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Florian Sumi

02 Magazine / by Laure Jaumouille

Article en ligne 

Florian SUMI
Frac des Pays de la Loire

Since the birth of modern science, man’s quest for absolute power found its origins in  a vast enterprise of separation. Encouraged by a disorientating intoxication of unlimited domination, the West placed nature on one side, culture on the other. The object as opposed to the subject. It’s as if we had adopted a fundamental essence different from nature, thus preventing us to exercise a physical and mental force upon it. This is how the ‘ Moderns’ proclaimed themselves Masters and Lords of a reality knead by language. Little by little working the land gave way to the instrumented animals and vegetation,  their ends infinitely converted into means (1). At a time when human activity’s exponential growth hits the earthly resources’ limits, we finally lay eyes on the tragic reality of a mistreated nature, reflecting in its wounds the decadence of our progressive philosophy. Faced with this conceptual disintegration of our values, how do we from now on imagine WHAT LIES AHEAD (2)? Overtaken by despondency we are tempted to turn our eyes and spirit towards subjects more accessible to the understanding. Some artists state their commitment to focus on this black hole of thought, in an attempt to elaborate the beginning of a potential answer. Florian Sumi,  whose current work is being exhibited at a regional contemporary art center, is one of them. Infiltrating  the visual legacy of the french thirty glorious years, he has chosen to sow the seeds of a new cohabitation with the « non-humans », namely « nature », « environment », « Gaïa »…  Associated with the advertiser Gilles Rivollier, founder of the DawnMakers agency – Florian Sumi elaborates a series of images advertising  an existing technology who’s potential has yet to be effectively developed. The publicity campaign’s result, entitled Ephemeral Electronics, returns us to the heights of the 60′s and 70′s consumerism whilst stating the premises of  » programable obsolescence » due to an entirely biodegradable technology. The exhibition space includes two prototype publicity posters impregnated with a timeless aesthetic ,  engaging the visitor with strange slogans :  » Future has been there the whole time « ,  » Consider the old makers of progress ». The agency DawnMakers takes on the role of spokesperson for a fabrication process utilizing the potentials modeled directly on a natural process of the silk crystallization of the Bombix Caterpillar. With the first manifestation of this campaign Florian Sumi and Gilles Rivollier tempt to disseminate into our collective imagination a scientific prophecy. In the space dedicated to him by the art center of Pays de La Loire, Florian Sumi presents amongst others a series of complex objects related to clockwork machinery constructed with wood, stainless steel and aluminum. While their craftsmanship seems old fashioned, the forms of these works contain a certain industrial modernity despite their detachment from any function. The clockwork (3) series evokes a system of machines for measuring time although the functioning has been suspended as if it were awaiting a potential manual activation. In front of these gigantic clocks deprived of any automatic system, the unsettled visitor, lost in various time strata and dumbfounded, questions the muted purpose and beauty of these objects. What is the idea of the machine’s future today ? The artist invites us down the path of non- realized secret potentials. It’s closest to a natural movement that limits Man’s effect on the environment while perhaps detrimentally affecting the culture of performance. Above all, this kind of enterprise can not bypass questioning our perception of the world, a remodeling of the conceptual systems underlying our way of life. It remains unknown when and under which conditions could exist this paradigm of Change. As mentioned by Bruno Latour, the apocalypse turns out to be imminent ; Still, our ecology hasn’t  yet managed to create sensitive and intelligible  images which would truly allow pushing thought and action forward. What cataclysm must we wait for before activating the symbolic machinery of Florian Sumi, one that sets off the development of intelligent technologies and is genuinely contemporary ? To this question, the artist replies with a short and intense video, in which the visitor sees wild dancing by people exhibiting strange body make-up. Like a battery without energetic combustion, this trance takes us to the fundamental question of mobilization (4) that we lack. What wisdom have we lost to be so paralyzed by terror when confronted with the return of Gaïa (5)? Quoting one of DawnMaker’s slogans :  » Looking for future, look at nature » – meaning we must renew  the connection that ties us to the living, only this can move (6) Man and awaken the conscience of a public (7). Meanwhile it is necessary to learn to deal with more than just culture on one side and nature on the other and to experiment with new systems of belief open to the unknown.

