Parallels between purpose and perfection.
Paris-based artist Eliott Paquet addresses the boundaries between body and object in an increasingly dematerialised world. Making such a threshold intangible, he produces works that edge between functional and flawless, incorporating a cold impression of the bionic. Through a clean aesthetic, Paquet observes the concept of an artificial body; referencing fields of prosthetics and ergonomics. He favours the materials of wood, metal, plaster, silicone and resin; their functions relating to the properties and associations of the domestic or wellness settings from which they descend. Recently, becoming engaged with humanising his practice has seen a reconnection with the physicality of making, becoming more flexible with the intrinsic discourse of the materials. Despite a coldness arising from their smooth forms, Paquet incorporates a duality of peacefulness and nature by utilising sound in the works: a guided meditation, ASMR, and recordings of a natural environment. Considerations of the self have led the artist to question how these confines can be transgressed to make the intimate visible; through a vulnerable lens on his website’s front page, the viewer witnesses a video of him half-awake, checking emails – just one example into his exploration of the private made public, and the fragility this conveys.
Starting with your family history, your mother has an interest in dance, alternative medicine and new age theories in contrast with your father’s professional relationship with finance. Which side do you connect with the most? Would you say this duality reflects in your life path?
In terms of how I observe the transmission from parent to child, I don’t believe in a system of communicating vessels. We are not 50% but 100% of each of our parents. It is interesting to note that the new age theories inherited from the cultural revolutions of the 1960s have adapted perfectly to neoliberalism. Far from being antinomic, these two faces make me think of a single figure much like the god, Janus. You only have to look at the number of best-sellers in bookstores advocating personal rather than collective development, as well as the individual efficiency of capitalism to realize this. I would therefore say that I am a perfect synthesis of my family environment.
Starting with your academic curriculum with your Beaux Arts tutor, Pascale Accoyer, influenced you to practice painting in a formal way. Further along, after studying, you worked as a duo with Côme Di Meglio. Was that collaborative working system beneficial for you? Now that you have an individual practice, what kind of techniques do you apply to self criticise and analyse your work?
The collaboration with Côme Di Meglio was very successful because we were complementary. In our multi-faceted project ‘Welcome Back Baby’ for example, Côme had imagined a near death experience to be discovered using virtual reality technology. For my part I had arranged works, composed to create a waiting room inspired by science-fiction films, with a sanitised and authoritarian new age aesthetic. Most of the time Côme brought a positivist approach, almost a mystical energy by proposing experiences using the mind. I gave an ironic and squeaky-clean varnish that soiled the original intention of the work. This otherness gave rise to ambivalent works that lost the viewer, leaving them in a state of uncertainty. Contrary to appearances, self-criticism seems easier to me when working alone; the confinement of individual creation forces us to have more exchanges with others about our own practice. I believe criticism to be fundamentally relational; from conversation emerge critical tools.
Opening your website, an intimate video of you laying down on your bed starts playing, as if you just started a video call. As a viewer, I was surprised to observe such a revealing scene. Can you tell me a bit about the choices you made for the homepage recording? Is this vulnerability a clue to interpret your artworks?
During the creation of my website, I was working on the corpus of works ‘I Touch Myself’ which questioned hygiene and narcissism through the universe of the bathroom and selfcare. I recreated a kind of spa with sculptures resembling shower trays and sprinkled with blue stains evoking sometimes make-up, sometimes traces of semen. The idea for this video emerged from a conversation with Ulysse Klotz with whom I collaborated on the sound design of this installation. We sampled amateur videos of young Americans singing pop classics in front of their webcams. They looked like bottles in the sea shouting “love me” with a very touching naivety, to the limits of onanism; reusing their codes, but far from their standards of “beauty”, I filmed myself, hungover the next morning whilst opening my emails. My work is moving away from anthropology and is taking an increasingly intimate direction. This evolution allows me to question the relationship of self in regards to others, bringing a welcome fragility.
In past projects, you mostly worked with installations and video as a medium and since, you have moved on to more object-based pieces. Can you guide us through that transformation? Was it an organic process or a controlled change?
