Intimate Perceptions of the Living World
In a recent interview, Mimosa Echard, a French artist born in 1986, tells of a strange, intimate encounter with the living world: when young, she wanted to keep a sea anemone. After being preached at by her father, she reluctantly had to put it back into the water. To bid it farewell, she kissed it on its tentacle-decked mouth, which immediately set off a violent allergic reaction. This experience has perhaps remained as a backdrop to her memory: how to depict intimate perceptions of the living world without idealizing them? What are the limits of our relationships with non-human otherness and how can they be expressed? As the offspring of a mountainous region in the Cévennes (Massif Central) and of the MTV channel, Mimosa Echard has conducted her work towards the borderlines of a queer, pop living which is crammed full of culture and industry. In a protean body of work, mingling sculpture, painting, installations and more recently video games, she has rethought the body in its sexual and cyborg dimensions, by using plants, amebae and fungi. It is an oeuvre that aims at drawing close to the living world, while avoiding any romantic stumbling blocks.
After graduating from the École nationale supérieure des Art Décoratifs in 2010, she developed a sensual relationship with images, in which pictures of nature or extracts from pop magazines for teenagers became superimposed. After her early collages, in which an egg can be found above a portrait of the young Leonardo DiCaprio (Leo, 2013), she included more and more of the elements that she picks up, from forests, or else from supermarkets or pharmacies: insects, seaweed and dietary supplements are taken into large formats (A/B 8, 2016, 180 × 200 × 6 cm) then mixed and surrounded by various liquids, such as Coca Cola, resin and hair-removing wax. The latter, with its synthetic colors and viscous appearance, is a symbol of women’s subservience to modern society’s beauty canons. What followed were abstract compositions with fluorescent, earthy hues, depicting a state in the transformation of matter that has become stuck, caught in the traps of modern industry and nature.
Other elements have since turned into tools so that not just materials, but also images, might be digested more concretely. With Margo (2020), or Baigneur (Egg) (2021), photos of packaging, sculptures, or eroticized bodies swim among fabrics, pearls, seeds and flowers. These pictures can suggest a mix between Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine Paintings and Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flat. The artist explains, on this topic, that the inclusion of liquids have allowed her to stand back from the result and diminish her position as an author, by allowing elements to transform themselves. A work can thus derive from a collective, less anthropocentric process.
This type of collectiveness can be seen in various aspects of her work. Mimosa Echard has worked on several collective projects, a fanzine published with Jean-Luc Blanc and Jonathan Martin, entitled Turpentine, and the Kombucha Project Center with Michel Blazy, where artists are invited to extend a long swathe of fermenting Kombucha. More generally, her entourage often collects for her objects which may then appear in her work as time goes by. This plurality is played out both in the diversity of such collaborations and in the elements that have been drawn together. They are all digested by the processes of the transformation of matter which have been developed during her practice: latent, interior states, swallowed up by water.
In 2019, Mimosa Echard began a residency in Japan, at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto. In collaboration with Japanese researchers, she launched an exploration of myxomycetes, an organism able “to learn, memorize and transmit, though they have just one cell.” While the memory of the living world interests her, the particularity of its sexuality also fascinates the artist: this being has “up to 721 types of different sexualities,” a non-binary sexuality, allowing the living world to be seen from a queer viewpoint, beyond modern categories (which the artist had already clearly transcended in her work where she has mingled the industrial with the natural, or the artificial with the organic). Japanese culture, which has gender codes that are different from those in the West, has also been inspiring. Myxomycetes thus appear in her paintings, spreading across images in a network of colored lines, while also becoming the inspiration for the immersive quest during a video game Sporal, with a screen grab shown at the Palais de Tokyo in 2022. Accessible online, it presents the interior of a unicellular being, which needs to be allowed the possibility to grow thanks to the ingestion of liquids. Its players encounter non-binary beings, such as a seahorse or a bee orchid whose juices have to be gathered, while engaging in cosmic conversations written by a longstanding collaborator, Aodhan Madden, as follows: “Well one day I got so depressed I sucked up the world deep inside me and lost it somewhere.” Or, “Sometimes I wonder whether the sun would prefer to just throw itself underground. Just to prove the fact that all plants, me included, are just the symptom of this sick desire.” On the borderlines along an investigation into growth, Sporal examines the sickly, depressive wanderings of an undefined being.
