Le Grand Café, Saint-Nazaire
October 14, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Edgar Sarin looks for new physical and semantic terrain by devising exhibitions that create themselves over their lifetime according to, and within, the very space in which they unfold. He compares them to robust systems, able to play by ear, to be open to contingency, to take on multiple historical layers and to perform any number of balancing acts between composition and improvisation. He is seeking an ecology of action, following a relatively consistent long-term process to lay the foundations of his propositions: the artist begins by creating a stock of simple, inexpensive, and close at hand materials such as oak, limestone or clay, that he will place in the space and allow to settle. Using these material conditions, and a deal of skill, Edgar Sarin imagines a self-sustaining system that sculpts itself and takes form until it reaches a certain degree of presence. This way of working is political: he is part of a generation of artists who question the concept of the exhibition as an intrinsically sterile object. On the contrary, they profit from seeing it as a space that is sensitive to living rhythms; a site of displacement and of research into the immediate environment, that pays attention to collective harmony. His exhibitions are, therefore, fertile and progressively augmented structures whose theoretical and sensory depth can only really be fully felt at the end of being shown.
At Le Grand Café art centre, Edgar Sarin imagines a new story in the process of its making: the starting point for an unforeseen adventure that isn’t written in advance. But it is also an exhibition event closing a three-year cycle of major research, initiated in 2020 at the art centre in Clamart with a proposal entitled objectif : société [objective: society]. This cycle comes to an end in Saint-Nazaire and will be marked by a first artist monograph, published by Dilecta.
Edgar Sarin is faithful to his approach, appropriating the site in a manner that is total and instinctive. In the art centre’s largest space, he installs a Kaaba, an architectural form built from local clay whose walls will be dedicated to pictorial works produced during the exhibition.
The form of the construction is inspired by Celtic grain stores on stilts, also referring to the sacred house, built for men, that is sited at the centre of Mecca. For Edgar Sarin, architectures are highly didactic objects, which can readily sediment and settle the flow of events, stories, and beliefs: here, the Kaaba embodies a collecting structure at the very heart of the exhibition, a palimpsest of a surface offered up for re-covering, like antique graffiti progressively colonising the walls of a temple. Other architectures appear in the exhibition that recall the motif of the camerella incantata, an enchanted retreat beyond time and the fury of the world, and at the same time a space connected to the cosmos. The artist notably displays a lararium, a type of small sanctuary intended for the worship of Lares, the household gods. This small wooden bas-relief, a minimalist place for contemplation, tells us a good deal about Edgar Sarin’s work: his choice of crude materials worked like precious materials and his liking for architecture as a matrix, a crucible for transforming the real. Other sculptures will come to populate the space, like the two giant carved wooden caryatids, which also materialise particular literary and historical reminiscences from the timeline of art.
In the adjoining gallery, the artist concocts an ambiguous room, akin to a Renaissance workshop, to host micro-societies established for a specific time for a specific project in accordance with a network of converging and parallel timeframes.
Various people will regularly come to work in the Saint Nazaire exhibition, notably producing sculptures: clay ex-voto in animal form, inspired by Japanese haniwa, earthenware figures left in Japanese tombs, probably as protective offerings, during the Kofun and Asuka periods around 250-710 CE. In this same room, somewhere between a production workshop and an exhibition space, Edgar Sarin is also installing an oak, which will be placed in a natural state, undergo different phenomena of acclimatation, and progressively be refined.
Upstairs, a sculpted boat greets the public. Of the kind represented in the Bayeux Tapestry, it recalls the mora, a Scandinavian type of sea-going vessel with which William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel in conquest of England in 1066. Edgar Sarin has grafted details onto the boat, solid oak sculptures like figureheads. The artist’s simple economical gestures, determined by each material’s specificity, are also revealed on the treatment of the hull, worked with beeswax, encaustic and pigment: interventions that all refer the object back to the history of antique painting.
In a play of interleaved references, with this floating sculpture Edgar Sarin equally pays homage to Ocean Wave, the boat on which artist Bas Jan Ader was lost at sea in 1975 while attempting a solo crossing of the Atlantic to complete his work In search of the miraculous.
For Edgar Sarin, the motif of the boat connects with the archetypal refuge, the primitive shelter whose boundaries come as close as possible to those of the body; it is the promise of salvation, the possibility of fleeing the day of ultimate catastrophe; it is above all the support for a physical experience of landscape, crossing a world of reflections, mirror games and illusions. Of danger too, since it is ancestrally linked to death, and, nowadays, to the destinies of innumerable exiles. For the artist, the naval construction synthesises once again a space of possibility, a consideration of the state of a society in a given environment. During the exhibition this rowing vessel will be put to sea, another experience of the form and the body that performs it. An essential dimension that Edgar Sarin resumes in this way: “The human being, in the spaces that I compose, is the key that activates the space. Space without man is completely sterile”.