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Xavier Veilhan: An Artist of the Collective

Published on , by Virginie Chuimer-Layen

For the past 12 years, the French artist has been working as part of a team in his stylish, multi-functional Paris studio, where exchanges are plentiful and boundaries between disciplines are porous.

© Claire Dorn Xavier Veilhan: An Artist of the Collective

© Claire Dorn

In this former warehouse in the 20th arrondissement, architects Elisabeth Lemercier and Philippe Bona have designed “a space that is neither totally open nor totally closed," says Veilhan. Light years from the solitary, silent painter's studio, this vaulted space of 240 m2 (2583.3 sq ft) resembles a buzzing beehive, where the air is full of voices. "I work in a small organization. Anne Becker and Guillaume Rambouillet are my two co-directors, and Sven Bajeat my production manager. Tala Prevost oversees artwork management; Constance Curtil is my production assistant and Alice Zhang my studio assistant. We all meet here nearly every day and discuss things for eight hours, sometimes more." Outside, a dock "that can accommodate a 25-metric ton truck, which is rare in inner Paris," gives access to the first floor, a long platform in a mix of wood, metal and concrete filled with shelves, crates and trestles. It has an extension with a light-filled space, used to present models, mobiles and pieces characteristic of the "Veilhan style". Aluminum staircases hanging from colored straps lead to the intermediate floor containing the control room and the kitchen. "The kitchen is the most important room in the studio! Sometimes, when we are completely up to our eyes, I stop working to cook. It's a way for me to talk to people; a time when I'm available to respond to them.


© Claire Dorn © Veilhan, ADAGP, Paris, 2022

© Claire Dorn © Veilhan, ADAGP, Paris, 2022

“To sum it up in a metaphor, I would say that the upper space of the studio is the head, and the lower floor the legs. Here, between the two, it's an extension of the brain." Above, a mezzanine contains a desk and a long worktable. In the control room, the international artist backed by the Perrotin Gallery pulls a black notebook from a shelf, where others like it are stacked. It is full of annotated drawings. "These are “transmission” drawings that help me materialize the ideas I want to share with my team. Science tells us that tangible objects only exist when they are put in contact with each other. Here, it's rather the same: it's through exchanges that things take on their real existence." Next door is a long bookshelf crammed with books on architecture, sculpture, music, design and gastronomy. "I like reading—including works that you don’t read, like Le Corbusier’s La Polychromie architecturale; Color Keyboards from 1931-19599, he says with a smile. “It’s an extraordinary color chart." The premises have a studied elegance due to the tables, chairs, sofas and other objects by leading names in design and the visual arts: Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Charlotte Perriand, Charles & Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto, Tom Sachs and Rick Owens. Below, at the end of the first floor in a small space decked all in wood, photos by Larry Clark, Nadar and works by Julio Le Parc and Aurélie Nemours dialogue with statuettes, including the figure of Jean-Benoît Dunckel, his friend and member of the “Air” group. The place thus seems like a multifunctional laboratory: a comfortable production studio mingling high tech with craft, art, architecture and sculpture, conducive to receiving and presenting.

A Protean Style
"My style? The emblematic facets of my sculptures, which simplify forms to capture the essence of human or animal figures, come from an exploration of technologies. Today, I am working on a new type of statuary, which I called "blurred". Though it stems from the same approach, based on scanning real objects or figures, it leads to a more ghostly aspect of the volumes." As witness by Molière, inaugurated last June in front of the Versailles-Château-Rive-Gauche station for the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s birth. "It was produced in collaboration with the Coubertin Foundries. The use of digital techniques and the effect created counterbalance a work with very powerful historical symbolism: Versailles, bronze and Molière." Perched on trestles, a new aspect of his output catches the eye. "At the moment, we are making works in marquetry, based on photographs of faceted sculptures. The image of sculpture in the round is transposed into a 2D space, where each piece of marquetry is a unique object." Rather like a cubo-futuristic puzzle, a portrait of the architect Richard Rogers gradually takes shape, derived from the artist’s sculpture displayed near the Centre Pompidou. Abstract but based on actual elements, this new type of piece illustrates his explorations, where "nothing, in fact, functions in a vacuum".


© Claire Dorn © Veilhan, ADAGP, Paris, 2022

© Claire Dorn © Veilhan, ADAGP, Paris, 2022

Freedom From the Dictatorship of the Spectacle
Stored on movable shelving, countless vinyl records also show the pervasive presence of music in his world. The sculptor, now approaching 60, developed an interest in this art early on, as with craftsmanship. "Music complements the visual arts for me. It provides an intensity that cannot be achieved in classical exhibitions. Incidentally, we have just finished a film for which the French electronic music producer Chloe provided the soundtrack." Designed for the French pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Studio Venezia is one of the most speaking examples of the musical side of his practice. "With this project, I wanted to free the public from the dictatorship of the spectacle: they were invited to witness the 'work' of the music composed by some 200 musicians throughout the entire event. The musicians stayed for a few days, then left with a hard drive they could use as they wished. As the forms linked with the musical recording are not those of performance, sometimes nothing happened.” His vision, opposed to what he calls "the spectacularization of society", did not prevent him from creating a "spectacular" staging for the recent Chanel fashion shows. “The commercial aspect of a project does not preclude its artistic dimension," he says. “For Chanel, we designed an exceptional set of furniture and recyclable objects paying tribute to the great universal exhibitions. We played on this idea of "visual deflagration" by dispersing the guests. A sort of total work of art, which also included the production of a film, the appearance of Charlotte Casiraghi on a horse and the orchestration of the fashion show to the dreamlike music of Sebastien Tellier." Moving from monumental staging to drawings made during lockdown, and from sculpture to marquetry pictures, Xavier Veilhan mingles cutting-edge technologies and traditional practices with ease in a resolutely collective approach. While he plans to create an even "larger and more versatile" studio, which he has entrusted to the architects Lacaton & Vassal in Boissy-le-Châtel, he is currently thinking about a host of projects in Paris. With a cinema program for the Dijon Consortium, a curtain for the Kabuki theater in Tokyo, a project for a public space in Belgium, a movie for a Hong Kong hotel, a mobile for a shopping mall in Seoul and more, there’s plenty to keep him and his team on the go in Paris.

Molière, place Lyautey, Versailles (78).
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