Paris, Oct, 2012: There is a problem with trying to write this introduction. In it I feel like I should tell you about why and how you should read on, I should list the achievements and recognition that Elodie Seguin has already received, her success. I should mention that she is only twenty-eight years old. I could call her one of the hottest upcoming artists in France at the moment.
But none of this seems quite right. It would seem a bit too much like hype. And this suits neither her nor her work. Instead I will say that we met in a rather down-at-heel cafe that she liked, she drank small measures of neat vodka because she was nervous, she was polite and arrived on time. Sometimes when I asked her a question she would stop for quite a long time and really think about what I had asked before she replied.
Elodie Seguin, Espace de projection, 2012, acrylic, water-based ink, plastic, cardboard, wood, glass, variable dimensions, Exhibition view: Art Statements 2012, Art Basel, Switzerland, 2012; Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff.
James Thompson: How do you feel about your career for the past three years?
Elodie Seguin: I recently thought about what has happened with my work over the past three years and how I was working before I finished school. Since I was taken on by a gallery straight after school I can only make this comparison, but there is a very big difference. Before what bothered me was to find the meaning of the individual piece with the one before; it was important for me to make a continuity in my practice. When I started exhibiting at the gallery it was like everything had to be written for the one particular show. I had to take into account that when the work's made public it exists and should have the feeling that it is thought independently, considering the characteristics of the space, the context, and I always tried to give the best answer to the project. And it’s important for me not to build identical exhibitions; I still react from one to another. It changes a lot for me and how I feel about it; it’s not very comfortable, but I am never in a comfortable position so I live like that…
And there are many questions about my work being on sale; it changes a lot. Before, once a piece of art was finished and exhibited, it again became material in my workshop; they were shapes/forms frozen into a state only during one exhibition. Whereas now, the exhibition ends and it’s not a material anymore because it has been sold or kept by the gallery. If I had the choice I could decide to make it a material again and to double my work but it’s not like that. I don’t know what to do with this idea.
It is a kind of new problematic for me…
JT: How you feel about Paris as center of contemporary art?
ES: Paris is a difficult place to be a young artist for economic reasons. Also I am Parisian so I've always lived in Paris and it’s difficult for me to answer that question. I feel it’s completely different to other parts of the world and I'm sure that the relation with the presentation of the work would be completely different elsewhere. I am curious and I would like to experience it, to go out of this culture. While I was in school I wanted to stop everything so I spent four months in China to learn how to draw better. It was so different; everything that seemed obvious here was totally different. I suppose it’s the same for art and therefore I can’t compare Paris to other cities because I don’t know them yet.
I've already exhibited my work in different places but that’s not enough for me to have an idea of what it is like to think about aesthetics and art in another country. I've travelled to different places to show my work but I don’t think it’s a very cultural experience each time.
The sum of a work is not obviously adjustable to another place. You have to alter them.
Elodie Seguin, Etude abîme: lumière de fenêtre en meurtrière sur socle mur, 2012 (detail), water-based ink, paper, wood, tape, glue, 260 x 270 x 41 cm, Exhibition view: Gestes et mesures à l‘horizon des surfaces, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris, France, 2012; Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff.
JT: Would you consider yourself or your work minimalist?
ES: My work has many similarities with the work of the minimalists. We are very close in the aim of reducing unnecessary data, the reduction of the form to reach the core of the intention. But the enclosed aspect of minimalism gives me the same feeling as a painting, for example Rauschenberg, and the will of planting a cleat in a canvas, to open it, is really important for me…
In this way perhaps I consider myself an "open minimalist"!
But I really like the minimalists, they are part of my references, but I like a lot of different artworks.
JT: Could you say something about how strength and weakness interact in your work?
ES: The weakness is the lack of authority. I don't want to do something that tries to grab the viewer, forces them to look, shouting "I am here." It's like a form of discretion. The strength and weakness might be the same thing. I like the fact that in this discretion you can take the risk to fail. It has to be in the right place; I am always trying to find the place with the right dimension, the right proportion.
The balance is important. It’s thought through.
JT: Relating to this, what's the relationship between your work and the space it operates in?
