Interview | Cyril de Commarque transforms Saatchi Gallery with inspiring installation

Artificialis, installation view, 2019, Saatchi Gallery. Courtesy the artist.

The headlines may be dominated by the arrival of the Tutankhamun’s Treasures at Saatchi Gallery but the French artist Cyril de Commarque’s installation, presented alongside, makes a truly powerful statement about the past, present and most of all the future of humankind.

As part of its special Artist-In-Residency programme, Saatchi Gallery have invited Cyril de Commarque to respond to Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, which will be displayed at Saatchi Gallery for six months from November to May 2020. The result, a mind-bending multi-media installation entitled Artificialis which invites us to contemplate notions of legacy and transition.

Artificialis takes as its starting point the Anthropocene era — the period when man first had an impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems — then looks towards the future, meditating on the effect technology and scientific advancement will have on humankind and the environment. Commarque invites us to contemplate this new world, starting with the notion that Homo Sapiens will be superseded by a species of its own creation, Homo Artificialis.

Rather than portray this projection in Utopian or Dystopian terms, Commarque interrogates his own feelings through a series of sculptural mise-en-scènes, each piece documenting the transition from one age to another. Located on the Gallery’s second floor, the installation includes sculptures placed around a carpet of multi-coloured flakes.

As the opening approaches I had the chance to speak with Commarque about the installation, his process and the relationship between technology and the environment.

O2 (detail), 2019, metal cage, neon, tropical plants, 1.22 x 1.22 x 2.45 m. Courtesy the artist

What can we expect to see and what do you hope audiences will take from your work?

It is a theatre, a play on our future, a quasi uncomfortable experience. From a very simple sanctuary room with work inspired by the patterns of destruction of the Amazon forest as a symbol of our acceptance of complete disconnection with the essence of life to the main gallery in which I have created in collaboration with the composer Toni Castells and the support of Novelty, a sound piece using natural sound and artificial human responses. The room is covered by a sea of flakes of plastics on which sits a series of sculptures addressing the end of some myths and the transformation of some symbols: our mutation…

Could you share with us some further details regarding the piece entitled ‘The Lovers of Pompeii’, (2019)?

The iconic Lovers of Pompeii were found wrapped in a poignant embrace in their final moments as they were covered beneath molten rock and layers of ash in the ancient city of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius violently erupted in 79 A.D. dying via this tragic natural catastrophe. I pay homage to this but here they are made of plastic frozen in their last act of love and hope and framed in an exploded polyhedron, a post melancholia shape. I’ve used the Polyhedron for different sculptures in the past but here we witness it in a moment of rupture.

Lovers of Pompeii, 2019, HDPE recycled plastic, stainless steel polished mirror, 5 x 5 x 3.5 m. Courtesy the artist
Lovers of Pompeii (detail), 2019, HDPE recycled plastic, stainless steel polished mirror, 5 x 5 x 3.5 m. Courtesy the artist

Artificialis highlights the rapid advancement of technology — do you think we should be more worried or more excited about this rapid development?

The issue is not there as it seems there is no choice, but do we as individuals, as artists, as bankers, farmers or whatever participate to the politic of our time by being active and conscientious actors of tomorrow or do we just wait for them. The acceleration of progress emancipated our society from natural contingencies but also created a new obligation that we have not yet fully integrated which is a responsibility to the future.

To what extent do you harness technology, robotic tools, in the process of creating these works?

Technology invaded my studio as it does invade our life, it was a decision as I thought this would nourish my reflection on the topic. For each sculpture in this exhibition it is certainly between 40 and 60%, the rest remain our hands…

ORO, 2019, HDPE recycled plastic, 0.9 x 0.6 x 0.9 m. Courtesy the artist

What is a typical day (or night) in the studio like for you?

Long hours, with a nice lunch where one of us in the studio cook for the rest of the team…. the creation process is the exiting part, sadly as per all of us there is also the management and daily life…

In many pieces you engage directly with environmental concerns, can you say more about this and the materials you use?

In the end I produce, I transform, I consume, I am part of the paradox. I was very keen on trying to change this and use our rubbish and transform it into a visual language. All the figures in the exhibition are made out of recycle black plastic waist of intensive agriculture. We created blocks and carved into them. The sea, the beach of flakes on the floor comes from plastic bottles, they are recycling to be reused in the production process. I am very happy to have received the support of Dentis, this company is involved in the process of recycling since 1987 but also they collect waist in the sea and reintroduce those lost plastic in the process. So this floor of plastic is a double language, it is the one we let our kids play with in summer on the beach, the particles we find in most fish, but also this incredible capacity we have to change for a better future.

ORO (detail), 2019, HDPE recycled plastic, 0.9 x 0.6 x 0.9 m. Courtesy the artist
Primitive, 2019, wood. Courtesy the artist.

As Commarque has commented The four figurative pieces are made from the crudest form of plastic waste, and in sync with the show’s themes have been created by the human hand with the assistance of robotic tools. The sculptures, which include two flower-shaped neons suspended from the ceiling, are standalone works however each is united by a common visual language. The atmosphere is heightened by a sound work created by the artist in collaboration with Toni Castells, itself punctuated by the ignition of a stroboscopic light which randomly flickers into life. Meanwhile, Primitive, is displayed in an adjoining room. Carved from wood, it presents the destructive patterns of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

‘Art is always made to be experienced’ and on this occasion this premise could not be more true. Luckily the exhibition will run until at least March 2020, so there is ample chance to immerse yourself in the world/worlds of the prothetic Cyril de Commarque.

About Cyril de Commarque

Cyril de Commarque (b.1970) lives and works in London. de Commarque has had numerous exhibitions including a solo exhibition at MACRO and an acclaimed sound performance in London for which he built a 25-meter-long polished/mirrored boat sculpture entitled Fluxland along the river Thames. His works have been featured in prominent group shows at institutions including the Grand Palais, The Foundation Louis Vuitton, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini during the Venice Biennale alongside works by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Ai Weiwei.

Artificialis runs at Saatchi Gallery from 2 November — 1 March 2020 and may be extended.

Saatchi Gallery Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4RY Second Floor — Gallery 13 Opening times as 10AM — 6PM, Monday — Sunday

Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

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