Conversation with French artist Jérémy Gobé
Jérémy Gobé is a young associate artist of CENTQUATRE-Paris who has been showing his sculptural work across France (Palais de Tokyo, Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon, etc.) since he graduated from L’École des Arts Décoratifs. For his first artist residency abroad, he brought his knitting machine to Miami where he attended a four week program at the Fountainhead Residency. His stay led to a personal show at the Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, from the 24th of January to the 28th of February. We met him to talk about his work and his personal feelings on the city of Miami.
Amandine Roggeman (A.R.): Let’s begin with your personal background and the way you ended up being an artist.
Jérémy Gobé (J.G.): I have always loved art but I am not from an artistic background at all. In my mind, an artist career was not a real job; that’s why I decided first to study architecture which seemed a perfect compromise between a creative and a serious approach. This is where I attended my first drawing classes and , at the same time, understood I was made to be an artist.
One day in class, I was drawing as usual, instead of listening to the lecture, and the girl next to me noticed. She asked why I did not apply to the Beaux-Arts?”. She explained it was where you were taught how to become an artist. I applied the following day and I got in L’École des Beaux Arts de Nancy. It was a bit of a challenge at first because compared to the other students, I had no artistic culture. I only knew a few names, like Picasso… Teachers were really demanding, but I found it stimulating. I took all the classes I could, learned all the techniques and, after three years in that school, I had to move on.
I applied to L’École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris to complete a Master’s program. There, in a new environment, I was prepared to be out from my comfort zone. It was my first time living in Paris, so everything was new.
A.R.: What did you get out of your experience at Les Arts Décoratifs?
J.G.: I did not learn so much there, although I did mature, and took time to think about my own identity as an emerging artist.
That school enabled me to build a solid network and to meet established artists. I had made a list of my favorite artists when I arrived in Paris. The video artist, Valérie Mréjen, was at the top of this list. Thanks to one of my teachers, I met her, and we got along very well. I had the opportunity to work as an intern on one of her shoots, and, in the end, I was made assistant director. That’s how she became my artistic mentor.
A.R.: Do you still use video in your work today?
J.G.: I don’t have a favorite medium. I see myself as a sculptor. My aim is to invade space, whatever the methods or the materials I use. I don’t want to get stuck into a particular technic.
I do not choose the artists I admire, for the medium they use but for the values they share. What I liked in Valerie Mréjen’s work were the languages, the interactions, the social content, whether it be expressed through video or another medium.
After that experience, I became really interested in the movie production. I wrote a script, based on an art installation I had made about my grandmother and her life, and had the chance to produce it. I met a film producer and we quickly found some funds. This movie toured in some festivals at the time. Now, I still make some videos which I include in my installations. Most of my installations deal at first with places and people I have encountered. They represent an essential starting point in my reflection; video is a way to keep a concrete link with them once the installation is created. I find it a good way to convey social considerations. It is the less creative part of my work, but it is made to help the public understand the creative process I have been going through. For me, the thing in contemporary art is to consider the idea as more important than the art work itself. That’s why I like to compare the art work to a cake: you can look at it and appreciate it as whole, or you can cut a piece of it and see the different layers it is composed of. Video can track back those different steps in the creation process, and that is why I consider it as essential.
A.R.: And how did the project of going to Miami come up? Why did you travel here for your first residency abroad?
J.G.: As far as participating in residencies, I prefer to do a residency tied to an exhibition, which gives me the possibility to be present before the opening in order to adapt my work to the environment, to the space, the culture and the identity of where I am going. I do not feel the need to leave or to be isolated for me to be inspired; and furthermore, participating in a residency requires certain logistics.
Yet, what I like above all is to develop my creative energy and discover new countries through art projects. Fountainhead Residency was a great opportunity in that sense. Plus, I was already programed at the Bass Museum when I heard about them. In fact, José Diaz, curator at the Bass, had shown my work to Kathryn Mikesell, director of the Fountainhead Residency. She liked my work and offered me a residency.
Initially, the exhibition and the residency were supposed to be two different projects, but we ended scheduling the residency before the exhibition in order to also show pieces I would have created during the residency.
I like to see the place of an exhibition one or two weeks ahead anyway, because I like to adapt my projects to the surrounding environment. I update some of my installations, but then I also add brand new pieces created thanks to locally found materials.
Also, the starting point of the exhibition at the Bass had a lot to do with its director, Silvia Karman Cubina, who is really open-minded and curious about the young French scene. I was honored as a young French artist to be part of such a prestigious and international program.
A.R.: What did you work on during you stay here? And how did the environment influence you?
J.G.: We conceived two exhibitions, one at the Miami Beach Regional Library, in the "BassX Gallery", which is the Bass Museum's satellite exhibition space during the year-long renovation of its gallery, and the other exhibition at the next door Wallgreens’ storefront gallery, which is a part of the Bass's ongoing public art program Temporary Contemporary. For this last space, I had in mind to continue working on a series entitled “The very essence of man”: I recover old, abandoned furniture and knit them a sweater. I also make drawings of the furniture and show them alongside my sculptures. I don’t take into consideration the perspective and only draw the simple image of the furniture as I initially found it. Sweaters help us forget about the defaults of the furniture and transform them in sculptural objects. Furniture is a kind of sculpture base for me.
In order to continue that project in Miami, I brought my knitting machine with me. I had planed to find abandoned furniture I could work with in Miami’s streets.
