Survey by Qualaroo

Spring Water and Sea Monsters (A Treatise on Baths)

As part of our current exhibition Version Control, French artists Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet will present their new performance work Spring Water and Sea Monsters (A Treatise on Baths) on 5 April 2013 at Arnolfini. In an interview, published originally in Annual Magazine, the artists talk about their work.

Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet's work is comprised of genre movies, performed conferences and installations that combine fiction and documentary. The artists take their audience on a journey to different places of historical significance; unfolding and reconnecting popular culture, literature, and factual information with personal commentary and scientific discourse. For the performance at Arnolfini, Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet conducted research on-site and developed a new script especially for the evening. In the form of a guided tour, the artists will speak about architecture, baths, Jane Austen and the ichthyosaur.

As part of our current exhibition Version Control, French artists Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet will present their new performance work Spring Water and Sea Monsters (A Treatise on Baths) on 5 April 2013 at Arnolfini. In an interview, published originally in Annual Magazine, the artists talk about their work.

Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet's work is comprised of genre movies, performed conferences and installations that combine fiction and documentary. The artists take their audience on a journey to different places of historical significance; unfolding and reconnecting popular culture, literature, and factual information with personal commentary and scientific discourse. For the performance at Arnolfini, Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet conducted research on-site and developed a new script especially for the evening. In the form of a guided tour, the artists will speak about architecture, baths, Jane Austen and the ichthyosaur.

Charlotte Cosson: At your performances, you show highly personal thought constructions that incorporate real elements, but in an offbeat way, by retracing a totally subjective thread or making unexpected connections. And you don’t hierarchize the data you use.

Chloé Maillet: Our references are so eclectic that we end up doing away with the hierarchy between states of knowledge. Transitions like these are important for us; we use this “dehierachization” as a tool with which to treat them.

Charlotte Cosson: Most of your references and methodologies come from fields outside art, yet your favourite subjects often lead you to discourse on art history. Your conception of performance as a singular moment in a specific context recalls the beginnings of this medium; moreover, you’ve developed some theories of your own about its true origins.

Chloé Maillet: One of its origins would seem to be in the Saint-Simonians’ retreat to Ménilmontant, in the period between 1830 and 1832; every Sunday, in the garden, the engineers would present their community lifestyle. A famous trial put an end to the venture, and that’s no doubt why this episode was erased from the history of performance.

Louise Hervé: I don’t think art history is an end in itself. It’s just one of the tools we use (but not the main one) in the way we develop the fields of exploration that we use to collect materials for our works. We’re more interested in how to navigate between fields. We produce performances, so of course we talk about performance and its historicity, but I don’t think we deliberately return to the origins of the medium.

Chloé Maillet: I’d go so far as to say that performance interests us precisely because it allows us to call on fields of knowledge other than those of art.

Charlotte Cosson: In 'Dynasty' (2010, Palais de Tokyo and Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris) you stressed another of its origins, this time in the fairground arts. How does this theory differ from the one concerning the Saint-Simonians?

Chloé Maillet: This theory is closely related to the relationship between performance and cinema, as cinema is thought to have originated in performance. One version has it that cinema originated in optics, while another says it came from the performing arts. Showmen and men of the theatre like George Méliès adopted the latter version. Louise Hervé: Optical devices such as the diorama, panorama and myriorama required commentaries, and people to manipulate them. They were also manual performances.

Charlotte Cosson: Your performances are always very subtle, despite references which at first sight are less so, like horror films or bodybuilding. This blend of “high” and “low” culture is often present in your work. For example, I really like the way you talk about the similarities between archaeology and science fiction…

Chloé Maillet: Archaeology makes you travel in time. When you look at an archaeological object, you go on a kind of journey between the place where you are now and the place where the object was made. The real situation is somewhere in between, in the triangulation between the era of the object and the present time. When you think about it, visiting an archaeological exhibition is like making leaps in time, as you spend a few centuries at each display case. But you can travel into the future too! This is what happens when you have a hypothetical reconstruction of an archaeological site: you can project yourself into the future of the archaeological reconstruction, based on just a few stones.

Louise Hervé: Archaeologists work from hypotheses. And it’s just the same for science fiction writers: they take a detail or set of objects, then try to project hypotheses, but in a prospective, forward-looking way. These intersections are what interested us.

Charlotte Cosson: The reconstructive aspect that is also inherent in archaeology seems to interest you as much as this prospective one. You’ve combined reconstructions with role plays, and have staged some of these – in your movie Une Reconstitution et un Souterrain (A Recess and a Reconstruction, 2011) for example, or in a London performance.

Louise Hervé: There are two alternating threads in our movie: one that’s strictly archaeological – an interview with an archaeologist who manipulates fragments of artefacts while developing intellectual hypotheses around them – and a medieval historical reconstruction.

Chloé Maillet: One of the sources of the movie is connected to the emergence of heritage and conservation issues. In the 19th Century, the art historian Ruskin was opposed to reconstruction, to the restoration projects of Viollet-le-Duc; he asserted that resurrecting a demolished building was like raising the dead. Louise Hervé: He stressed the violence of the process…

Chloé Maillet: …but also its terrifying nature! Moreover, archaeology is a violent discipline because it destroys sites by excavating them. This is why we wanted our movie about archaeology to be a horror movie and include all those gothic scenes.

Charlotte Cosson: In your movie Un Projet Important (An Important Project, 2009), in which people are mentally sent to play sport on different planets, it is as if you played at being archaeologists of the future who wonder how the people of the 20th or 21st Century behaved. The fitness session on the moon is like a reconstruction based on accessories related to tennis.

Louise Hervé: That was sort of the idea! To talk about tennis, without there being a real match… Part of the idea of the movie was to recombine the rules and imagine possible uses. Moreover, with its 19th Century English origins, the tennis club still has a rather elitist side that suited the idea of a totalitarian society.

Charlotte Cosson: So do you always allow viewers the possibility of creating their own hypotheses, through the fragmentary nature of your productions?

Louise Hervé: It’s important to leave gaps, like between the fragments of a piece of pottery: this is the space for intellectual construction. In an archaeological museum you see models of the buildings found at the site, alongside remains or plans. The visitor is confronted with different types of reconstruction that don’t necessarily coincide. This set of disjointed projections allows viewers to erect their own imaginary amphitheatre, project their own intellectual construction.

(Excerpts from an interview of the artists with Charlotte Cosson, published in Annual Magazine No. 5, 2012) Spring Water and Sea Monsters (A Treatise on Baths) by Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet will be presented together with a performance by Keren Cytter with Andrew Kerton on 5 April 2013, 7.30pm

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