Aesthetic Investigations: A Q&A with Artist Benot Maire

A participant in the "Dynasty" show at the Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art, both in Paris, Benoît Maire is one of a cadre of young artists who have recently garnered a lot of attention. He begins with theoretical concepts, to which he gives physical shape with his writings, paintings, installations, videos, and performances. His new project, "L’Espace Nu" ("The Naked Space") at the Frac Aquitaine (the contemporary art museum of Bordeaux), marks his first solo museum show. For the occasion, he decided to tinker with the rules of conventional exhibitions — the event opened to the public while it was still undergoing technical adjustments. It has continued to evolve over time and will actually close on the day of its official opening, September 17. ARTINFO France spoke to Maire about this interdisciplinary show-in-progress.

How would you define your artistic approach?

What interests me are emotional responses connected to concepts, creating my impression of ideas through shapes. For example, in my exhibition at the Frac, I’ve displayed a lot of tables and when one of these pieces is successful, you don’t see the wooden or iron table with things on top of it anymore, but really the idea of a table. I attempt to give the viewer the impression of being in front of an abstract or ideal idea. The emotion that flows from the concept is the most important part.

So you’re not really interested in the medium itself.

Whether it’s a video, a painting, or something else, I’m interested in it only because it’s a format that will generate a certain number of rules to engage with, that can be broken, etc. My approach is aesthetic investigation. I treat my objects of study — which are those of aesthetic philosophy — through sculptural and artistic forms, a bit like an aesthetic theorist.

What are your influences?

I really like the rather violent way in which Brancusi expresses himself. He is very close to matter and ideas at the same time. It’s a contradiction that I find very meaningful. Recently, I’ve been reading Andy Warhols interviews — they’re great.

You are a rising star in the contemporary art world. What is it like being the focus of a museum show?

I'm happy to have the chance to work, but I approached this exhibition like any other. I worked a lot on it and I think that I managed to come up with something very coherent, which really expresses my previous ideas. I got over a hurdle in the production of the works.

"L’Espace Nu" is based on your film "L’Ile de la Répétition" ("The Island of Repetition"). What is the film about?

It’s an 8-millimeter film in which the characters, who are poets, repeat their lives on a continuous loop with the idea that they are trying to abandon their poetry in order to simply live life. The sculptural space exists in the film. As for the exhibition, the material of the film — the narration — is arranged in space. Both are truly interconnected. The characters have a relationship to concrete life but also to an idealized version of their lives. "L’Espace Nu" is the place of this idealized version.

How can viewers make the connection between the film and the exhibition?

Initially, I had the idea to show the film in a Bordeaux movie theater and to show only the sculptures at the Frac. It would have been up to the viewer to make the connection between the narrative space, viewed at the movie theater, and the spatial element of the sculptures in the exhibition. But in order to make this connection more explicit in the exhibition space, I decided that some sculptures would be accompanied by segments of the film on a video monitor.

How are the sculptures displayed?

I did variations on the table theme, based on tables that were cut into pieces, reworked, and arranged by me, as well as completely original tables that I made. On these tables, I arranged objects that are in the film. It’s a collection of eight independent pieces.

Why did you decide to open your exhibition to the public while it was still in development?

I wanted to do a naked exhibition. So I perceived the space as an empty space, but with an emotional charge. I focused on the meaning of "naked" space: without any veil or protection. Clearly, the word opening ("vernissage" in French) means applying varnish ("vernis") to the painting so its surface will be protected. Therefore, I began the exhibition without an opening, giving priority to an open space, one that is progressing. It gave me the freedom to set up my sculptures without that moment of completion.

How have people responded to this unusual way of exhibiting your work?

It leads them to question the mechanics of exhibitions. Sometimes a viewer may see me setting up a table with other people, for example, but it’s unplanned. It’s a bit as if they were exploring a studio. They take this exhibition as an exhibition and also as something unresolved because they know that it’s not finished.

What are you planning to do next?

I’m working on my second solo show in Holland; I’d like to present a totally new project. Since I just finished a rather long 8-millimeter film, I’d also like to do a short film, something a bit violent, where a lot of things happen in very little time. I’d also like to explore my work on the aesthetics of disagreement in more depth; some pieces from this project were exhibited in the "Dynasty" show. I also hope to publish an essay on aesthetics three or four years from now.