It’s always a huge effort to go to Pantin, a suburb north of Paris where Chanel and Puiforcat have their factories but also, and this is the reward, is an area where much contemporary art is taking place. On the ground floor of Magasins Généraux, Fondation d’Entreprise Hermès is showing the result of 10 years of artists’ residence in its different manufactures of cristal, silver, leather and silk. The show already took place in Seoul and in Tokyo and it gives a good idea of tomorrow’s trends.
Each artist was mentored by a senior colleague, like Jean Michel Alberola or Giuseppe Penone, Richard Fischman or Susanna Fritscher, Isabelle Cornaro or Richard Deacon… The program is very international and offers residences to young artists, funded by Fondation d’Entreprise Hermès which is run by a former educator, Laurent Pejoux. Besides introducing children to the arts and financing various artistic or theatrical programs in Project housings, it develops cultural activities in all the regions around France where Hermès has factories. Saint Louis for cristal, le Doubs, Ardennes, Limousin or Dordogne for leather, the Lyon area for silk, silver in Pantin, horsehair in the Sarthe…
One can easily imagine the mutual fascination developed by young artists and experienced artisans who teach them how to blow glass or sculpt calfskins. I was fascinated by Olivier Sévère‘s crystal sculptures, either moulded or cut with a variety of colors and textures. He likes crystal for its sand and lead mixture which give it a huge resistance. He was one of the first residents in 2010 at Saint Louis and has since become a confirmed artist exhibiting at galerie Sinople.
Guillaume Poulain was mentored by Françoise Pétrovitch, and worked two years ago near Lyon, with the silk of the famous Hermès scarves. He uses the precious material for very usual objects like a basket ball or a broom. Chloé Quenum created in 2020 a sculpture made of 41 crystal fruit. Taiwanese artist Yuhsin U Chang used different layers of leather to create a large sculpture. “A skin has its own presence, its own force” she says and she worked in Savoie at la Manufacture de Haute Maroquinerie two years ago. Io Burgard worked with tools inspired by the artisan leatherworkers. Célia Gondol wove fabrics inspired by astrophysics optical effects. The forty meter long silk installation comes with a video where astrophysicist Hélène Courtois “reads” the figures which result of the “Observables d’Apeiron”.
With his large installation, which looks like a huge bat but represents different plants made of black lamb skin, Sébastien Gouju takes up a large space in the exhibition hall. It si very dramatic. He worked in the Saint Julien glove factory in Limousin. Anne Charlotte Yver produced industrial sculptures in 2013 at the John Lobb workshop in Paris. She mixes reinforcements ed concrete and leather straps.
One of the most intriguing artist is the British Oliver Beer with his acoustic crystal funnel, which conducts sound from the outside world into a domestic interior. I put my ear next to the “ear trumpet’ and could hear all the noises from the exhibition hall. Trained in the arts and in contemporary music, he developed this crystal object in 2013 and was approached by David Walsh, the owner of the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, where he created an acoustic cave-like formation which is twelve meter wide and plunges three stories underground. “Like the crystal ear trumpet, this intervention naturally collects and transmits sounds”. He is represented by Thaddaeus Ropac.
There are 31 artists present at Magasins Généraux and they are very different from each other. What is common to all of them is their residence which brought them the savoir faire of unique artisans and made them jump a big step in their careers. When I asked the director of the foundation if they would collaborate with Hermès as designers in the future, he replied: “some will, others won’t but they all kept strong ties with their “masters” in the workshops.” The show is curated by Gaël Charbau who supervised the residencies since 2012.
Until March 13 at Magasins Généraux, 1 rue de l’Ancien Canal, Pantin. Entrance is free from Wednesday to Sunday, 1pm to 8pm.
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