Laure Jaumouillé

1 Emile Hache, What we care for, Propositions for a pragmatic ecology, Les Empêcheurs de tourner en rond, La Découverte, Paris, 2011, p. 20.
2 Bruno Latour, Investigation on the modes of existence, La Découverte, 2012, p. 22.  » They had a future, but didn’t care for it. More precisely, didn’t care for what was to come. What IS to come? What is it that occurs unannounced that they couldn’t have expected? « Gaïa », « the age of Man », whatever the precise name may be, in any case something that for ever deprives them of the fundamental distinction between Nature and Society(…) ».
3 The anglo-saxon word designating simultaneously « mechanics » and « Clock ».
4 Mobilisation: form the latin word « mobilis », mobile, in movement.
5 Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, at a convention that took place in the University of political Science of Paris, January 17th, 2013.
6 To Move: from the latin Word « moveo », to move, to displace, to dissipate.
7 John Dewey, The Public and it’s Problems, 1925-1927. The public appears to be  « an ensemble of people having full access to the data concerning their own affairs, forming common judgements regarding their conduct on the basis of these data and being able to state these judgements openly ». in ZASK Joëlle, Dewey’s Public: a social and plural Union, Tracés.  A Social Science Review (On-line) 15, 2008

Interview Florian Sumi / Frederich Emprou

In medias res 1

Frederich Emprou: Your approach to producing objects reminds me of Leonardo de Vinci’s aim “never to separate the desire for understanding and the pleasure of doing”.

Florian Sumi: I do not fit into any specialization or mastery of some discipline or medium. What counts for me is the potential of always having a desire for understanding the fabric of the objects that make up our environment. An object exists physically and tangibly because it has been designed out of necessity. One structure has elected it as a necessary component of a broader operation. That is no small matter. Looking at an object means comprehending the conditions that led to its existence, and therefore, the way that it was designed. It makes its own history just as it becomes part of History; it is a receptacle of the world and a temporal memory. This reasoning has led me to reflect upon whether or not to make an additional object. This is probably where the desire of doing comes in.

 

FE: Regarding the term “desire”, I have often heard you refer to the Deleuzian concepts of “percept” and “affect”. How are these notions important to your work?  

FS: Like many people, I first discovered Gilles Deleuze when reading Anti-Oedipus. It was in my student days. Together with Félix Guattari, they went against the psychoanalytic notion of desire that defined it as something fixed on a single object. They argued instead that we always desire a range of things, an affectation around the alleged object of desire. This was important to me. In my work I was looking to express the idea that each element is only meaningful in its relationship with and opposition to other elements. Revealing systems through the affectation of miscellaneous objects has therefore become a sort of process. My starting point was the assumption that nothing exists alone and that everything is correlated. It was this complexity that I wished to explore, namely relationships of cause, influence and shifts. At school I used to build interiors made up of several kinds of objects – figurative sculptures, ornamental elements, a figure in disguise bearing a screen on which photographs were projected, wooden cabins – in which we would play binary music for hours. It was preposterous and cathartic. Elements interested me less individually than when they were grouped in an affectation that correlated them to each other. I felt that I was designing a set of perceptions and sensations more in keeping with real life because they highlighted relationships of structural interaction. My art education took place alongside two artists: Marc Camille Chaimovicz and Xavier Veilhan. I think that both of them, in their own way, experiment in affectation and what, to my mind, are desire-related affectations.

 

FE: In the exhibition in the Mario Toran room, a very motley group of elements is brought together, including clockwork modules, the Weird Energy video, the Cabinet and advertising campaigns. What was the initial framework for this arrangement?

FS: The initial framework was a projection into a near future. Like a vision distilled into the bringing together of objects that might all belong to a short-term scenario. For a few months I have been on the lookout for forums and diagnoses (that I had previously never considered) depicting the world’s imminent global upheaval. I realised that I had never really thought about the dimension of what was going to happen. Until then I had practised art in a conventional manner, adopting a European affiliation, questioning how we function in the past and present through the practice of sculpture. In this exhibition it is, more or less clearly, the idea of a future that I would like to introduce, but while addressing a present question, an opaque inquiry so to speak: Is what lies ahead something external to ourselves and to our intelligence; are we still able to master and be incorporated into these changes? The exhibition brings together practical objects that I feel lie halfway between present and future. They are all related to conventional, highly recognisable formal languages, but they each contain a specific energy and environmental dimension. Archaic in the case of the clockwork mechanisms and the Weird Energy film, technological for the Cabinet’s rapid prototyping, and quite futuristic for the EphemeralElectronics component. They all become ways of reaching out to this systemic uncertainty.

 

FE: It is a vision of anguish…

FS: This vision is linked to scientific prophecies that predict novel phenomena about climate, health, geopolitics and whose alleged causes correspond exactly to what the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw as mankind’s accomplishments in harnessing nature. The anguish I feel over this reappraisal is due to the fact that it concerns a social model that is my own, a society based on rationality, technical mastery, liberal democracy and which turns out to be at best obsolete or at worst a big mistake. It is a reappraisal as scary as it is stimulating.

 

FE: So this exhibition would tend to focus on issues from the history of technology and its current state of affairs?

