On loop

Michel Blazy, Enzo Mianes, Charlie Jouan

19 May — 15 July 2021

In extenso is delighted to present On loop, an exhibition conceived by the artists Michel Blazy and Enzo Mianes. By proposing a multidisciplinary artistic intervention that spreads across several locations in the city center of Clermont-Ferrand, the artists seek to raise public awareness about the survival of ecosystems, the link between life and death, and the dichotomy between nature and culture. The exhibition course branches out into different spaces and contexts: a hairdresser’s salon, three second-hand clothing shops, the garden of a public institution and a private flat, with the aim of creating a spontaneous and unexpected encounter.

The artists invited Charlie Jouan to present site-specific work in the fountain of Hotel de Chazerat’s garden, headquarters of the Direction des Affaires Culturelles of Clermont-Ferrand.


Pietro Della Giustina: To begin, how did you two meet? That’s quite a story!

Enzo Mianes: It’s true that it’s pretty crazy. From my point of view, it was incredible. It was in Paris, in a bar that I frequented every day called La Vache Folle, where you can play any music you want. I had been seeing a new guy in the bar for two or three days, with an incredible face. (laughs) I thought “Another new loser coming to the bar. That’s good, that makes more people.” I play a few songs and I start to notice that he’s doing little dance steps, that he’s shaking his head a bit, and I tell myself that he likes music, especially sounds from the 80’s, like new beat. And then I put on an Adolf Stern track that I love, More… I like it, something not at all known. He comes to me and says “That’s not bad, what is it? I have another one for you.” We listened to it again yesterday by the way, Psychogirl by Stupeflip. We end up talking about music and he tells me that his son makes music and that he is at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. He tells me that his name is Samuel Blazy. I look at him and I say “Wait, are you Michel? And he says “Yeah” with a little smile that I will remember all my life. My father used to take me to see exhibitions of Michel Blazy’s work when I was little, and everyone in my group of friends liked his work. We talked for two hours and afterwards we met every day at the bar for several hours.

Michel Blazy: I don’t remember Adolf Stern at all…in my head, it was Trisomie 21.

PDG: Michel, do you often collaborate with younger artists?

MB: You have to when you get older! Now I’m always the oldest in the exhibition. But yes, of course. In my life, I spend more time with young people than with people my age. With Enzo, we have created a collaborative relationship of equals.

PDG: What is it that interests you in someone else’s work?

MB: We are in very different aesthetic registers, but we are interested in things that are related to each other, even if they are separate in our culture. Death and life are inseparable because one is defined in relation to the other.

PDG: Michel, what does death represent in your practice? Is it a failure?

MB: When I present a piece with dying plants, the piece doesn’t stop there; mould arrives, and insects, a dead piece actually triggers more life than death. On the scale of the individual, there is a separation between the two, but if you take it as a kind of whole, we don’t know where it starts and where it ends. Your computer is considered dead when it no longer fulfils its function, you put it in the trash and it will exchange with its physical and chemical environment, it will enter this kind of great whole that is the living and at the end it will integrate that. When Enzo works on his objects, I’m not sure that his work speaks only about death, I believe that it also speaks about life because the objects are the remains of something, they are the intermediary between life and death.

EM: What is also interesting is the loop that it creates, to recall the title of the exhibition. When Michel lets a piece die, there is life behind it. I try to preserve ideas. Objects are not necessarily interesting to me. A glass with a lipstick mark on it or a lighter that doesn’t work…you have an emotion behind the things that evokes a memory. I deal with death to talk to people who are alive. It would be ridiculous to just want to preserve things, to save things, because it wouldn’t work. There is no happy ending, only endings. When you take a piece and you destroy it, you reduce it to powder, it’s reducing it to what it will become, it’s a projection into the future. Michel and I agree about that, we try not to control too much what will happen afterwards, to let things go, to let thoughts evolve or chemistry develop.

PDG: And in the pieces in which you use human bones?

