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TextWork presents Jean-Charles de Quillacq

TextWork is an initiative of the Fondation Ricard - Paris. This online platform aims at publishing monographic texts by international curators and art critics of French artists. Sylvie Fortin, guest curator at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, shares her impression of the work by Jean-Charles de Quillacq, who was recently awarded the Etant donnés residency.

By soliciting monographic studies, the Fondation Pernod Ricard initiates new encounters between artists and authors. This editorial project provides a forum for ambitious art criticism and is part of the Fondation Pernod Ricard’s policy of supporting the French art scene, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture. The project is supported by a consultative editorial committee consisting of François Aubart, Thomas Boutoux, and Marie Canet.

For his research Corporeal Commons, the artist will develop his thoughts on corporeal substances and secretions, especially sweat.

At the Coalesce Center for Biological Art in Buffalo (NY), the artist will focus on different dimensions of sweat (chemical, physiological, and legal) and work to develop and fabricate artificial liquids that synthesize his own perspiration, growing bacteria associated with certain odors and/or designing fermentation systems for these bacteria. One of the objectives of the first phase of research will be to find a way to develop and maintain synthetic sweat, a perfume or watery liquid, and to test its interactions with different materials under variable conditions. By extension, he will also research the deodorant industry and the substances and materials developed to manage sweat, as well as breathable fabric and textiles technologically designed to keep the body dry and odorless. At the Bemis Art Center, Omaha, he will experiment with various sculpting materials, techniques, and protocols and test out various installation strategies.

While De Quillacq is interested in all corporeal substances and secretions, he is particularly interested in perspiration because it is concentrated in the body’s most permeable zones, while also being secreted from the skin almost everywhere on the body of all humans, regardless of sex. It is common to all genders, to all identities. It is also the visible manifestation of our reactions to both internal and external factors, highlighting the porosity of our bodies and presenting them as filters, penetrated in two directions. The image of a filter led him to create a form akin to those he has been producing for a long time: using the simple and repetitive gestures of tubes or organs that act as conduits, like real pipelines, of fluids of an uncertain nature. In his own words, he describes Self As Tube: “Human beings are tubes. From a strictly physical point of view, we are dark, humid, coiled tubes with openings at the ends.” Fever, internal injuries, infections, intense emotions, or stress, the confined atmosphere of the subway, and heatwaves trigger the same processes and reactions in all of our bodies. With global warming, these shared processes and reactions take on a collective, even generalized dimension. Sweating thermoregulates our bodies, lowering their temperature through humidification.

Perspiration plays the same role as the cremaster muscle when it relaxes, allowing the testicles to lower and cool down to ensure the production of sperm. Matthew Barney titled his films, The Cremaster Cycle, after this muscle. Some sweat-producing glands—those under the armpits, around the anus and nipples, for example—are activated at the onset of puberty by the hormonal system. They are therefore part of our sexual attributes. It has been said that deep human attraction is often triggered by our scents. Thus, bacteria is intimately linked to our sexuality because it gives perspiration its scent, our smell. Our sweat has at once a human and non-human aroma since our bodies contain many more bacterial cells than human ones. Sweat is mainly made up of water and salt but also contains plasma, lactic acid, urine, toxins—including lead and mercury—and plastic. These elements bring De Quillacq back to the material of his work, the evocation of toxicological poems that de-hierarchize realms and genres. He believes that the phenomenon of perspiration and the substances of sweat manifest themselves to our senses and consciousness in many places today, both physically and psychologically. Sweating, as one of the signs of our times, is to become the subject of his study: he will explore its realities, processes, and materials during his residency in two phases.

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