French contemporary art now - recent practice and newly emerging artists

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Sophie Bueno-Boutellier

French contemporary art, Sophie Bueno-Boutellier

(Born 1974) Although inspired in part by theosophical texts and scientific theory, Sophie Bueno-Boutellier's installations provide intuitive response to such influences; her chosen materials - cloth, gold leaf, salt, wool, earth, ash - encouraged to resonate with symbolic meaning and operate through a conjunction of texture and form.

Less dependent on theory than many of her peers, Bueno-Boutellier seeks to create a kind of modulated poetry in which almost any reading is possible.

Her works on canvas - which she herself deems 'sort of' paintings - are similarly material in nature, the folds and creases in long-stored cloth a focal point that renders the artist's application of paint almost secondary (below).

French art now, Sophie Bueno-Boutellier

Mark Geffriaud

French art today, Mark Geffriaud

(Born 1977) Mark Geffriaud is often cited as an artist primarily concerned with the interrogation of image, but this is not entirely the case. His eclectic body of work encompasses a broad range of investigation; of image, text and teleologies as well as modes of perception or classification.

The critiques he undertakes, however, are generally constituent in the work itself, meaning that Geffriaud provides in-built analysis of his own art's implications and potentialities.

Present Perfect (2007) consists of a series of spotlights trained on an empty gallery wall. As the work's title suggests, temporality is an essential aspect of this non-hang, pinpointing the possible location of works displayed in the past, as well as those that may be shown.

Nevertheless, as the title also punningly makes clear, the only perfect resolution is the present one, an absence which can be filled according to each spectator's ideal. Reinforcing this, a timer in the lights causes them to flicker every 15 to 50 seconds, a movement corresponding to the blinking of an eye and therefore the perception of the present moment.

French contemporary art now, Mark Geffriaud

Light - together with its intrinsic association of illumination and revelation - frequently makes an appearance in Geffriaud's work, generally emitted from projectors which, equally, carry their own valency as transmitter of images.

Herbarium (2007) consists of book pages framed between clear plexiglass and embedded like windows into a partition wall. Backlit by sequenced projectors, viewers intermittently see both sides of each page, a reflection on the categorisation of knowledge and what is hidden from view (the title, Herbarium, not only refers to such classification, but puns on the fact that entire 'leaves' from a book are exposed by Geffriaud's intervention).

Nevertheless, while such a display is certainly revealing, it does not necessarily tell us more in any conventionally logical way. It is left to the spectator to reconcile - or reject - this system of seeing.

French art today, Mark Geffriaud

A mechanised projector is also a feature of the installation Polka Dot (2008, left and top), in which a slide reproduction of the first ever photograph of the sun (1845) circles a darkened space.

Although pioneering, the image itself captures little more than a white disc, limited in terms of what it can reveal. Moving like a spotlight across posters, prints and pages from magazines, the narrative it summons forth is likewise enigmatic.

At the end of each rotation, the light is reflected by mirrors onto an open, upright book. Pinpricks in the pages allow the light to seep through to the other side, again illuminating both back and front to achieve an interconnection of printed images.


Nicolas Moulin

French art today, Nicolas Moulin

(Born 1970, lives and works in Berlin) Nicolas Moulin's multidisciplinary works provide imaginary additions to the built environment.

While frequently reprising modernist and, in particular, Brutalist form, they are often imbued with unsettling connotation at odds with the utopian ideals from which these architectures sprang.

His early works, in particular, focus on the more disturbing aspects of utilitarian concrete construction.

The photographic series VIDERPARIS (above), for example, consists of empty Parisian streets in which all buildings are sealed with concrete barriers - an apocalyptic vision of confinement reminiscent of the former Berlin Wall.

contemporary French artists, Nicolas Moulin

In similarly eerie fashion, the video work Nachdatch reveals the interior of a computer-generated concrete bunker, its sepulchral interior continually perforated by mysteriously shifting shafts of light.

More recently, Moulin has turned his attention to the digital creation of monumental structures inexplicably located in remote terrain, such as Temerickturndsmal (2007, left) or Bergenobliqusaml (2008 (below), as well as his own sculptural works in concrete and other construction materials.

French art today, Nicolas Moulin

Aurélien Froment

Aurelien Froment

(Born 1976) Aurélien Froment's interest lies in narrative and the possibilities for its construction, an endeavour which encompasses film, installation, performance and many less easily classifiable interventions.

The film Théâtre de Poche (Pocket Theatre, 2007, left), shows a magician presenting a series of card tricks, each card bearing an image that seems to suspend itself in air.

The character of the magician is loosely based on the 1930s vaudeville artist Arthur Lloyd, also known as the 'The Human Card Index', who became famous for producing virtually any type of printed matter from his pockets on request.