Although some of the pieces I present at Wallgreens are made according to that process, I was so surprised by the surrounding nature of Miami that I decided to integrate some other natural elements.
The Bass Museum is located on South Beach, and the residency is on the main land, so I have been sharing my time between two completely different parts of the city. I observed the many different faces of Miami even though I stayed only three weeks.
The residency, a house in a gated community on the bay front, is surrounded by a truly lush interweaved vegetation. Trees and palms are threaded together in a very natural movement. The first night I spent in the residence, I was walking through the neighbourhood when a coconut fell just next to me. The title of the exhibition “The imagination of nature scares me” came to me after that. Just landed from Paris with its urbanized nature, this was a real boundary-breaking event for me, if not scary. I love to choose double-meaning titles; this title also refers to my status as an artist: I have developed a deep fascination with nature and its creative power. For me, nature is the biggest artist. The balance of shapes is perfect. The way nature takes possession of the space is always the right one. Nature keeps on working and creating whatever happens, while an artist can be overwhelmed with weaknesses and doubts.
A.R.: But the city of Miami is constantly changing, new buildings are emerging everyday…
J.G.: Yes, I have the feeling Miami is build upon two opposing forces, the city growing and nature being driving out little by little. The exhibition is all about the relation between these two forces and how I overcome my fears of creation vs. nature. That doesn’t mean I want to erase nature, but I can’t help being scared by its splendor.
Thus, I collected some palm nuts around the residency, braving spiders, lizards and rats. I like this material because you have so many possibilities when you aggregate the nuts together. One nut might not seem interesting to you, but, by putting them together, you can sculpt natural shapes. That’s what I did on some of the furniture I found. I also picked up some palm leaves which I cut and painted in lacquered white, as if they were plaster sculptures.
By doing so, my idea was to recreate a fake nature, an image of Miami’s natural environment through artworks. I tried to respect the rhythm of nature and its simplicity, having only few materials but showing its endless possibilities. For example, my drawing series is made with only one pen. For me, nature is a single element that develops itself in different ways.
A.R.: Can you also explain your second work, the installation at the Miami Beach Regional Library? When was it first exhibited?
J.G.: I first made it for an exhibition at CENTQUATRE-Paris, the show was called “With apparent patterns”. We were to present monumental installations. I had never worked on such a large scale before… My exhibition room was really big, and I had also covered the external front of the building with knitting. It gave the impression that the jacquard was invading the entire building, moving from the front wall, and then passing through a hatch, to end up in the exhibition room.
This work was inspired from a sea urchin I had found. It had a very special pattern, reminding me of a Chanel suit design. I had the idea of recreating it through knitting. That’s how I ended up learning hand knitting. Searching on the Internet, I learned about knitting machines from the 60’s and 70’s. No one uses them anymore so they are really hard to find; but I had the chance to get one on the Internet. I fixed it and learned to use it thanks to the instruction manual. You can find, on one of these pages, this red and white pattern I have been recreating since. The instruction under the image was: “if you ever want to be a good housewife, you need to learn how to do this jacquard pattern.”
In a latter phase, I found out about the history of jacquard. Today, you would find it unthinkable to wear jacquard but, at the time, everyone on had some in one’s closet. I was, for a long time, a featured product of the French industry; however, the year I started to look at jacquard’s production, the last French factory closed down. The production was relocated to Bangladesh, and today, Bangladeshi workers are beginning to rebel against their working conditions, as the French workers did 200 years ago. I like to associate my installation with this energy of insurrection.
Facing that situation, I decided to produce the jacquard myself, with my own machine. Then I found people that had bigger knitting machines than mine and so I was able to imagine larger scale pieces. I believe that art is the way to help those old crafted industries to revive and those techniques to survive. We live in a capitalist economy: if a business is not successful, it can’t survive. Nonetheless, art is not completely enslaved to those mechanisms and the artist has the opportunity to highlight a true savoir-faire.
For the installation at the Bass Museum, I wanted the forms to be alive. It is called “Freedom leading wool”, referring to the famous Delacroix’s painting. It releases a very organic energy that is also at the base of Delacroix’s painting.
I have worked with the space at the Library so as to create a sensation of immersion for the visitor. Wool has an important comfort feel. People tend to forget the amazing characteristics of this material: it has the natural ability to conduct heat and to transfer energy to the skin. There is something really sensual when you experience the installation.
A.R.: And now that you are on your way back to France, what are your future plans?
J.G.: I plan to do a video project in Bangladesh, following the ongoing story of jacquard’s production. It would be directly linked to the installation I made in the Miami Beach Regional Library.
I am also going to take part in some illustration fairs in Paris. But the biggest project is definitely my first solo exhibition at Odile Ouizeman’s gallery. It is planed for October-November 2016.
At the moment I have a show ending in Dubai. It was curated by Amanda Abi Khalil, from the gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde. The exhibition was entitled “White Cube… Literally”, and there were not only artists, but also curators, specialists, etc. invited to give their point of view and to think about that topic. It was not a conventional exhibition but more a kind of artistic think-tank.
A.R.: So I understand that you have been traveling a lot recently.
J.G.: Yes, I wanted get rid of boundaries. Paris can be a complex context for young contemporary artists; that’s why more and more travel abroad. Building these kinds of connections is interesting, for the artist, but also for France in general.
I find it funny because people often tell me I have a French style, talking about my art. But I am happy about it; I am not ashamed. It is so hard nowadays to find your identity… I respect France and love my country. Travelling abroad strengthens the image I have of my homeland and makes me feel closer to it.
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