Exodus Stations #5

« Et in Arcadia... » A reflection on Vincent Chevillon's work within the framework of the « Ruralités »
exhibition in Mucem

Artist: Vincent Chevillon Curator: Marta Jecu October 2019
Topic: All image credits Vincent Chevillon Location: Mucem — Musée des civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée.

I came into contact with the work of Vincent Chevillon for the first time, when seeing his show « Semes », at Khiasma, Paris, curated by Olivier Marboeuf1. This show made us perceive the different ways in which museological, art historical or recent artistic practices can create objects and their meaning by the way in which information about the object is constructed and mediated, and by the way in which they are displayed in space. « Semes », like « Et in Arcadia… » presented in Fall 2019 at Mucem, presented oscillating objects: hybrid beings melting historical and found items with self-made artistic pieces. The objects of Vincent Chevillon seem to reproduce the stereotype of ‘ethnological collectible’ by using the devices of contemporary art. « Semes » was initiated on a sail-boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean and has shifted registers from personal, physical experiences of the artist, to virtual content and scientific questioning around maps, images, found and collected material. The universe created by « Semes » also brought with it an imaginary of travel, of dislocation, of maritime territories as borders between the known and the unknown, but it also opened up a tragic substrate of experience connected to how muselogy imposed a grand historical narrative of the heroic conquests and explorations.

« Semes » looked therefor like a functional ‘cast’ of a museum, a container of still open boxes with open questions around the subject. Thinking of this exhibition, I have invited Vincent Chevillon to make a residency and intervention in the framework of Exodus Stations at MuCEM. « EXODUS STATIONS #5 » represents a reflection upon a personal archive of the curator/ethnologist that is part of the museum’s founding archive and on the theme of authorship in regard to museological display that Vincent Chevillon has been also dealing with throughout his work.

In his intervention, we are confronted with the ambiguity between found objects and crafted/authored objects, which is the fundamental question that ethnological museology also poses: do vernacular objects become anonymous objects once placed in a museum? And once included into a museological discourse, are they not re-signified? and appropriated by the signature of an exhibition-maker?

« Et in Arcadia… » also references another ambiguous method of ethnologic classification: natural vs. artificial. Arcadia is a real territory in the Peloponnese, but mythologically it was the home of Pan. Since Roman times, and then again in the Renaissance, Arcadia symbolically stands for a paradise beyond time in which the connection between human and his environment is harmonious, complete.

As Vincent Chevillon said in preparatory discussions, the exhibition « Ruralités » is the place for him in which accomplished objects and techniques ‘care’ for a balanced and self-sustained ecosystem. In the context of an exhibition that deals with raw materials and resources such as oil, water, wine and their products, Chevillon’s intervention introduces here elements that outline another essential and ideologically charged distinction when it comes to ethnological classification: natural – artificial, while the artificial can stand for both hybrid, fusion, experiment, failed assimilations, or missed encounters, but also for virtuality and digital realities.

In this show, Vincent Chevillon creates two types of objects: ‘sondes’, the sculpture that stands at the entrance to the exhibition, and ‘syncretic images’, that fuse images from Édouard de Laubrie’s archive and the artist’s own archive, bringing documentary material of both artist and curator into connection. This clash of references that mix sources and create new virtual objects powered partially digitally, also raises the question of the inter-specific nature of any objects. While museology presents objects as representations of certain categories, these objects forward the partial nature of such classifications. The symbiotic objects that Chevillon creates are differentiated from the vernacular objects, therefore, by the fact that they have no immediate function. They are usable but in a rather conceptual way.

Using these same principles, Vincent Chevillon has built over time his interactive online platform archipels.org. Here he groups sources (personal images, historical documents, his own works and exhibitions, video and sound material) into a virtual collage. The viewer can zoom in and out of loads and of layers of materials, that spread and cross-connect in a rhizomatic structure into the deep void of the internet, due to a great work in web design. This site also served also as a preparatory storage place for references on his project at Mucem2 and reveals its roots in Aby Warburg’s fascinating Atlas of Mnemosyne. Back in 1928, Warburg was constructing a database of images from all cultures and times, gathering around a thousand images (reproductions of all types), that he pinned together on about seventy wooden plates. Just like Chevillon in « Semes », while every board had a subject – the topics of research he was working on – Warburg was also switching the images on the boards.3 Contrary to an illustrative and didactic use (images illustrating a certain topic), which characterized previous types of boards, Warburg turns the boards into a platform for association and content generation, incorporating the principle of Dada collage. Working together with his cultural analysis writings, the boards functioned as a ‘Denkraum’ (thinking space).4 He followed, for example, recurrent motifs throughout classical art history right up to modern social life in sports, politics etc.5 Warburg’s method of research was further developed through the ‘iconology’ of Erwin Panofsky, an assistant of Warburg and cultural analyst, who created the basis of what is nowadays called ‘Bildwissenschaft’ in the German academic realm. ‘Iconology’ follows the migration and transformation of certain motifs in art history, and the changing content with which they are invested, according to shifting social and political patterns.