ES: Where does the work end is the question. I personally don’t feel that the work is reduced simply to its material aspect; all the surrounding stuff interacts with the understanding of the piece. In the same way the proportion of the piece in the place where it is shown creates scales that are also important because I don’t have the limits of the canvas, I have those of the gallery, of the museum and I think about it in terms of intentions: what kind of feeling we have when we are outside in the street and when we enter an exhibition space; what is happening when we enter the space.
I've also started to work on the symbolic place as well as the physical. For example for the exhibition in Italy the art center was located fifty meters away from the Leonardo Da Vinci Céne [supper] and there was an echo of this space with the space of Leonardo Da Vinci. I worked directly from that; it was a way to be inspired by the cultural context.
Milan was a very particular time because it was during Fukushima and the Arab revolution. I felt it was very difficult to find my place as an artist at that moment. I had the feeling that the best thing was to just shut up so I didn’t want to add objects in the world; therefore I worked with almost nothing. I recreated the space of the Céne as if we were entering it from the back of the painting. I used the space, I used the carpet and straightened it up with the wooden structure. I was thinking about proportions and the presence of the piece in the space. It was only about restrictions, divisions. Nothing is shown, everything is missing.
JT: Let's talk about your colour palette; it seems very particular.
ES: I'm happy you asked about that as maybe it’s the first thing that interested me in art. And when I think about minimalism I first think about the color field paintings.
I mix all my colors and try to make it impossible to take a picture of them, so it's impossible to capture them with a camera. I want to make it really hard to have a real idea about them if you don’t see them.
And it’s important to find a real reason to put colors in my work; I don’t use it systematically because I want to be responsible with colors. I think that colors talk about language and I try to make colors that you can’t really name. So they are defined, from one color to the one which is just alongside, and they can’t be qualified independently.
JT: How does your work relate to painting?
ES: Because it’s frontal. I am interested in the frontier between sculpture and painting, and the common point is the fact that the sculpture is standing up and the painting is frontal too; they are in the same position. And you know it’s really difficult for me to make an intervention without the wall.
Even though people often consider my work as sculpture I am more interested in painting. But painting was not obvious for me; when I first visited the Louvre and discovered classical painting I didn’t understand anything about it. I was wondering what do I have to think when I was in front of a painting why everybody says it’s beautiful? But with experience I started to understand and train my eye without text or explanations. My first relationship was to try to understand how it was made and deconstruct the gestures; it took me some time before I felt the paint like that. That's why I think everybody can appreciate art without specific knowledge; it's just a question of envy and practice as a spectator, but at the end everything is there when you look at a piece and you have to deal with this.
JT: A lot of your work includes a gap or a subtraction of sorts. Why do you think this is? How does it work?
ES: The idea of a subtraction is to reveal something. My first subtraction was to take away the frame and I have the feeling it’s a sufficient act in itself; it says something about itself. It has a relation with drawing, as in the lack of some lines reveals other lines and I like this idea of building something with subtraction. It’s systematic in my work.
For example in my last exhibition at Jocelyn Wolff I put a piece of wood at eye level; it kind of withdrew a spatial aspect to the perception of it because you couldn’t see the top or the bottom, or identify the width of the board. It gave the sensation that it was floating in the air.
Or in Basel my piece espace de projection was made because I understood that when you put a surface at 90° to a glass it projects symmetrically and therefore this color surface was like a painting, a gesture that recreates a surface and is not like a reflection anymore; it really colors what is behind the glass. To make a reflection becoming a gesture of painting, to give that feeling you have to subtract many of the surrounding things.
Elodie Seguin; Exhibition view: Debout Derrière, Scène Ouverte, Centre Culturel Français, Milan, Italy, 2011; Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff.
JT: Broadly speaking what do you think are the main concerns of your generation of French artists?
ES: It's difficult to answer! I would say that they are precise with their material characteristics. They are concerned with the parameters and concerns of their medium and their activity as artists. The artists that are close to me and that are interesting for me are formalist in a responsible way. To go back to what you might call traditional concerns. The spectacular is really thought through in France, but it’s almost overrated…
They also try to understand what "today" means.
The future questions will be on the art economy compared with social economy and I have the feeling that it is something that people around me really think about.
Translation by Emilie Wilson. ArtSlant would like to thank Elodie Seguin and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff for their assistance in making this interview possible.