EM: Bones are a temporal reduction. When you pick up a bone from a grave, when people go to honour their dead, it’s to have a place of remembrance, but for how many generations? If you’re not a famous person, you’re forgotten in three generations. Very few people know how to assemble their family tree farther than that, it’s not possible. We’re all going to end up in the same place, our material is going to end up being mixed indiscriminately. There is matter, that is the same, that develops, that accumulates, that disintegrates. In my exhibition “Anaxagoras” at Mor Charpentier Gallery in 2016, that was it, that nothing is born or perishes, but that existing things combine and separate again. For example, the memory we were talking about earlier, the song I think is More… I like it and that Michel thinks is Trisomie 21, how you receive a memory, how you interpret it and what you do with it, there is no recording, and even if there was, it wouldn’t hold.

MB: We didn’t talk about survival. We both make sure that things survive. It makes me think of the tombs of the pharaohs. On most of them, it is written that the pharaohs ask the living to pronounce their names once they are gone so that they will continue to live.

EM: As soon as someone’s name is no longer remembered and we don’t tell any more stories about them, it’s over, the person is forgotten.

MB: It’s the ultimate thing…the only thing that remains and that at that moment continues to live.

EM: But this thing is also going to disappear, and we are really aware of that. We have tried to preserve, to conserve things, to put things in museums because that’s where you can conserve a vacuum cleaner or a box of poo…you can conserve anything and everything through art. If we say that objects live through humans, a hard disk, a VHS, Hertzian waves which pass in loops around the Earth, these things will also disappear. As soon as there is no one left to tell stories and name things, history no longer exists.

MB: It’s a maintenance problem, that’s what it comes back to. Those who repeat the name of a pharaoh, it’s like watering a plant.

PDG: Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

EM: Yes. That’s why you have to enjoy life. Everyone is here thinking about death, but you shouldn’t think about it, you should just think about your life. Death, everyone goes through it but we’re lucky to be living now.

MB: Afterwards, optimism depends on where you stand. It’s a political position to be optimistic in the sense that it is a kind of moral duty. Because otherwise we stop everything. For me everything is political, in the sense that everyone has a field of action, however small it may be, and you always have the choice in your small field of action, despite the fact that today it is very difficult to live without a destructive activity: you use your computer, you smoke your cigarette, you wear clothes, the simple fact of existing is accomplished by destroying. Most people have a destructive job. In the Hippocratic Oath, the first thing is to do no harm. I am optimistic about life. It will rebuild itself, I am not at all worried about the planet. There will be ruptures, new ways of life and surely millions of deaths, I am not very optimistic about that. Things could very well continue without us. When we say that we must protect the planet, in fact it is we who are in danger. We give ourselves the role of protector. It’s dangerous to imagine that we can be so powerful.

PDG: What place do you give to the studio in your everyday life?

EM: The studio is a place where we feel at ease, and where you are surrounded by your universe. You can produce slowly, letting things happen to themselves since they come out of you, of your direction. You can make a lot of accidents…you’re spoiled for choice! I don’t really care if I have a studio or not.

MB: I can’t do without it, it’s a mental health issue. When I didn’t have one for a year, my room turned into a studio. I see it as a physical extension of the brain, it’s giving body to what’s in your head. There is this movement to make things palpable. For example, I find something in the street and it gives me an idea: rather than forgetting about it, I bring it to my studio and by having it somewhere, it makes this idea exist in the form of this object.

EM: When I arrived in Clermont-Ferrand for the month of the residency, I made a big mess trying to take over the space. I can’t live without objects around me. It’s a bit Pascalian, but if I don’t have anything I’ll think about death and if I have stuff I’ll think about life. I’ve had times when I didn’t have a studio too, or studios that were inadequate. I’ve always criticised art students for needing materials, and therefore needing to buy them. You can make beautiful pieces with things you find on the ground, and sometimes with nothing. At one time I wanted to do a workshop in prison and there you can hardly bring anything in. So the idea was “What can you do with zero material?” It’s kind of the same question as “What can you do without a studio?”

PDG: Let’s move on to the exhibition. When I proposed this itinerary, which begins at In extenso and extends into the surrounding area, into shops, a private apartment, the garden of the DRAC, how did you approach this holistic proposal?