Over time, the transhumanist promise of a digitalised and dematerialised world has seemed to me to become increasingly utopian, false and even dangerous. Digital tools offer us a wealth of possibilities, they give the illusion of erasing the frictions of everyday life, but we remain flesh and blood inscribed into the physical world. The fact that I didn’t touch the material enough, that I didn’t model it, that I lived inside it, disconnected me from my productions. I had a strong desire to return to a craft of art. This also resulted in the use of poorer materials, the creation of pieces on a more human scale.
The artworks you have been creating most recently can be positioned in that liminal space of ambivalence, by starting to humanise industrial-looking objects. Why is it important to establish a corporal relation to your artistic production?
The world of objects is governed by principles of rationality, morality, function, calibre and efficiency; in a sense, it is reassuring. Pareidolia and anthropomorphism allow me to create a strong analogy between the object system and human social space. I like to make people feel a kind of melancholy stemming from human solitude, surrounded by profitable artefacts reflecting only their own image. In this sense, my productions act as neutral mirrors, vectors of reification.
In an overall analysis, your aesthetic is concerned with the ideal of perfection, through “ikea-like” props and android looking humans. How much of those references are also a critical metaphor to contemporary culture?
It is a critical tool that has been used by many artists: to push the logic of a society to its limits in order to point out its excesses. Today, we define ourselves as individuals by what we consume. The engine of a liberal economy based on material comfort and possession becomes the consumer’s desire, not his satisfaction. I like to play with the advertising iconography in which our idols are condensed into deep aspirations of grotesque superficiality and individualism. This critical tool does not exclude a real aesthetic fascination for its subject, creating a certain form of ambivalence to which I remain attached.
Does your choice of materials like wood, resin, metal, plaster and silicon extend the experience of the prosthetic-like or artificial body you are responding to?
Exactly. Even more than the choice of material, it is the shape given that engages the prosthetic world. Ergonomics is an exciting field in sculpture because it blurs the lines between body and object. In the work 37°c for example, I arranged sculptures, half moulds, half drafts of human bodies, treated with industrial materials and skin colours. But where I previously tried to make the material disappear as much as possible, to smooth it as if it was the result of an industrial process, I now try to let the material speak for itself, to abandon confrontation for connivance; I have become more flexible.
Besides having created your own working and living environment, you have expanded that possibility for other artists including Donatien Aubert and India Leire who work alongside you at the studios. How does this collaborative environment reflect on your day to day practice?
As there are few of us, we have a certain flexibility in the partition of the studio. All three of us work in different media, which often leads to technical assistance during studio productions. Finally, in order not to decorate the Product Placement of the studio next to it, I included in the programming for the fall of 2019 a cycle of duo shows. Each of the artists in the studio had to invite an artist friend, one after the other, from outside the space to compose a duo show. From this cycle three exhibitions were born (‘Perdus dans la Forêt’ with India Leire and Florian Mermin, ‘Les Echos du Vide’ with Donatien Aubert and Tiffanie Pichon and ‘Wagon-Lits’ by Raphaël Sitbon and myself on friendship and otherness.
The inter-phone piece that you were working on when I visited you explores the idea of recognition and familiarity, in a sense, by adding bodily characteristics to static objects. Are these works a projection of a future human condition?
Yes, that was one of the purposes of this piece. When we exchange through an intercom, we are talking to an object by looking at it (unlike a telephone). The intercom takes the place of the interlocutor. Nevertheless, the formal signs of which it is composed – switches, signs, loudspeakers, edges – form like an unknown language. At the touch of a button, which may look like an eye, amateur poems in Portuguese and soft music on the guitar can be heard, evoking an inaccessible paradise. This piece was part of a group of works taking the Lençois de Maranhenses National Park in the Brazilian Northeast as their starting point. A curious geographical anomaly makes this park a mineral desert composed of sand and natural freshwater pools. It reminded me of the parched Atlantic Ocean described in Michel Houellebecq’s ‘The Possibility of an Island’. An inert and reified paradise.
