie?

Marguerite Humeau

The Magicidada is a cricket that sleeps for seventeen years underground, in the surface horizon, and then wakes up by the millions and starts to sing—incredible choruses of millions of Magicicadas. They then reproduce and die, all in the space of two months. Their larvae return to the surface horizon and lie dormant again for seventeen years. When I discovered this figure, I thought that we may have finally found the key to the surface horizon, to our odyssey. And that we should maybe all transform ourselves into Magicicada and connect to this much larger timescale. 

The pavilion is designed as an isolation tank, as if we were entering the surface horizon, becoming a Magicicada after having slept for seventeen years. On the outside, I imagined a flapping wing, a being in metamorphosis. The pavilion is covered with this material which also seems to be transforming every second. It comes from the solar energy industry and is one of the most absorbent materials in the world, and it has the particularity that a handprint or a slug passing over it forms golden traces, like constellations and imprints of its history. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

The idea of this entire room was also to rethink the way we perceive time. A time that has been largely transformed and modified with the arrival of quartz. Can you tell us about your thinking on this, on the quantification of time that we know, the one we are constantly running after today? Then I’d like to talk about Jean-Marie’s bas-relief, Telluric Pendulum, which, as its name suggests, invites us to relive other rhythms, the rhythms of the earth, rhythms that are born in our soil.

Marguerite Humeau

When I was studying plants, I was interested in their mode of communication and of interaction. I was fascinated by their relationship with time, since they have completely different timescales to those that we have within us, or to which we are synchronized. I was looking for the moment when we invented time, artificial time. I think that it was when quartz was invented that time was industrialized. We made it artificial and it became a technological tool that can be repeated ad infinitum and that, above all, can be accelerated. Hence the desire to find a being on earth like the Magicicada that could become our new quartz.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel 

Or plants that are themselves connected to stars and thus to astronomical time.

Marguerite Humeau

Yes, so all the plants that form this world are linked to the sun and the moon. In astro-medicine, plants that look like suns, like dandelions for example, are linked to the heart, and silver plants like bryony for example, or sea squill, which sometimes look like shooting stars, are linked to the moon and therefore to the brain. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

Jean-Marie, the moon and the sun are among the main characters of this monumental bas-relief which stands behind us and is inspired in particular by William Blake, but also by the symbolists. Can you tell us about it?

Jean-Marie Appriou

I wanted to create a large bas-relief since the surface horizon is almost the definition of a bas-relief. It’s a surface into which a horizon is projected, the impression of a horizon over a few centimetres, creating a sense of perspective. I wanted to bring this kind of perspective to Marguerite’s pavilion on this level. The sun needed to appear as well as the moon like a pendulum swinging in the sky. The first clouds, the sun warming the water, this primitive soup from which life emerges. The hydrothermal vents, the oceanic faults, the emerging continents. I wanted to pay tribute to all the soil and earth, the clay that is starting to crack, which creates the temporality of earth and clay. It will keep evolving, it’s going to continue to crack—it’s as monumental as it is fragile.

Jean-Marie Appriou

I really like this poem by William Blake, it really stuck with me: ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.’ So, I really had this idea of going through a door.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

This idea of infinite possible worlds is found in the final room called Surface Horizon, in which we discover all your sketches. We emerge from a somewhat hallucinatory exhibition, which immersed us in a multitude of visions, sensations, apparitions, and then we discover how all this finally grew, emerged, exploded almost from drawings and sketches that you both made to conceive this project. First, there are Marguerite’s storyboards, which welcome us. They are like so many possible scenarios of possible worlds. Could you tell us about this working method, and then Jean-Marie, there are your sketches too, your drafts which are there, sculptures which are always in clay, with their fragility, which are going to deteriorate and which are like studies, sketches—which remind us of Rodin moreover—and which convey this idea of being in a process of research, one which we have seen unfold throughout the whole exhibition. Perhaps Marguerite, you can guide us through these storyboards, and then Jean-Marie through your works. 

Marguerite Humeau

The storyboards are drawings that I create very quickly as I’m developing the odysseys. They serve to unfold all the possible visions of the exhibition and are constantly evolving. They contain all the ideas that have been forgotten, all the ideas that have sometimes become hybrids, all those that formed ten chapters and which now form only one. I think they allow you to understand all the complexity and the details of all the beings who were called upon for this journey. There is also a series of pastel drawings, which are like blow-ups of certain moments of the storyboards. These are large drawings in which I have superimposed all the ghosts of these visions which become a fog on which I rewrite these new worlds. They present us with visions, environments, worlds that we could have developed but that we didn’t physically develop. 

Jean-Marie Appriou

Like the sketches. I start with a block of clay and I shape it. That was also the research process for the steles, the monkeys, the moray eels, to which I associated a glass eye, which were also the eyes that were not chosen for the exhibition, at least for the pieces on the first floor. There is the diver’s eye, the eye of the blind man which is associated with the poppy flower, the monkey which has an eye which is like a crystal ball. These were my first ideas that took form in a block of clay and which I associated with a glass eye. They are microcosms and at the same time, when you immerse yourself in them, they become like a galaxy or a universe enclosed in a drop of water. 

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

This is the final room of the exhibition, which ends with so many outlines of possible worlds, worlds to be born. I believe that this exhibition is really an ode to the idea of rebirth, to the idea of building on the ruins of a world that is disappearing and welcoming the world that is coming. It is an invitation to those who visit this exhibition to take on this responsibility, to bring their imaginary, let it live, let it grow other possible worlds that may be welcoming us here, under our feet. Thank you.

Marguerite Humeau and Jean-Marie Appriou

Thank you. Thank you.