We asked Paris based artist Donatien Aubert, to write a small text for us about his latest exhibition.
Politicians are facing today a profound crisis of legitimacy: this is a direct consequence of the rapid circulation of information and the preeminence of social networks. This marks a new threshold in the democracy of opinion, when the access to free information gives Internet users a power to educate themselves. Since the 1970’s, when confronting the mobilization of citizens, governments have tried to develop tools to take better into account requests of the civil society, that is, making the use of power more translucent and accessible for the citizens. To ensure this, they have sought different solutions, such as introducing public debates: this tendency has only intensified with the preeminence of the Internet. However, not everyone welcomes this democratic aspect offered by digital era: extreme right parties and politico-religious organizations denounce easily this as a corporatist or demagogic strategy. Nowadays, when observing the identity withdrawal of European nations, it seems appropriate to confirm some historic elements that give European continent its specificity: Europe is a melting pot, a geographic space of mixture, assimilation and hybridization of cultures, while its political history is built on the emancipation from authoritarianism. Traditionally, European philosophy is dedicated to an examination of conditions that assure the exercise of individual liberties: our conception is based on humanism and its successive historic movements.
For me, it seems necessary to revitalize these humanist ideas that were established in the European intellectual circles in the Renaissance and which are still vivid. Today, opinions and expertise offered by NGO’s aren’t sufficient: besides these, the figure of an artist constitutes an unexpected and polyvalent model through artistic production and the theoretic training of artists. I hope to be the embodiment of such an actor, when working as researcher in the laboratory of Spatial Media at the Ecole National Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. We are living in a particularly dynamic and fast period: the complexity of today’s crisis together with the deterioration of our natural environment calls for a mobilization, as never seen before in the history: urgent political and economic solutions are needed in order to counter the negative effects of anthropisation (the geographical space transformed by human activities). In order to find an adjusted answer for these challenges, I would like to emphasize the role of an artist: the desire of young creators to concretize their visions for a better future, by deploying the tools offered by the digital era, such as computer-aided manufacturing. Visual arts offer an alternative to the imaginary of disaster, to nihilism spread by eschatological discourses of our times.
In the exhibition that I realized for my diploma, I was hoping to bring these ideas forward: the visitor takes a stroll, starting from the presentation of two videos, retracing my trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. There I had the opportunity to interview the guides and researchers living on shipboard in extreme conditions. To develop necessary technologies for the survival of human beings living over there, it is necessary to study the possibilities offered by experimental anthropology. How to organize human life in conditions, which are, by definition, hostile for it? This interrogation motivated my desire to undertake this exploration. While it’s impossible to assure a frequent provision of supplies, people living in Antarctica have created an infrastructure, which enables them to be self-sufficient during periods when freight is impossible. The insecurity of the people living in Antarctica can be compared to that experienced by astronauts in the International Space Station. Rationalizing energetic and alimentary needs of teams in the continent is necessary for the success of human adventures in these conditions: in this framework, renewable energies are essential for the fulfillment of needs of human beings. New technologies enable to think up and foresee solutions, which should be deployed in the medium term if the renewable technologies are seriously intended to become ubiquitous.
These accounts help us to understand the problems I wanted to study in the second part of my exhibition. After having exposed the two videos, the visitors are invited to take a stroll in a hall leading them to the room 019, where the setting is composed of a five sided pyramid together with a big platform of seven meters, finishing in a diorama and supported by two models, alongside with three columns of steel lit from inside. When ascending to the stage, the visitor can discover a transparent side of the pyramid, which reveals its content: three plants, chosen for their resilience, are placed in pots, which give the piece an aspect of growth and expansion. The luster gives the plants the light they need, and helps to adjust the temperature inside. This is facing the model of a Soyuz capsule coupled with a module of Space X (the company who’s in charge of the cargo of NASA).
On the right side of the stage, I interrogate other models of self-sufficiency. A model resembling an Italian fortification, typical for the XV century during the Renaissance era, overhangs by three copies of buildings, which figure in the paintings of the ideal Cité of Urbino, attributed to Piero della Francesca. They surround a complex structure whose appearance reminds that of rhizome, printed in 3D.
The juxtaposition of these different architectural models helps me to show the evolution of the concept of utopia throughout history. During the Renaissance, when the neologism appeared for the first time, an ideal model of city-state followed a plan of central organization. Today, the image of an utopia is conceived differently, even though the nature still conserves there an analogous place: to set the limits of agglomerations more porous, to smoothen the passage from city centers to semi-urban areas, at the same time giving them a similar attractiveness thanks to the creation of green areas and artistic installations. The desire to find the ways to give cities spaces dedicated to agriculture retains the same importance, as prove the efforts deployed in research and development concerning vertical farms. In the exhibition, three panels, which end the stage, demonstrate these different themes, in order to extend these reflections. On the left, a carcass of a space shuttle is presented in a “white room”, a space of decontamination, which is used to sterilise objects that are sent to space.
On the right side, the plants of the interior garden seem to enter in a competition with the architectural structures having a vegetal appearance, whose growth seems to be guided by enormous props. In the middle, diverse architectures, important in the sense of the utopian imaginary, follow a sort of a mini golf itinerary: la Villa Rotonda de Palladio is presented next to a kiosk, whereas in the background appears a structure on a jacket-deck, reminiscing of the Walking City of Ron Herron. In the middle of the image we can find a theatre of memory, as conceived by Fludd in the middle of the XV century. This is the central element of the display, perceived as an enormous mnemonic apparatus, a palace of memory, dedicated entirely to a contemporary phenomenon, which is constituted by the procedure of making existence more ecologic. The sculpture made of steel tubes reminds us of tree trunks. The reference to the symbolism of trees underlines the possible new image of l’honnête homme. A plane tree, a symbol of regeneration in Ancient Greece, is accompanied by an acacia plant, which is, in turn, a symbol of rebirth in the Christian mysticism. Finally, we can find a birch tree, a synonym for wisdom in Celtic folklore. The ensemble is realized through a modern aesthetics, especially when reactivating the perspective effects introduced by analytic cubism: the same principle that several artists rediscover today through the diffusion of 3D technologies.
Translation by Sini Rinne-Kanto