LENS - RéSIDENCE D'ARTISTES
 
 
Hicham Berrada
 
During the year he spent at the Pinault Collection’s artist residency in Lens, Hicham Berrada transformed its workshop into a poetic laboratory. A look back at this fourth season, at the crossroads of science and art.
 
<div class="col m-7" style="text-align:left"><u>Photography</u><br> <b>Maxime Tétard</b></div> <div class="col m-7" style="text-align:right; float:right;"><u>Text</u><br> <b>Céline Doussard</b></div>
 
<span class="alinea"></span>A yearlong sabbatical began for Hicham Berrada on July 5, 2018, the sunny day on which he first arrived in Lens. He had just left his home and studio in Paris, with the intention of moving to the provinces at the end of his residency. The objects that paraded out of the trunk of a moving van and into his Lens studio were reminiscent of Jacques Prévert’s famous poem “Inventory”: two aquariums, one plastic column, a dozen small pots in various bright colors, eight plants, and so on. Berrada’s well-orchestrated little world gradually fell into place, as the artist set up his state-of-the-art technological and digital equipment and its chemical and mineral components. Like nature reasserting itself, in collaboration with the artist. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>From his childhood in Morocco, when he would immerse himself in his parents’ specialized atlases of rocks and mushrooms, Hicham has been fascinated by nature’s creations—“I was ’initiated’ at a very young age,” he says. His interest in morphogenesis (the formation of shapes) dates back to this period, in particular to the vacations he spent in Lourdes, his maternal family land, where he wandered the forests. “As a child, I liked to paint with gouache. Then I became interested in computer-generated images and photography,” he recalls. After his high-school graduation (he obtained a scientific baccalaureate), Berrada enrolled in a school of applied arts. “It was there that I came to understand that the fine arts would allow me to develop something unique. I wasn’t interested in expressing myself as much as in developing something different, wholly mine.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>After a stint at the Beaux-Arts, in Paris, where he studied under the sculptor Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Berrada came to realize, through various experiments, that he was no longer interested in collecting forms existing in nature, but rather in creating new shapes himself, “appropriating them, controlling their appearance and development.” An important refence for Berrada is Walter de Maria’s masterpiece of Land Art, <i>The Lightning Field</i>, for which de Maria, in 1977, “called on lightning to participate in his composition,” thus prompting an encounter between man and nature. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>While Berrada instinctively finds inspiration in art history, he also finds clues to what he is trying to express in Greek philosophy. From Aristotle’s <i>Physics</i>, he noticed this common point between a gymnast, a farmer, and a doctor: all three collaborate with nature, deliberately as well as indirectly, to achieve their goals. “I work in the same vein, embracing chemical processes that unfold over time, hand in hand with nature.” In Berrada’s work, science becomes a tool for summoning reality. His experiments take place in an uncharted field of scientific research. He does not seek results that apply to the medical or military industries, but to the visual realm. And that are of high poetic significance. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Berrada saw his residency as an expansive period, an opportunity to continue research he had started but had not yet resolved. “I had some leads when I began, like the algorithms I was interested in while I was at Villa Médicis, or 3D geometry.” He draws an analogy between plant growth and the development of his own work: “economic and human resources cannot accelerate these processes.” Like Alexander Calder conducting his famous Circus, Berrada activates a multitude of media and instruments: a 3D printer, cooling trays, glue, welding tools, compressors and airbrushes, cameras and computer software. “It’s as though I were conducting an orchestra of inanimate or artificially animated things, that is, things that mimic the animate but are actually mineral or computer-based.” He adds, with a sly smile: “There is nothing alive here, except the cacti.” And his fervid imagination. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>In April 2019, one of his emblematic works, <i>Mesk-ellil</i>, was included in the exhibition “Luogo e Segni” (Site and Signs) at Punta della Dogana. The pervading odor of <i>Cestrum nocturnum</i> (or night-blooming jasmine), “the strongest in the plant kingdom,” was intoxicating. The artist created the conditions, in state-of-the-art terrariums with darkened glass, to modify the circadian cycle of this flower, which only blooms at night, such that it released its fragrance during the museum’s opening hours. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The garden is a recurrent place of inspiration for Berrada. He likes to evoke its origins: gardens were conceived during the Middle Ages as “domesticated nature, the space between the castle and the forest, the unknown.” For the artist, <i>Mesk-ellil</i> is the symbol of “a period that is ending and of which we are only just becoming aware”: an excessive expenditure of energy to produce a result as immaterial as possible. These small, enclosed worlds, in which conditions are different than in ours, nevertheless suggest another possible universe, “worlds that exist in power or virtually.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>In the catalogue of the exhibition “74,803 days” (October 7, 2017–June 24, 2018) at the Abbaye de Maubuisson, Éric de Chassey wrote of Berrada as attempting to recreate paradise, as described in many hadiths of the Koran, sanitized and often covered in gold—the only material that does not age. The artist presented <i>Le Jardin inaltérable</i> (2017) in that exhibition: an olive tree, covered with gold leaf, that could live forever in the conditions created for the exhibition, if it were not affected by human activity. According to the artist, this installation could embody a metaphor for the idea of a work of art in the Western mind. “We would like it to be suspended in time, almost in the order of the divine.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Berrada’s latest research focuses on the artificial creation of a nature whose complexity is imperceptible to man. He evokes the Zen garden, composed of natural rocks carefully selected for the purity of their shapes. “These stones, each with their unique morphogenesis, allow us to project ourselves mentally into larger spaces—but it is false.” Through the technique of photogrammetry, the artist hopes it will be possible to reconstruct, in 3D, actual mountains shaped by time, “’real’ stones from Zen gardens, sculpted as the wind or a river might have done.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>At the close of this year of experimentation, the Louvre-Lens, the residency’s prestigious neighbor, presented Berrada’s work in an exhibition entitled “Generated Landscapes,” staged in the museum’s Glass Pavilion from June 19 to September 1, 2019. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Within the aquariums were cannibalized sculptures made of bronze, silver, brass, and tin, and altered by waters charged with electroconductivity, which have a destructive effect and erode some of the materials. The notion of entropy (of organizational disorder) irrigates the thought process of the artist, who sees disasters as a work of nature: “It’s very beautiful, the moment when something collapses, you have the impression of witnessing a state of grace.” This feeling of astonishment experienced by the spectator, Berrada is the first to experience it in his studio. Then, by controlling each parameter, he reproduces the desired phenomenon, in a given space and time, for the benefit of his audience. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The same phenomenon is at work in his new series of “Mathematical Omens.” Berrada generates algorithms that give rise to shapes that outdo our imaginations. The morphogenesis of clouds, roots, lichens, unknown and then encoded, “generates a new aesthetic in front of our very eyes.” It is this “deeply sincere” approach that he pursues: that of a basic idea that develops into new forms that are self-generating. Berrada wants viewers of his works to be able to project their intuitions onto them: they are invitations to reverie, because there are as many possible interpretations as there are relationships between man and nature… Like Max Ernst, he seeks to “excite visionary faculties.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Thanks to technical assistance from Le Fresnoy, which produced the Louvre-Lens exhibition, a very precise digital printing of Berrada’s “Mathematical Omens” covered the forty-seven meters of the exhibition space, thus offering an infinite number of details and a grid of multiple readings to this phantasmagorical landscape. “From a distance it seemed very natural, chaotic, as we know it in nature. Up close, we realized that they were polygons derived from a programming language.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>A new video of <i>Présage</i>, a filmed performance created for the occasion, was also part of the exhibition. Selected chemical elements, released in a small jar, function as Berrada’s brushes, pigments, and canvas. “The work is the activation, the physical control, of what happens in this small, enclosed world.” The result is the creation of a dreamlike landscape, always unique, which is again part of the idea of a nature “in the broadest sense.” <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>It is in Roubaix, not far from Lens’ Cité 9 neighborhood, that this magician of the elements is about to install his artificial paradises. And the development of his research is promising… His recent access to 4K resolution, which allows for an exceptional image quality, and his growing interest in photogrammetry, seem indeed “conducive to the creation of a modified reality, in an almost hallucinatory way.”
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 
Views of the workshop, April 2019
 

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