The images shown here appear equally random, ranging from anatomical illustrations to buildings, film stars or animals; viewers are left to construct narrative links using their own systems of association.

Card games, sleight of hand, building blocks and thread all make frequent appearances in Froment's work, their metaphorical implications with regard to narrative construction constantly implicit, but as materials, often used to create narratives of their own.

The short video Rabbit (2009), for example, demonstrates the formation of eight different knots alongside phrases used to help memorise the steps involved ('Build a well. A rabbit comes out of the hole, circles the tree, and jumps back into the hole.')

The act of knotting or tying together is, of course, frequently used to refer to narrative technique and, in Froment's case, is also a process in which he involves his audiences to an extensive degree. Yet the knots shown in Rabbit also generate their own mini-narratives, a dual reflection of the story-telling process.

A model of learning through a series of interactive steps was first suggested by the 19th-Century German pedagogue Friedrich Froebel, who pioneered the Kindergarten and also developed children's building blocks, a popular toy to this day. Both Froebel and his construction sets are another of Froment's common motifs.

In the 2009 work Debuilding (Case Study #8, Pacific Palisades) Froment adopts a narrative technique in which association is engendered via the confluence of seemingly unrelated historical events, an increasingly visible contemporary tendency used extensively by artists such as Ian Kaier.

new contemporary art from France: Aurelien Froment

An inkjet print depicting the famous Eames House in Los Angeles is accompanied by a pile of coloured building blocks.

When the Eames House was built, World War II shortages meant different elements had to be constructed using the same materials, a need which led to new developments in modular architecture. A colour chart such as those provided in Froebel's original kits maps the toy bricks to various areas of the Eames House.

The overlapping associations go further still: architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who Eames regarded as a major influence, was purported to have discovered his interest in architecture after receiving a set of Froebel building blocks as a child.


Damien Deroubaix

Damien Deroubaix

(Born 1972) Damien Deroubaix's installations, collages and drawings in various media bleakly denounce the misuse of power and control.

His world of monstrous figures and doom-laden imagery is unmistakeably apocalyptic in tone, yet also richly engaging, revealing the influence of movements from Pop Art to Dada.

Word, in the shape of slogans lifted from marketing campaigns and political propaganda, combines with image to create an alternative publicity, a graphic expression of unease and confrontation.

Damien Deroubaix

Cyprien Gaillard

Cyprien Gaillard

One of France's best known newer contemporary artists, Cyprien Gaillard's trajectory to fame has been rapid.

Concerning himself with the legacy of modernist architecture (particularly the now largely discredited Brutalist style), Gaillard recognises its utopian failure, yet refuses to deny its aesthetic and cultural worth.

Linking the monolithic presence of the tower block to a "new Romantic order", the work of this important artist and others who similarly reflect on the modernist architectural ideal is discussed in our article on the influence of the modernist high rise.


Latifa Echakhch

contemporary art and artists from France - Latifa Echakhch

Born in 1974 in Morocco, Latifa Echakhch grew up primarily in the French Alps. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considerations concerning identity - individual, cultural and political - are recurrent in her work, often achieved through the juxtaposition or modification of simple objects.

Echakhch's installations of Moroccan carpets are quite literally deconstructed; prised apart thread by thread until only the borders remain. Yet even when reduced to mere markings on the gallery floor, the skeletal structures remain easily recognisable, their heritage and history almost impossible to strip away.

If the borders of an unpicked carpet maintain an obstinate persistence, a crumpled page from an atlas exerts a similar presence.

contemporary art from France - Latifa Echakhch

Screwed into a ball - an act usually associated with discarding or negating - geographical distinctions in this case are made even more evident by the ball's similarity to a miniature globe.

While artists such as Fayçal Baghriche (next page) seek to metaphorically obliterate geopolitical difference, Echakhch sets out to highlight distinctions between the two cultural identities she inhabits.

Principe d'Economie 1 and 2 (2005), uses the common commodity of sugar to enable one such comparison. In the first work, Moroccan sugar loaves are arranged on the floor (below, left), their slender, cone-like forms a total contrast to the scattered, western-style sugar cubes that make up the second piece.

 Latifa Echakhch

Through the simple juxtaposition of two different methods of processing sugar, Echakhch initiates a wealth of pragmatic and associative response.

As sculptural forms, the sensuous, hand-crafted loaves are offset by the pristine regulation of the cubes - the mechanised production of which also points towards technological difference.

One could even reflect on the different packing requirements each form necessitates - the cones interspersed upwards and downwards, the cubes fitting tightly together like building blocks. Looked at literally, even the act of compartmentalisation gains unexpected fluidity.


French art now: continued >

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