FS: Focus, no. I have no inclination to proselytise any particular system. I react in my own small way like any ordinary individual. But I do try to understand. By making objects. When I work on the mechanics of clockmaking, I want above all to produce a mechanical object. A machine-tooled object manufactured with the same machines that produce the latest generation of wind turbine. Mechanics is something that is symbolically very strong. In the nineteenth century it gave rise to a production paradigm of unprecedented potential. I totally agree with Philippe Murray’s idea that we are still living in the nineteenth century. We have improved our lifestyles, attended to our demographic needs, crossbred our identities, but the paradigm remains the same. The basis for technical development remains the same as in the first industrial revolution: mechanics. Even if the development of forms would tend to say the opposite. Home automation likes to pretend that all of this is magic and that object disappears in favour of something immaterial, in that it is tactile or concealed. But any production of technological objects is mechanical. The particle accelerator, the scanning tunnelling microscope, the graphics tablet or digitizer are due to incredible advances in miniaturisation and precision. But certainly not to a new paradigm.

 

FE: This questioning of environmental data here seems to be part of a broader, global mindset…

FS: It is an inherently global mindset. There is nothing new. But it is becoming more intense, creating controversy and schools of thought. It intervenes at all levels, from the smallest denominators of human life to systemic reappraisals. This is a new order and may be the seed of a global cultural revolution. In any case, the potential is huge. For a long time I felt as if I were living in a very large bubble made up of conventions though without seeing the benefit of breaking free of this. Today I think about the role of artists in this context. I now maintain that we need to want to invent now.

 

FE: How can art create original models now in your opinion?

FS: My take is that the artist creates systems of perceptions. That is to say, he extends a perceptual experience of the world by stabilizing it over time. He creates the ability to perceive and to be concerned. This ability precedes the tools of the science of politics and art as a theoretical discipline. The artist is able to give impetus to directions rather than create models. This is the full meaning of EphemeralElectronics, which I have developed with the DawnMakers agency. And the artist is able to give impetus to directions when he no longer relies upon the legacy that bore him along from which to draw his resources. Take the example of “post-Internet”, which is a great way for artists to decide to end the legacy and their forefathers. This is what fascinated me when I saw the work of Aude Pariset for the first time in Berlin. Fuck the legacy! Now everything belongs to us! The idea is to enjoy complete independence in the use and control of materials and tools. Post-Internet marks a break with this and offers a new generational relationship.

 

FE: In what way do this trend and this new generational relationship interest you?  

FS: First I want to say that I am talking about the post-Internet art movement as an outsider. I am not involved in it but am linked to it because of some close friends who use this idiom and can be included in this wide-ranging appellation. So I am in a sense fascinated by a group of artists with whom I am not involved. For me what is remarkable is the fact that a new aesthetic movement has emerged. Unlike the European filter that sought to see the Internet as a form of directly accessible complete encyclopaedia that artists could tap into, post-Internet has reduced it to the status of raw material. We are no longer in a cultured relationship but rather a primitive one. To me this is absolutely significant in terms of the evolution of forms. However my education is completely European, erudite and gendered. In a sense, I feel that I struggle a lot with this.

 

FE: You told me that Artie Vierkant has seen several of your films…

FS: Artie Vierkant is a great artist. He is one of the leading exponents of this movement and one of its theoreticians. I do not know him and I have never met him. We have some mutual friends who send me things and vice versa. I was very happy when I heard about his enthusiasm for my first films, Le Bal and Das Kammerspiel. Yet I still have the feeling of being the syncretism of the quintessential European artist. And even that of the French artist when his work deals with a non-territorial culture – I might even say a new geography of virtuality and trans-citizenship. It is also a movement that makes me wonder about the use of a raw material. That is to say, the conditions necessary for inventing objects. In fact, I feel as if I do not have access to them. My work draws upon conventional production systems. And when I look at the work of Spencer Longo, who is the strangest artist I’ve met, I wonder about a lot of things. He offers manufactured compositions that belong to a business register, calling upon Nike, a brand of tea and yogamates. It is a very radical stance. Or Simon Denny, all you need is data….. the title alone!

 

FE: With regard to this use of forms and referencing, someone was talking to me about  ClockWorks and mentioned Marcel Duchamp and the Chocolate Grinder…

FS: Yes, I am a big fan of Duchamp’s Chocolate Grinder like Bruno Gironcoli’s forms. Nothing is down to chance. When I visit museums and artworks I consider them as the markers of a society. Basically I do not have a theoretical but rather a sensory relationship to the works. In general, I find there are many flaws in a theoretical relationship with art. When I stand before an artwork, once I have grasped it perceptually, I wonder about its role in the context that has set it where it is. If it appeals to me in a sensory way, this means that I am caught by something underlying it. I make no deliberate claims but I will not deny the education that has marked me. Whether I like it or not, there is bound to be an inherent context, which will influence me in my relationship to the acoustics, landscape and interaction. When I think about structures and affectations, it is within the framework as a whole. I look at everything in a completely horizontal manner and that is why I say that I create objects – whether they are decorative objects, cultural objects, technical objects or functional objects.

 

1 as defined in Wikipedia: In medias res (Latin « in the midst of things ») is the literary and artistic narrative technique of relating a story from the midpoint, rather than the beginning […]. In medias res often, though not always, entails subsequent use of flashback and nonlinear narrative for exposition of earlier events in order to fill in the backstory. […]

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