MIMOSA ECHARD WINS THE 2022 MARCEL DUCHAMP PRIZE
Mimosa Echard’s practice is inspired by the creation of hybrid ecosystems where the living and the non-living, the human and the non-human coexist. Her works explore the areas of contact and contamination between organic objects and consumer objects – elements that can be perceived as ambivalent or even contradictory through our cultural conventions. Lise Guéhenneux interviewed her for Crash back in the spring of 2021, during which time she had a solo exhibition at Galerie Chantal Crousel. It was a meeting in a place impregnated with moving materials, during which the artist defined his space of freedom…
LG: Your work is often associated with a certain counter-culture, as well as the figure of the witch and Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitics. Many often note your mixed use of dead and living beings. Your practice exhibits compelling differences in scale, including small elements within larger installations that occupy a space, the one you lived in and seem to have left: the scene of an event. It also recalls a certain Californian art that links assembly to performance. But what are you working on now?
ME: Right now I’m making big “paintings” like the ones you see in my studio, where large photographic prints are covered with several layers of fabric, images printed on fabric, capsules, flowers, objects… There is a liquid moment in the process, when the elements intertwine and connect. It took me a while to realize how important liquidity was to my practice. For a moment, it felt like it was acrylic-like liquid paint helping me get everything to start interacting. So I had a place in the studio where I painted. It was a little runny, a little dirty, and things were drying and transforming there. And then I used that fact to take that liquidity even further, with water, diluted synthetic glues, latex… It’s important at some point that there are dry bits, pieces liquids and others in between. There is a certain structural logic inherent in the organic life of the studio. In some of my installations, I have developed this idea of leaving several moments between these two states, between the dry and the humid, and there is often a relationship to the body – it still smells, like something still warm and maybe a little worrying. I’ve always liked that art didn’t have to be distant, cold or dry. Can’t we imagine pieces that keep that vivid intensity that comes with liquids, fluids, blood, tears, sexual fluids, anything that moves in the body and almost any material that surrounds us? I have made my studio a place where there are few categories, where waste is an object like any other.
LG: Which also means no hierarchy?
ME: Yes, it’s also true that I live in my studio and that I’m lucky enough to have a garden. There is a circulation between the bathroom, my cosmetics, the garden, food, intimate objects and those more specific to work. Each object exists in itself but it also transforms – there is always this idea of transition and transformation. The idea of a living organism comes from there. It is a question of transforming art into another body so that it enters a system of sensory relations with matter, as with plants for example. The sexuality of plants has always fascinated me. I have developed quite an obsessive and empirical knowledge of plants and erotic botanical imagery since my childhood. Moreover, when I met the biologist Pierre-Henri Gouyon, I realized that his scientific research was rooted in the same fascination for plant sexuality. He had his office in the Jardin des Plantes where he was able to show me some very old herbaria. It was amazing. In one article, he talks about a feminist botanical research group, led by Betty Lord at the University of California, which demonstrated in the 1980s that the idea of a male seed (pollen) having all the vigor and doing all the fertilization work was a mistake. It helped me understand that we need to deconstruct our scientific idea of sexuality.
LG: So you have a deep understanding of the materials you use?
ME: Each plant that I use has its own history and its own properties. For example, I started working with Yarrow, which is found everywhere on roadsides and in wastelands. Its rigid stems were used to pull the Yi-King in China. Where I come from, growing therapeutic plants to use for healing purposes is a strong tradition, and a friend told me how yarrow is used for abortions. She told me that she drank so much of it that she now feels sick at the mere sight of the plant. Especially in this example, the relationship between the Chinese book of mutations, attempted abortion and urban wastelands create a kind of fiction that I cling to and that makes me want to use the plant. I also worked with the orchid, which survives thanks to a kind of symbiosis rare in nature allowing its precise and elaborate sexual strategies. It feeds on a fungus which acts as a sort of food straw. This system has been artificially reconstructed by industry to make the orchid one of the most hybridized plants in the world today. I don’t use flowers because I find them beautiful, but rather because they lead me to other stories. This type of botanical knowledge has always fascinated me. In my childhood, I had a very passionate relationship with fruit trees and plants.
