Artists to question the next world. Interview with Louis Guillaume


Who better than artists and cultural actors to mobilize on societal and environmental issues? Based on this premise, the COAL association has decided to support the inescapable role of creation and culture in raising awareness and implementing concrete solutions, in collaboration with institutions, communities, NGOs, scientists and companies. To the question "How do you imagine the world to come? "the artist Louis Guillaume answers, on the occasion of the COAL Prize, "alive" 2020. 

The COAL Prize seeks to promote the emergence of a culture of ecology and the transformation of territories through art by developing artistic programmes. It offers ten artists the opportunity to testify, to imagine, to experiment with the objective of working for a world more respectful of living beings and ecological balance. Through their creations, the artists can encourage decision-makers and citizens to take the measure of the urgency, that of a living being that is threatened and yet rich in infinite diversity; highlight the extreme fragility and immense strength of living beings; and actively contribute to halting their mass extinction.

In the spotlight this year, among ten other artists, Louis Guillaume, who is presenting the project Seasons and species, structures of living things.
Born in 1995 in Rennes, the artist lives and works there. At the age of 24, recently graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Rennes, his practice has been nourished by numerous trips between Europe, Asia and America as well as multiple collaborations with gardeners and botanists. For his installations and sculptures, he gleaned according to the seasons and created often ephemeral works, making the forms of living things his main axis of development and research.

"LIVING STRUCTURE", rubber gaskets, aluminium, bamboo, strap, red adhesive squares, 2020.

"Seasons and species, structures of living things "

Like a hunter-gatherer in constant search for material, Louis Guillaume surveys the environment like a garden where harvesting and natural resource supply areas are mapped for each period of the year. He looks for natural alternatives to what exists industrially, sometimes using forgotten traditions. Glue based on birch, pine resin or mistletoe, a turricle of earthworms, it is the usual plastic bond that binds it to the material. Imitating the plant, it tends towards an autonomy of means and takes care of its ephemeral achievements as one takes care of a plant, as a gardener.

With Seasons and species, structures of living thingsHe wishes to develop these experiments centered on the seasons and the bad weather that guide his creation: Collecting hornet's nests abandoned after certain gales, taking advantage in May of the poplars during the optimal pollination period, collecting turricle in the places where it is the most loaded with clay, studying the internal alveolar structure of the stipes and leaves of the Abyssinian banana tree in June, holly in July, angel hair in August, mistletoe in December and then oyster shell for the rest of the months in bre

The question of time is omnipresent in the living. To get closer to it is to activate a deceleration, to open up to a world that one must observe to grasp it and touch to understand it. Through this process of biomimetic digestion, Louis Guillaume is building a future turned towards technical progress, which is also to be found in these ever innovative forms of life and know-how that have been present for much longer than we have.

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Nuts and washers made from a silicone mould made of Ares pine resin harvested in spring 2018.


Describe your current environment, how are you living this covid-19 era? How does this situation influence your artistic approach?

I'm having a strange feeling about it. I left my apartment and studio in Rennes to come to La Rochelle to live with my parents. I am in a rather pleasant confinement situation, surrounded by my family and a garden. Everyone around me is fine, that's an important point. I'm living pretty much normally thanks to all these people who are mobilised in the field and who are doing their best to ensure that the world doesn't descend into total chaos. Otherwise, I'm outside most of the time, in my garden, which I never finish observing. I also tell myself that this is a real opportunity for nature, which is in the midst of reproduction, to give the best of itself to ensure its survival. Artistically, my sculptural practice has gone into hibernation, while the practice of drawing and painting that I had buried since I entered the Beaux-Arts regains its colours. The current situation is full of constraints, we have to see how to be inspired by them, working with constraint is always something formative. I am also currently writing a screenplay on the subject of the snail. The idea came to me while I was gardening and a slug started making patterns on my t-shirt. The story will evoke situations of confinement, while basing the narrative around a young man, from a shocking encounter to a metamorphosis, evoking questions about the genre.

August harvest. Stipa tenuissima, seeds agglomerated around the
fingers after combing the plant.

Where does this sensitivity to living things, to plants, come from? And what fascinates you about the seasons, the climatic conditions that govern an environment, organic materials?

I have long had a sensitivity for plants, which my father, a garden enthusiast, was able to awaken and sharpen. On an artistic level, I am interested and inspired by all forms of life and their behaviour: the adaptability of plants, the way they live together in an environment, the network of interdependence of each element. By mimicking the forms of life, my work is ephemeral, constantly evolving over time. The term "work" for me encompasses the whole process of harvesting and transformation up to the plastic realization. In the manner of a nomadic architect, everything is invented: from harvesting, to storage, to moving, up to the moment of installation. All this, in a cycle that is perpetuated over the seasons and through travel. The "finished" installation or plastic realization is only one stage in the life of the work. This is surely why I exhibit them in suspension, in a situation of waiting, fragility and lightness.

Did your training at the Beaux-Arts de Rennes encourage/enable you to develop this interest in living things? What place is given to the living in the Fine Arts? More generally in contemporary art ?