Nevertheless, Chevillon’s virtual Archipels are not exactly a research platform. They work in a contrary way: whereas Warburg synthetised material, Chevillon’s website seems to spread or scatter information. Humour and a kind of cheeky joking are present. At the same time the site also releases the perturbing perception of the immensity of information, and a sort of arbitrariness in meaning production. Maybe they can be given meaning as diagrams of possible contamination, or as web architectures of changing densities.

The material stored on Archipels informs the main sculpture Rainmaker placed at the entrance, the syncretic images that are shown on the main screen and on the monitors in the exhibition, as well as the collage work included in the showcase on the left wall of the main exhibition space. In all of these works, the main principle is fusing images, shapes and objects from the exhibition « Ruralités » and its imaginary, and from Vincent Chevillon’s own universe. These are connected with invisible threads – sometimes obvious, other times rather distant historical or the artist’s personal connections. The blurred images are created with special software designed by the artist, which creates new compositions by continuous digital dissolution of pre-selected images which are stored in a digital library. The images included in the bank come from Édouard de Laubrie’s and Chevillon’s archives: photographic elements, documents, research material, and the software chooses the images to be fused randomly. While the image projection runs on the main screen and two monitors, images are created live by the programme from the existing databank, which makes every image unique, and the result unexpected. Moreover due to superpositions, the end of the process is always a black image, where the information ends up being erased. The appearance of new images contributes to the dissolution of old ones. As the artist explains, for him, these syncretic images, caught in the process of their own dissolution, ‘recall the unconscious of our storage places, of our black boxes and conquest treasures, in- between merged worlds and historical periods.’6

The main sculpture, Rainmaker, that is placed at the entrance of the exhibition belongs to a type of work that the artist labels Sonde – a device that delves into a distant time-space and extracts information that it cross-breeds with our own reality. This sculptural and conceptual object is a vehicle that the artist sends to other contexts and which come back changed and charged with new form prototypes and ‘genetic information’ from ‘other spaces’. In that sense, they also reveal a methodology of work.

In Rainmaker we also recognise moulds of objects from the exhibition that run across civilisations and signify earth cultivation, with their connected functions, materials, shapes and colours: the chariot, the wheel, the food or water container, and types of materials such as straw, iron, wood, fibre. 7

Intersected with these vernacular elements, the artist introduces a satellite shape, a paradigmatic device for the communication of our times, connected to virtual and technological progress since modern times. Symbolically, it connects the earth, depicted in the exhibition through all the tools and practices connected to agriculture, and the sky, as a virtual site of flows of information and communication circuits that defy time and space.

The shape of the satellite which is predominant in the ‘sonde’ evokes the connection with the ‘beyond’: other horizons, other beliefs, other worlds.

The artist asks himself: ‘To whom does this satellite turn, what does it receive (gazes, information)? Where does it send its signals? To whom? To the skies? To which skies?’

The artist introduces in the collages placed in the flat showcase and in the projections, documents coming from beyond’ the Mediterranean basin and that open the question of the rurality to a context which goes geographically beyond the material in the archives of Édouard de Laubrie: ‘orientalist’ photographs showing antique ruins in a pastoral landscape.

Elements of wax print cotton, itself an international product resulting from old and recent trade routes between continents, formerly connected to colonisation and nowadays to the modern globalized system, is used in Africa, designed in the Netherlands and the UK and produced mostly in China.

« Rainmaker » is also adorned with magical, prophylactic objects like lobed nuts, amulets for protection against lightning, and medals that are extracted from a catalogue presented by Édouard de Laubrie.8 Nevertheless, its contemporary expression talks about the magic of today’s design that renders accessible technological complexities that we cannot follow any more.

1 http://www.khiasma.net/exposition/« Semes »/
2 https://archipels.org/tables/passeurs/rellotge-de-reg/#/175,-124,12
3 See here an article that connects Aby Warburg with André Malraux regarding their work with image reproduction: Museum and Mnemosyne in Grebe, Anja: Aby Warburg, André Malraux, and the re-/construction of art history as social history, University of Bamberg, Department of Art History, online under: http://www.andremalraux.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Grebe_Malraux_Article.pdf
4 Some of these panels can be seen on the site of the Warburg Library at Cornell University.
5 Idem, pg. 6
6 Informal discussion with the artist, April 2018.
7 https://archipels.org/tables/passeurs/#/-230,-1036,102
8 https://archipels.org/tables/passeurs/noix-trilobee/#/1138,-188,158