EM: What I find interesting comes back to the question of the studio and how you show something. We start from a base, In extenso, the roots, and the other places are extensions, rhizomes. It’s endless, we could conquer the world. (laughs) But it’s also about letting things go where they can go and where they are accepted. There’s no real beginning or end. In places dedicated to art there is a “frame”, it points you to the work when what is interesting is rather the public who looks at the work and makes the work. The pieces at the hairdresser’s or in the thrift shops also speak of disappearance, of cycles.

MB: There is sometimes a problem with contemporary art which is that the more you have to do with a specialised environment, the more sterile it is in terms of exchange, especially between artists. I don’t know if it’s the structures that make things sterile, but in a hairdresser’s or in a thrift shop, you’ll talk about things that are essential to your work, but that you wouldn’t talk about at the Venice Biennale. When you show a piece in a hairdresser’s, things are not conditioned or shown according to the standards of contemporary art.

EM: Often the pieces presented in institutions are finished pieces and that’s the problem, because the piece is finished and there isn’t any more debate about it, or it closes the debate.

MB: When you visit an institution, a museum, your intimacy is denied. We deny the encounter that takes place between you and a work. It’s not that that’s important, it’s what you see on the wall, what you need to know, how to integrate it into your culture… and we deny this individual and intimate relationship between work and spectator.

EM: Even the artists end up becoming part of the institution, they’re conditioned as much as the artworks are, as much as the institution is. The hairdresser isn’t conditioned. I’m sure that he’ll be a very good mediator, by speaking about his perception of the piece, it will be stronger than a cartel with a five-line explanation of the piece.

PDG: For the exhibition, you developed a new series of works. Michel, could you please tell me a bit more about the avocado plants in the hair and animal fur, and you Enzo, about the series of pixels in which you use plastic flowers that you found in cemeteries?

MB: It’s the pursuit of something that has no beginning and no end, but what interests me in this piece with the lawyers is putting together different species, plant species and animal species, human species, using living animal hair and making an identity with that, a single living entity.

EB: What I like about the use of Michel’s hair is that the hair is supposed to be rot-proof. I like the contrast with the avocado which is alive. The root and the hair are related too. For my new pieces, I use fake plants that I find in cemeteries. I’ve always found it beautiful, the gesture of buying a plant to honour someone, putting it on their grave and a few months later, when you judge that the plant is “faded”, that the colours have faded, you change it out for a new plastic plant. These colours, I find them very beautiful, but, once again, humans show their desire for survival by changing out a plant for another plant made of plastic. The Mistral 130 glass that creates a pixelated effect on what you place behind it reinforces the idea of preserving the memory of the deceased. Also, I thought it was funny to show plastic plants next to Michel’s works, which will still eventually disappear but the memory is blurred, it is a memory that remains.

PDG: In the exhibition you propose an ecosystem merging death, life, plants, human remains, the synthetic, the organic, animal. You also intervene in each other’s pieces, creating an ambivalence about the author of the work. How do you envisage your collaboration?

MB: As Enzo mentioned earlier, we consider the plastic flowers in the exhibition as living things. There is a vision of the organic, the artificial, the object, the plant…which are considered as living things. The object is going to be considered as a witness that we pass in a race, but what it transmits is life. It’s this kind of thing that tries to stay alive, at the level of the object, of the artificial or the organic: everything tries to stay that way.

EM: I integrate real human bones into Michel’s fake bread bones and these fake bones look real while my real painted bones look fake. I like the question of real and fake in the exhibition. All the pieces are both fake and real. In the exhibition everything is transformable, everything is on loop, everything comes and goes, disappears, is reborn, and the fake and the real can have the same feeling. The goal is to make the spectator dream (for real), though the fake. What counts is the desire. I made a piece a long time ago, it was a 1€ coin stuck on the floor. Everyone goes over there to try to pick it up, hoping that it will come to them. Then, they understand that they have been fooled. Your desire is what makes you bend down, it’s a strong action.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermèshome alone et Artistes en Résidence.