I think she is more and more present in the Fine Arts. Notably I believe by the presence of Nicolas Floc'h, a teacher at the school and very invested on these questions. The projects he sets up within the EESAB play a role in raising awareness among students. I have had the chance to develop my practice by confronting it with his viewpoint. I then had the opportunity to do a residency on OAO, his boat for exploring the marine environment. This allowed me to discover a rich and still little represented environment. I am more and more interested in it. I am also thinking of Kristina Solomoukha, who brought me a lot about the involvement of art in the political world.

Working with the living, the organic, raises the question of the effects of time, as these are often works that cannot be preserved. In my opinion, the issue is there in the end: to consider/accept the work of art in its transformations, its instability, its ephemeral character.

"Rhizome 003", Botanical greenhouses of the Parc du Thabor, Rennes, May 2019, made from Phyllostachys nigra and Stipa tenuissima.

Tell us about a transformation process between the harvested material as it is and the plastic product you get from it.

I don't directly transform matter, at least not all the time. I try to preserve as much as possible the material I find, so that I can reuse it in the course of my work. This until it is exhausted.

The real transformation is expressed by my plastic realization which must adapt to its displacement, its installation, then its storage and so on. This is why they are often thought in kit form, to be arranged, modular and extensible according to the place.

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However, what often happens is that I take material that has been pre-processed by natural processes. For example, Asian hornet's nests. They are composed of wood bark from a multitude of trees - preferring the softer old wood for their nests. By grasping it, I in turn interfere with the evolution of the material that has already undergone hornet's transformation. Then I powder the nest to make sculptures out of it mixed with pine resin. The term transformation is a change of state, of forms.

In Mexico I worked with orange skins thanks to a merchant who peeled them into thin strips. A shape I had never seen before. I only had a few hours to take advantage of its elasticity in order to braid it. The heat crystallized the whole thing quickly. Later I realized that the ants had also taken over my work. They were dissecting the skin in order to transport it to the anthill. The loop was complete.

Experimentation, 2019. Shape made from Asian hornet's nest powder mixed with pine resin and then moulded and heated in a bamboo stubble.

Creating from nature, what difference does it make? Can we say that art is already in nature? Nature in art? Also, how do you situate yourself in the art/craft borderline ?

Art forms are in nature indeed, one could not think of appropriating them and doing better. But these forms also appear through the eyes of man, it is precisely by pairing and trying to cross these glances that we can try to create interesting things. Establish a parallel relationship with the living and the human instead of a perpendicular one. To create from nature is to adopt a behaviour of observation, patience, deceleration in the manufacturing process. Personally, I try to reconnect my practice with certain traditions, crafts, which work in contact with matter, which make us experience matter.

How do you envisage the exhibition of your ephemeral and moving works?

I try to move away from the white cube but the work, however ephemeral and moving it may be, needs to be contextualized. For my graduate exhibition at the Beaux-Arts in Rennes, for example, I chose to exhibit in the Parc du Thabor, more specifically in the botanical greenhouses. This contextualization in this park allowed me to find the link with the origin of the materials. My intention was also to encourage an approach for a wider public. For this reason, in the future I would very much like to get closer to the Botanical Parks and natural spaces for the exhibition of my work and to maintain this link with the environment of my research.

I also wish to develop my research around the performing arts and performance. The materials I use lend themselves well to this. My creative process already has a choreographic and dreamlike part.

How do you think about the forms and temporalities of your sculptures?

I am inspired by observing the behaviour of plants, insects and animals, but above all, I choose the materials I want to work with, according to the characteristics of those I collect: their elasticity, their plasticity, their flexibility. I am inspired by the characteristics of the material, by what it carries with it, by what it has integrated to adapt and evolve.

What is your relationship, as an artist or as an individual, to environmental commitment?

As an artist, I intend to be part of this collective movement for the awareness and protection of life. To open also my production with scientists and actors committed to the preservation of species, plants and the environment. Favour a creative process that respects the environment at all stages. Passing on to the younger generation is also essential. In collaboration with Béatrice Guilleman, we led workshops in a primary school on the issues of collecting natural materials or transforming them in order to conceive in three dimensions a world more in touch with nature. I also created the scenography for choreographer Corinne Duval, who has designed a show for young children, entirely made from natural materials in order to make children aware of the awakening of the senses and the sensations procured by contact with the organic. In this work of sensitization, the part of aesthetics is important because it allows a first catch, it allows to attract the glance from a form, a sculpture, and to sharpen the curiosity of people. In the context of my exhibition at Thabor, for example, some people left the exhibition wanting to be more attentive to certain materials I had worked with. The preservation of our environments comes from our attention and the way we look at them.

How do you imagine the world coming?

I think there is a growing awareness of the value of the living. Around me I hear a lot of people wanting to open farms, to find themselves, to reconnect with the environment. But this awareness must also be relayed by concrete political decisions. This is why I am happy to be able to participate, thanks to COAL, in the IUCN Nature Congress in order to bring an additional voice to the association. It will be necessary to renew this link with the living that we have set aside. Biomimicry and bio-inspiration can also bring the part of progress that is indispensable to mankind. Man is an undisciplined phasm. We must assimilate the right movement to have on the branch so that it does not break, and adopt the right behaviour to blend into the environment without affecting it too much.

Header photo : Louis Guillaume - Experimentation around the orange peel at the Merida School of Art, Mexico 2018 - Materials : Wooden slat, PVC tube, orange peel strips

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