At the Palais de Tokyo, the presentation of this intimate encounter has not been conceived as being immersive. While growth and entanglement lie at the heart of Mimosa Echard’s creative process, the visitors’ position remains more external. This installation aims at being minimal: a huge patchwork, on which an extract from Sporal is projected, in a vast 1000 m2 space. Visitors look on from afar, from a wooden bench set against a partition. This implies a clear, critical distance from the internal processes of a living being. Such a play on ways of looking became even more complex during the fall of 2022 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, during the award of the Prix Marcel Duchamp, for which the artist had been nominated. Rather than allowing a liquid to penetrate a painting, an entirely liquid painting, over 7 meters long, shall cross over the entire space. Inspired by mural fountains which can be perceived as much in Zen thought as in shopping malls, there will also be the muffled sound of yellowish, urine-like liquid as it drips down. Behind this screen videos, paintings and sculptures will be presented, shaken up by this liquid. Inspired as much by Marcel Duchamp’s apparatuses of gaze (Fountain, 1917; Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage… (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas…), 1946-1966) as by those developed by such artists as Paul B. Préciado in his Pornotopia, which examines the architectures surrounding Playboy magazine, Mimosa Echard triggers a reversal of the voyeur’s forbidden position. In Étant donnés, it is through a keyhole that can barely be made out the groin of an androgynous body. But, in this case, it will be behind a urine-colored spray, as if this were an attempt to attain a perception from within. Such an internal position is uncomfortable: will it recall that anemone when the artist kissed it? Instead of constantly seeking to make a connection with the living, Mimosa Echard focuses on our position as voyeurs. This realistic assessment allows to steer away from the idealization of human relationships with the living.
Mimosa Echard, Faire de l’art avec la nature : Mimosa Echard & Bianca Bondi, available on Tracks, Arte, 30 Sept. 2021 (link consulted on 20 August 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpJtbqlu_Hw).
Mimosa Echard, “À ma seule cellule, entretien entre Mimosa Echard et Daria de Beauvais,” in Sporal, edited by Daria de Beauvais and Frédéric Grossi (Paris: Palais de Tokyo, 2022), 91.
Echard, “À ma seule cellule…”
Mimosa Echard, Sporal, curated by Daria de Beauvais (Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 15 April – 4 Sept. 2022).
Mimosa Echard, Sporal, video game, conception: Andréa Sardin, Aodhan Madden and Mimosa Echard; soundtrack: Aodhan Madden and Yvan Étienne. Available online: https://sporal.net/.
Echard, Sporal, 107.
Echard, Sporal, 83.
Paul B. Preciado, Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture and Biopolitics (2010) (New York: Zone Books, 2019).
In her research, Mimosa Echard has taken an interest in the ambiguous gender of the body as depicted by Marcel Duchamp in Étant donnés.
Intimate Perceptions of the Living World
Text by Flora Katz
Are We Eternal Beings?
Fall Winter 22-23
Mimosa Echard, Escape more, 2022
Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris
Mimosa Echard (b. 1986, Alès, France; lives and works in Paris). Her practice is inspired by the creation of hybrid eco-systems where the living and the non-living, the human and the non-human coexist. Echard has been nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2022. She has exhibited her work in various institutions such as: Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2022, 2019, 2017, 2013); Collection Lambert, Avignon (2021-2020); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2020); Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2020); Centre d’Art Contemporain d’Ivry – Le CRÉDAC (2020); Dortmunder Kunstverein, Dortmund (2019); Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul (2018). Her works have joined the collections of: MAC VAL; CNAP – Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette, Paris, among other institutions.
Flora Katz is an exhibition curator at LUMA Arles and an art critic. After receiving a PhD in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), she has become a specialist in the work of Pierre Huyghe and is working on non-anthropocentric depictions.