Intervention #25: Baptiste Charneux – Lichen
Here I am. I’ve been put against the wall in penitence. Shall I measure its thickness, multiply, count how many stones high it is?…Leave these jobs to others. Let me have the best bit. I can do nothing other than dream when faced with its noble blemishes, mouldy patches where each finds the form of his loves, loses it, finds it again and can then see nothing else (surprised by surprised looks, shame, angry that the whole world can’t see it too) until the day when he himself…an imperceptible displacement of the soul has clouded the mystery. The man had confused the image with his own superimposition. Mutable monsters (what am I saying?), decor where God’s skin sticks, where his dark sweat drips, poignant imprint, unique, irrefutable fingerprint evidence.
Claude Cahun, “Disavowals”, 1930.
In Conversation with Baptiste Charneux: Creating the Lichen Exhibition.
Veronika: Baptiste, how was creating this exhibition different from your previous experiences? For the first time, you created a body of work for a space that you hadn’t previously visited. You also created artworks that in some way imitate nature...
Baptiste: To be honest, it was complicated, because I never proceed like this. I usually like to take the time to get to know the space before occupying it. In this way I can ensure that my sculptures and installations reflect the space, which simultaneously hosts and defines the work. After all, everything that composes an exhibition space is actually an important component of the work-in-progress.
That has been all the more difficult because my proposition is directly inspired by a specific context, an outdoor space, specifically a forest not far away from my parent's place, where I quarantined last spring. It's a big challenge to evoke the idea of open space within a closed one. Especially when it comes to relating to some natural elements.
Veronika: What is the connection between the poem Molds by Claude Cahun, which you chose as the ‘motto’ for the exhibition, and the artworks the visitor will encounter in the gallery?
Baptiste: This exhibition is not based on but rather partially inspired by this small excerpt from Claude Cahun’s poem Aveux non avenus, in which she described, in a poetic and personal way, the moulds on the wall. I remembered this poem, which I read a long time ago, when I was walking in the forest in the Ardennes (In the northeast of France) during the spring and fall seasons last year. I remember the forest was quite full of mosses, and other vegetal growths covering trees and their roots, rocks and ground. The light was exceptionally intense in the low spring sun, which was hitting these green growths. The far-reaching light reflection established almost a magical and a spiritual atmosphere. Sometimes, we played a game in which we “read” the clouds by making comparisons between these random shapes and known items; here I played this game as well, but this time with the expanses of moss rather than the clouds. The green growth drew beautiful abstract shapes all over … it was easy to see anything I wanted in it. I must say, lichen was the most interesting plant organism I found. In addition to its multiple shapes and colours, it’s both part of the Mycobiont (mushroom) and Phycobiont families (vegetable/plant). Its capacity for resistance is extreme, and it’s a good natural indicator of the air and soil quality. However, lichen is a living organism full of paradoxes. It’s a parasite destroying the surfaces where it is located and, on the other hand, is also a natural protector, feeding the elements on its spot (by water, minerals etc…). Despite its nice colours and shapes, the lichen is still a living organism. It is useful, though hated by almost everyone.
I myself felt a bit like Claude, observing details in an environment, researching as nature itself monitored the evolution of beauty into chaos. That was the purpose, or at least the starting point, of this exhibition.
Veronika: How do you hope the installation will affect the audience?
Baptiste : Since the beginning, I was thinking of how I could render the details I was interested in: (light reflection/reverberation, expansion shapes, colours, etc…) without using real lichen. As the whole topic concerns the issue of adaptation and experimentation, I allowed myself to use another substitute material to express myself, discovering glass and stoneware as good options.
So, essentially, for this exhibition project, I wanted to recreate a new environment not unlike the original one, yet still different, made of a set of forms transcending the border between organic and mineral. Shapes creating a horizon, playing with ideas of emptiness and overflow. A balancing act combining sculpture and installation. With this proposal, I also redefined my modus operandi. The question of context, then, became a key concern. My motivation was, therefore, not only to set a scene or stage objects with a particular decor, but also to solve the problem of finding a conclusive solution to a tangle of information: mobilizing a space I’ve never seen, creating a particular atmosphere, characterized by the heterogeneity of the elements of a “whole.” A whole built up by the balance of masses, the variation of light and shadow, and made manifest in strange growths of glass.
As this proposition is a rendition of my personal experience, I hope the audience will, through the set of sculptures, perceive the same feelings and reflections I have. This small exhibition is actually an invitation to walk and wander in this new landscape, which at first glance could be enigmatic, but is an investigation into a certain poetics of form and space. A space in which each person, like Claude and myself, “may only dream in front of the noble stains, the lichen where everyone can see the shape of their loves”.