In extenso_ You are presenting your exhibition L’Oasis at In extenso as “a commercial branch” of your previous project Chez Jacent at Tonus (Paris). What was the evolution of this project and does it fall within a series?
Jacent Varoym_ The evolution of our projects is based on conviviality and cooperation. Our exhibitions are all intimately linked: we create atmospheres inspired by domestic life and life in general. At Tonus, we designed the two rooms of a house, one kitchen and a lounge/dining room, connected by a long corridor of lights. Two buffets were organised in the space like show pieces, but it was also pleasant to visit the exhibition in the middle of the day, to take a glass from the kitchen and sink into the sofa. We would like the visitor to feel at home. For In extenso, the exhibition will operate like a business, L’Oasis, where people can come to freshen up (a mint lemonade will be served to visitors), buy plates, faience tiles, pitchers, shirts, or sculptures, listen to music… Visitors will be welcomed in the warmest and most courteous of manners, by a host or hostess who will wear a custom-made outfit, signed Jacent.
Ie_ Your exhibitions can be interpreted as invitations sent to all and sundry, asking them to come share a convivial and festive moment, which is clearly aligned with all the artistic approaches brought together under the aegis of “the relational aesthetic”. This concept, full of promise, going beyond the idea of simply sharing a beer among friends, has nonetheless shown its limits and come under fire from many authors, which seemed justified as a whole. In spite of everything, you appear to sincerely believe in this concept and do not hesitate to showcase it. How do you view these notions of cooperation and exchange? Why, in your opinion, are they viable notions to express through the realm of art?
JV_ We consider art to be an extension of life. Visitors are received like guests, which implies a notion of service, of self-sacrifice and generosity. We adapt our presentations – which are often “total art” forms – depending on the context, the country, and its customs. Dinners, a fashion show, a cafe, a bazaar, a nightclub… All kinds of new areas that stimulate our practice.
The relational aesthetic is a movement we empathise with; it is no doubt full of contradictions, but remains no less attractive and moving in its intentions. The artists concerned by this theory have posed essential questions about the notion of exhibition, authorship, the perception of artworks, collaborative work, and performance. Whatever the critics might say, we are glad that these kinds of artists exist in France (and elsewhere) to inspire the upcoming generation. That said, we are far from asserting ourselves as the direct heirs of the relational aesthetic. Our movement evokes the turn of last century. It is in terms of the perception of the artwork and the notion of exhibition that we are offering new emotions. This works through the field of art because visitors are sensitive to this proximity. The audience tends to be solicited, questioned, and shaken up a bit.
Ie_ The normative space of contemporary art, the white cube is often considered to be a cold, sanitized, and depersonalised place. In such a context, artworks observe a distance with respect to the visitor, do not engage in familiarities, and impose their authority. Your approach, focusing on conviviality, festivity, and opulence, but also friendship and love, perturbs this fact without falling into the opposing ideology. How do you see things?
JV_ We are very sensitive to the history of a place, to its architecture, its lighting, its environment. There are places where we dream of holding an exhibition, owing to their singularity: for instance, the Synagogue de Delme in France or the Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin. At In extenso, we are interested in the medieval context of the gallery in the very narrow commercial street, the arcades, and the small staircase. All of that fuels our imagination. It is fundamental for us to play on the particularities of the place in which we are exhibiting. Although a neutral space seems ideal for our aesthetic, atmosphere, and colours to flourish, we have always been more inspired by places with character. Our domestic atmospheres encourage the visitor to modify their attitude towards the artworks, to inhabit their space physically, and activate the works. We feel more comfortable in a venue charged with history and with an aura than in a totally depersonalised and minimalist room. Many recent propositions have liberated themselves, by and large, of the white cube, thanks to exhibitions held in apartments, in the forest, under a bridge, in basements, cabins, or garages… These are also places where things are happening. The whole idea is to manage to transfer this energy within normative institutions, one way or another.
Ie_ Trained at a graphic design school, you don’t seem to have been marked by conceptual art in the way that art school graduates tend to be. Among other things, an unmediated freedom of usage stems from your practice, in the decorative arts, tableware, and gastronomy. Is your relationship to art more sensual than it is cerebral?
JV_ Our relationship to art is clearly sensual, in search of beauty and harmony. Jade and I live with art and have practiced it since we were very young. My father is a winegrower, an enlightened painting and architecture enthusiast; there are architects in our family, and one of my ancestors was a renowned 17th century book and art collector. Jade’s grandmother was a sculptor and her mother designs wedding gowns. All of this context is more essential to us than our graphic design school education.
Our school was very academic and was founded in 1968 in reaction to the libertarian-conceptual wave of the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Should anything be read into that? No. While our taste steers us naturally towards the artists of the early 20th century, the decorative arts, or popular art, we are also interested in conceptual art; we have studied and digested it. We consider our propositions to be conceptual insofar as we wish to enliven the relationship to art. The visitor eats off our plates, sits in our armchairs, walks on our carpet, drinks our wine, or stains our tablecloths. This release of tension is the cornerstone of our philosophy and our approach.
Jade Fourès-Varnier and Vincent de Hoÿm (born in 1984) live and work in Paris.
They work as a duo since 2014 under the entity Jacent Varoym, fusion of both their name.