Since the initial explorations of early humans in ancient civilisations, the spiritually enlightened and celestially curious have experimented with diving into the depths of our Astral existence using various visual methods. From shamanistic painting rituals and psychoactive plant induced drug trips in the deep forests of Asia to modern day seances, the exploration of unfathomable and inaccessible worlds has been the subject of constant scientific and amateur research, as well as source of endless artistic inspiration.
Astralis, the 23rd exhibition at Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, takes visitors on a proposed journey outside of the human body into invisible dimensions, conjuring up elusive celestial thoughts, spiritually questioning and revelatory visions.
Featuring works by Art Orient Objet (Marion Laval Jeantet and Benoit Mangin), David Altmejd, Rina Banerjee, Basserode, Charley Case, Damien Deoubaix, Jean-Luc Favero, Vidya Gastaldon, Siobhàn Hapaska, Myriam Mechita, Chloe Piene and Børre Sæthre, we caught up with the exhibition’s curator, Pascal Pique of Musée de l’Invisible.
Thomas Davis: Can you talk us through Musée de l’Invisible? Where did the idea to create this experimental space stem from?
Pascal Pique: The Musée de l’Invisible comes from the result of several transdisciplinary experiences that I have had over the last few years, ranging from contemporary art, prehistory and also the parasciences. Particularly thanks to the DreamTime exhibition which ran from 2009 to 2011 in the prehistoric caves of the Mas d’Azil in Ariège, France, where I was able to invite over fifty artists to come and create works in the very depths of the mountains. This was an extraordinary adventure which not only showed that there is real continuity between prehistoric artists and those of today, and that the arts and cultures of the Invisible can help us to rise to certain challenges. Starting with the mystery of the evolution of humanity and the way it first expressed itself artistically. But the challenge goes even further beyond this. Re-opening the doors to the Invisible relates to the desire and need to re-enchant the world, to work on answers to deeply pragmatic and concrete questions about individuals, society or the environment. The Musée de l’Invisible is not only concerned with dreams, imagination and poetry. It has its feet firmly on the ground; it is committed to this world. But it never forgets to bond with the other worlds.
TD: What is your personal interest in the relationship between art and the many forms of “the invisible”?
PP: When you are as passionate about art as I am, you are passionate about humans, and for the human being, if I may. My interest in the cultures of the Invisible is two-fold. First, it forms ties with the various forms of the Invisible from that of astrophysicists and dark matter, through knowledge and the living, to the unexplained and the paranormal. We are currently living in a cultural big bang, where we are asking once again questions that the West has rejected and pushed away for centuries. People working in the most diehard sciences are turning to this because they have understood that we are going to have to revisit these continuities to find solutions. Man must constantly reinvent his role in the universe. But science is no longer enough and the Invisible may be able to provide answers. From a more intimate perspective, it’s obvious that mystery – that which is strange and unexplained – may be particularly favourable to personal evolutions of some kinds. I actually wonder if the Invisible may have an organic role to play in our psyche, as well as in terms of our physical being, in that it helps us to project ourselves to the exterior world and thus to feed the cycle of living beings. Isn’t that one of the ways we define life today? I mean through the establishment of relationships and communication. Because the Invisible and biology make good bedfellows, you only have to read the works of the Chilean biologist Francisco Varela to understand that, and he has had a strong influence on me. And with the Invisible, there is this possibility of projecting oneself into many different shapes, supra human or supra living beings. You do have to be careful not to get carried away however. But how can you talk about the Invisible without going there yourself? To what extent? And above all, how do you return? There is also the question of participative observation by anthropologists, who overlap the adventures and experiences that the Musée de l’Invisible will gradually record through its offices, departments and other anti-rooms such as the visionary Académie de l’Arbre which will soon be presented at the Bahia Biennial Salvador, in Brazil.
TD: Do you have a particular favourite work which seems to evoke the most interest in this subject for you?
PP: Among artists, at least for some of them, the doors of the Invisible have never been closed. This is especially true for Bosch, Vinci, Malevich, Cézanne, Picasso, Proust, Dostoyevsky, Duchamp, Dalí, Beuys and so on. It is interesting to note that these are leading figures in the history of art and they need to be understood from a new perspective. This work has actually begun, but the task is immense. Actually 95% of cultures around the world are cultures of the Invisible. One of the positive effects from the globalisation of art, with the opening of emerging scenes in the southern hemisphere, is in fact the return to – and of – the Invisible. Like a form of reverse colonisation, but this time, to repair and not to destroy. Meanwhile, we will soon rediscover these dimensions that have been hidden in our own cultures. That’s why I take great interest in these artists who bring together these various dimensions of the Invisible in their experience and in their works. Some actually live in the West, such as Myriam Mihindou, who is originally from Gabon and lives in Paris, or the choreographer Camille Renarhd who lives in Montreal. But artists do not talk much about the issue, out of fear that they are taken for “eccentrics” or “folklorists”. That’s why there is one particular work that I find very interesting at the moment, by the French duo Art Orienté Objet (Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoit Mangin), who have been creating a sort of “coming out” work based on these issues for some time, while exploring them in quite an incredible way. Their latest exhibition at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris was thoroughly enlightening. And courageous. Just like their contributions to Astralis.
TD: How did you select each of the twelve artists whose works are represented in the show?
PP: The Astralis exhibition is an introduction to the intentions of the Musée de l’Invisible. Marie-Ange Moulonguet, director of the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton had the courage and daring to open its doors to these speculations and experiments. Alongside Marie-Ange, we decided, through the idea of astral travel, to revisit the idea of vision in contemporary art. Vision in the most irruptive and most unidentified meaning of the word. Simultaneously, we asked artists the following questions: How do the visions of your works appear to you? Where do they come from and what do they say? The answers that were collected in the catalogue are very surprising and do indeed open several doors, like that of mediumship and other phenomena which are hard to explain. We also wanted to present an exhibition that would be rich in fine arts and visually both immersive and very diversified. As though we were crossing different planes on an astral journey. A bit like the final scenes in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. This is achieved so well that the exhibition becomes an actual trek, even a sort of vehicle through the visions that range from the most abstract, with Borre Saethre who pays tribute to Solaris, to the fantastical figures that populate the paintings of Damien Deroubaix, the drawings of Myriam Mechita and the sculptures Rina Banerjee. Each is a whole system of creatures and visions of cosmological beings that have been invited and reinvented. A whole bestiary of hybrids completed by Jean-Luc Favéro and his post-Fukushima light deer or Basserode’s cosmic whale, which releases a sort of astral mist. Not forgetting David Altmejd’s angels or those made of moonstone by Siobhan Hapaska. And then there are works that appear to whisk the onlooker away to another beyond, by Chloé Piene, Charley Case, Vidya Gastaldon and Art Orienté Objet, who have created votive works that are both prophylactic and divinatory which bring us face to face with actual connections to the forces of the Invisible. These forces seem to appear through a strange thread of light that has settled throughout the whole exhibition, without any form of planning or organisation on our part.