LG: Is this a driving force in your practice?
ME: You can certainly look at my work without thinking about that aspect, but I could never use a plant without considering all that web of relationships. Is it possible to desire like a plant or to desire a plant? During my residency at Villa Kujoyama in Japan, I met many scientists and mycologists interested in the notion of memory in the plant world. I became interested in the slime mold, which is an organism that is a cross between a plant, a fungus and an animal, and which has long been thought of as a simple fungus but is in fact closer to an amoeba. In Japan, there is a whole culture and counter-culture around it, including fanzines for example.
LG: What properties of slime mold caught your attention?
ME: It’s an organism that can memorize, learn and transmit even though it has only one cell and no nervous system. It’s crazy to imagine what a single-celled organism is capable of and therefore what can happen inside our own body with millions of cells, as well as in all living beings around us. Also, I’m particularly interested in slime mold because it has 720 different sex types. The slime mold opens its membrane or not depending on the individual with which it comes into contact, and it can open it to 720 different sexual types. So beyond these scientific representations, there is this idea of sexuality, of dynamics, of energies that run through my work a little. This idea of symbiosis in nature, of incessant interactions, comes from studies carried out in the 1990s, such as with the book by Lynn Margulis The bacterial universe [“The Bacterial Universe”]. Today, his research has become more mainstream and has allowed us to design a cultural and political world that is not binary.
LG: In your practice, you often take tiny things, such as fungi, plants, insects, etc., and include them in a larger system.
i: It’s true. I have an attentive relationship with small phenomena and then I try to explore these phenomena as much as possible to make room for certain events that will become larger. Working on large formats allows this immersive sensory experience. This almost mental idea of the inside of the body, and how something can suddenly exteriorize to become something else.
LG: So that the immersion takes place in a space that remains open to surprises?
ME: Yes, in my work there is a somewhat murky moment where the objects are not fully defined as sculpture, painting or installation. In the next exhibition in March at the Chantal Crousel gallery, I plan to show these elements, which you call Polochon and I call Boudin (I don’t really know how to name these pieces), on the wall like paintings folded in on themselves, which can then fold and unfold again.
LG: Perhaps you’re offering a new type of adventure for the duffel, with this volume so closely associated with the body?
i: Yes, I hope so! When I started these pieces, I didn’t know where I was going with that. At first there was liquid inside, sometimes clothes, personal items, things that I don’t even remember putting in there. I often use flowers that have a power of pigmentation like Clitoria or Gardenia… The plants will make sap, color the inside of the fabric membranes until everything comes together like a corkscrew. inside those sort of ambiguous wrappers that can twist and look like they’re still damp. It’s like, like in a fantasy movie, a weird new being is going to come out. Another idea that can also frighten us is the notion of skin as a border, which can contain unnameable things. I like objects that create doubt. In reality, they are quite stable, but going through a moment of liquidity generates this lively and vibrant feeling. The work plays on this aspect to push the notion of deconstruction even further and stop trying to categorize everything, to reinvent new bodies that are not simple social constructions. The materials I use defy convention, especially conventions that classify certain materials as “feminine”, which an artist must then justify as they must constantly do with regard to their specific culture. To make art is to redefine all of that. In any case, art is where I feel most free. I like the idea of metamorphosis, knowing that everything can be transformed in the studio. I throw a lot of things, and then I can pick them up again. I always cut out old pieces. There is a moment of fury in the studio when I produce art, where all the pieces communicate with each other and get a little out of control. But during the exhibition, there is a moment of softness, calm, even comfort, where the pieces remain more or less in their place. Each object will then play its role of seduction, of merchandise, while remaining ambiguous and dissident.