Benoît Maire artist profile by Marie D’Elbée
A multi-cultural village atmosphere emanates from Paris’ bustling Menilmontant area. This rapidly-developing quarter is brimming with dynamism. Behind one of the gates of this area, at the end of a paved passage, stands Benoît Maire’s new studio space. Hidden away from prying eyes, the studio, kept in relative order, feels calm and peaceful. Here and there lie measuring objects amongst books and large paper rolls. They inhabit the space like the markers of an unknown land. In front of a white background, a plinth is headed by a glassy globe which reverberates the captured light in a peculiar way. As it is, the studio seems to be the natural place for Maire’s work to stem from.
If the man behind the beard and glasses seems to be lost far away in the realm of ideas, his gestures in the physical world are, most surprisingly, remarkably precise. ‘Soon the Metal between us will turn into Gold’, a quote taken from his latest film ‘The Shepherd’ (2011), is the title of his recent show at the Kunsthalle Mulhouse which, room after room, appears like the materialisation of an alchemist’s dream. Upon entering the exhibition the first installation one sees is ‘The Space Only’ (2010). This piece is conceived as a crossroads that combines texts, a bronze Greek sculpture and sequences from the film ‘Repetition Island’, also from the same year. This movie stages characters who find themselves locked in a space and time loop. Every once in a while, they have the opportunity to renew their options or to repeat the loop by affirming their life choices.
When talking about the exhibition, Maire explains that all the objects are triggered by their surrounding contexts. In the first installation, for example, the bronze Greek sculpture refers to a collective field of knowledge, that of the Greek Antiquity and the idea of Beauty. Meanwhile, another room presents objects that do not refer to anything pre-existing or historical, but are waiting to be activated by a performance that will grant them their own unique use and meaning. The performance reveals that the objects are used to measure things between themselves but also in relation to each other. Maire’s active aesthetic confronts the viewer, the objects and the space around them, linking them in a very intense relationship. In this manner, aesthetics brings consistency to a singular connection with the world by adding to the value of the object in itself. Indeed, the performance diverts the object from its usual use and offers a new one: that of the measuring tool. Making art, thus, brings to the reel something that wasn’t or that couldn’t be created by the collective industry.
‘This exhibition is quite structured and mastered’ says Maire, ‘but there are places where things overflow, which is very interesting for me. I like what can not be measured.’ Indeed, the artist tracks down the accidents from which aesthetics can stem, whether they are in ‘the rewritings and re-enactments of history, or in the failures and inconsistencies’. With sidelines having such an important value in the work, the art object is less autonomous, and inextricably locked to its context.
Maire’s practice is a constant dialogue between theory and art that rejects the idea of a Cartesian duality between them both. He explains that theoria originally means ‘bring to the look, contemplation’, and that this can be done by using theory as well as by producing objects. Incidentally, his objects are treated as a cross between words, forms, sentences, ideas and concepts. According to Maire, sculptures can be perceived when reading philosophy in the same way as text can generate form. ‘In the artist book on which I am working, ‘Aesthetics of Differends’, some objects that have a material role in the construction of the figures become concepts. In this manner, images find themselves replacing words and, with the same fluidity, words replace images.’ The objects with which he works are chosen for their capacity to overflow from their conceptual or physical fields. This reflects a pronounced taste for sliding between different areas of knowledge.
Started in 2009, ‘Aesthetics of Differends’ is a stepping-stone in Maire’s artistic and philosophical investigation. A ‘differend’ ‘term coined by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’ is a case of conflict between parties that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both, so the parties cannot agree on a rule or criterion by which their dispute might be decided. As for ‘aesthetic’, Maire understands it as what unites philosophy and art. Driven by the desire to investigate an object, his polymorphic practice stretches between different areas of knowledge and re-unites art and theory into a non-conflictual form.
Benoît Maire was born in 1978 in France. After studying science, he was driven towards Art and Philosophy. In 2010 he participated in the exhibition ‘Dynasty’ at the Palais de Tokyo, which brought international attention to his work. Since, he has had major solo shows such as Frac Aquitaine in 2010 and De Vleeshal in 2011. Maire often works in collaboration with the artists Etienne Chambaud, Alex Cecchetti and Falke Pisano. He is represented by the galleries Cortex Athletico (Bordeaux), Croy Nielsen (Berlin) and Hollybush Gardens (London). His work has also been shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Lisson Gallery, both in London.