Your work frequently features a sound component, in the case of the inter-phone mentioned above, the recording of a natural environment. Can you expand on the choice to add natural sounds to a “robot” like object? What kind of reaction do you get from the viewers when they hear it?
I don’t think of installation as a sculptural environment, but more as a setting for an imaginary play; there is a hidden scenario somewhere. When we enter a building lobby, for example, all the senses are involved. The sound environment then seems to me almost as important as the material elements that make up the stage. This has allowed me, as mentioned above, to work several times with Ulysse Klotz. His sense of melody and his experience in music for films are very precious in the composition of a sound design. For ‘Welcome Back Baby Part II’, he had composed a soft sound universe inspired by wellness salons with a guided meditation voice recorded in ASMR.
Another artwork that stood out was the bed head piece which was placed in your house. Is it difficult for you to distinguish life and work settings, since your practice is deeply connected to ideas of domesticity? Is this proximity of the studio and working environment an important aspect for your routine?
My work deals with the subject of domesticity on several levels: philosophical and ontological (domesticity of being by Martin Heidegger, Peter Sloterdijk, etc.) and socio-political (man’s relationship to his domestic environment, to the object). My field of research is nourished by the time spent at home. I set the rhythm of my daily actions essential to domestic life, attentive to gestures and interactions with objects in a quasi-religious way. It is in this everyday life and in the absurd repetition of the same that I draw well-being and inspiration; I make myself a guinea pig of my artistic production. In this sense, the proximity between the studio and my living space has almost become a professional necessity.
I met you in Aubervilliers, an industrial neighbourhood in the outskirts of Paris where a cultural synergy seems to have flourished, including your own studio and gallery, Placement Produit and public MMA cage, Thundercage. Are these projects a response to the closed system of the Paris art scene?
In Paris, as in many European ‘museum cities’, the price of rent has become crazy and many artists in search of space have gone into exile outside the ring road. Rather than suffer this state of affair, I think it is important for artists to invest in these suburbs in a positive way, to appropriate them and take advantage of them. The industrial areas of northern and eastern Paris have seen the blossoming of many artist-run spaces that challenge the traditional structures of art, such as galleries, art centres, vendors, markets, and so on. I launched Placement Produit (= Product Placement) at the beginning of 2019. This artist-run space has the particularity of being a space overlooking an apartment, a studio, a condominium courtyard and with windows overlooking the street. The hybridity of this architectural status defines its research program: fluid, liquid and questioning the relationship to others and domesticity. The neighbouring project Thundercage launched by Romain Vicari invests a fallow public space whose form suggests the idea of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) cage: it is not so much a place of “meeting” but rather of “confrontation” between two artists. A few meters away, the Collective cultural café is a meeting space open to all. It hosts an artistic and cultural program that combines art and gastronomy while proposing creative actions with a social and solidarity dimension. All of these projects challenge, each in their own way, living together and socio-political paradigms.
What are your priorities for Placement Produit regarding further exhibitions with young contemporary artists? Do you have any plans related to online productions since physical exhibitions are currently postponed due to social distancing measures?
Romain Vicari’s exhibition ‘Rose Button’ was interrupted by the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first two seasons with artists sometimes coming from abroad, I wanted to re-territorialize the program with exhibitions and events using artists from the Parisian scene. The space will soon welcome Raphaël Emine and Lucas Semeraro, as soon as the containment measures come to an end. This anchoring of the space within the territory echoes, in a sense, the broader issues involved with the health crisis, which forces us to rethink globalised exchanges. I believe that exhibitions are, in essence, linked to place. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to use the confined situation to offer online material with Product Placement.
Regarding past and future experiences, what are your predictions for the progress of your work considering that we are living in a time of isolation, uncontrollable changes, and digital/technological advancements?
The direction my work has taken in recent years seems to me to be validated by what I see around me. I started painting again, making objects smaller and smaller. I am trying to establish an aesthetic that is further removed from the advertising canons and pure criticism, more intimate, more timeless.
Words by Vanessa Murrell