Erwan Sene’s Interview on 032c

Erwan Sene’s Sonic Odyssey

Parisian artist Erwan Sene is a poly­math, nav­i­gat­ing the inter­play of sound, sculp­ture, per­for­mance, and the nar­ra­tives with­in. Take, for instance, the son­ic odyssey JUnQ (or, the Journal of Unsolved Questions), a project encom­pass­ing a full-length album, exhi­bi­tion, and book, which draws inspi­ra­tion from the cin­e­mat­ic phi­los­o­phy encap­su­lat­ed in Robert Bresson’s L’argent. The metaphor­i­cal jour­ney of a coun­ter­feit note that cir­cu­lates with reper­cus­sions becomes a lens through which Sene con­tem­plates the flu­id­i­ty of real­i­ty and the con­se­quences of its pas­sage through var­ied hands.

Using found objects from Parisian streets, Sene’s ready-made indus­tri­al land­scape is not mere­ly a revival of music past but a trans­for­ma­tion of space and the imag­i­nary through urban fur­ni­ture, arti­facts, and machines. In anoth­er project, Sene envi­sions assign­ing new roles to spec­tral rem­nants with­in the con­text of a fic­ti­tious pri­vate sur­veil­lance com­pa­ny. As these exam­ples sug­gest, Sene thinks beyond the bound­aries of elec­tron­ic music and sculp­ture, even dip­ping into col­lab­o­ra­tions with brands. Here, he speaks to Shelly Reich about the new gen­er­a­tion of Parisian artists, pub­lic space, and the hier­ar­chies of found and cre­at­ed objects.

SHELLY REICH: Initially you were mainly a musician, but later you expanded your practice to include art. Could you explain this transition?

ERWAN SENE: When I arrived in Paris to study fine arts after my ado­les­cence in the south of France, my focus revolved around music. I want­ed to cre­ate visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions for music, such as album cov­ers, video clips, and so on. Over the years and after my stud­ies, I devel­oped more sculp­tur­al work and my artis­tic prac­tice moved away from sound and music. Inspired by my research on encrypt­ed texts and lin­guis­tics, it’s only recent­ly that I have com­bined my sculp­tur­al work with sound ele­ments, field record­ings, and voic­es. This is some­thing I’m keen to fur­ther devel­op for future projects.

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SR: Your sculptures are composed of objects found in the streets of Paris. Can you share the process of selecting and transforming these objects?

ES: I’ve real­ized that the loca­tion of my stu­dio great­ly influ­ences my prac­tice, since I real­ly enjoy going for long walks and scav­eng­ing. The objects I find in these sur­round­ings are inti­mate­ly linked to me through this process of wan­der­ing. Once I’ve brought them back to the stu­dio, they often stay in box­es in a cor­ner for months before I work on them. But it is always impor­tant for me to erase any form of hier­ar­chy that a found object can have with anoth­er object that I have imag­ined from scratch.

SR: Does sharing a studio with Ser Serpas and Pol Taburet make you feel a sense of being part of the “new generation” of artists in Paris?

ES: There’s a unique alche­my in the dai­ly rhythm of work inter­wo­ven with the famil­iar com­fort of friends’ com­pa­ny that gen­er­ates a par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy­able ener­gy with­in the stu­dio. It’s a qual­i­ty that I gen­uine­ly val­ue and find meaningful.

SR: You’ve released a ten-part album that serves as the musical representation of a larger installation project. How does your background in sculpture influence the way you approach music? Can you share some of your influences working on JUnQ?

ES: The process of cre­at­ing sculp­tur­al work and music, for me, shares sim­i­lar­i­ties. Whether I’m manip­u­lat­ing vol­umes or exper­i­ment­ing with sound, the ele­ments that sur­round me — books, sam­ples, movies — are inher­ent­ly inter­con­nect­ed. Despite the dif­fer­ence in the medi­um of cre­ation, the under­ly­ing process remains con­sis­tent, involv­ing a sub­stan­tial amount of col­lag­ing and weav­ing that fos­ters an organ­ic osmo­sis between the two practices.

If I could name three films that influ­enced the cre­ation of this album, they would be: first, Robert Bresson’s final film, L’argent, which explores the chill­ing con­se­quences of a coun­ter­feit 500 franc note cir­cu­lat­ing through dif­fer­ent hands — an impact­ful nar­ra­tive that res­onat­ed deeply. Olivier Assayas’ post neo-noir thriller, Demonlover, which delves into the cor­po­rate espi­onage of enter­tain­ment com­pa­nies vying for the lucra­tive mar­ket of inter­net adult ani­ma­tion. Additionally, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ con­tin­ues to inspire me even after numer­ous view­ings. These films col­lec­tive­ly engage with the com­plex­i­ties of real­i­ty and rumor with­in par­al­lel uni­vers­es, serv­ing as the foun­da­tion­al inspi­ra­tion for this album.

SR: The project explores ideas of AI ontology and the nature of artistic performance. What is the role of performance in your practice?

ES: What I like most about musi­cal per­for­mance is the influ­ence a sound can wield with­in a par­tic­u­lar con­text. A sound pos­sess­es the poten­tial to embody myr­i­ad forms — it can be a dynam­ic, vibrat­ing mass that, in a live per­for­mance, has the abil­i­ty to erupt in people’s minds, per­me­ate an audi­ence, and trans­form the entire space. This stands in con­trast to the process of sole­ly pro­duc­ing elec­tron­ic music in a con­fined room, where the expe­ri­ence tends to be inter­nal­ized and some­what claustrophobic.

SR: The view of your works in JUnQ is described as imbuing them with a sense of intimacy and primacy. How do you establish this connection?

ES: The con­cept behind the book was to craft scale mod­els of the room where I com­posed the album and then pho­to­graph them in a macro for­mat, delib­er­ate­ly embrac­ing the arti­fi­cial aspects of the sets and images. Within the uni­verse of these mod­els, what was ini­tial­ly a pri­vate and inti­mate space became infused with numer­ous arti­facts from the pub­lic space.” This the­mat­ic explo­ration res­onates with con­tem­po­rary dis­course, reflect­ing the ongo­ing exper­i­men­ta­tion with the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the pub­lic sphere and the pre­vail­ing trend towards privatization.

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SR: Having contributed sound to the new Courrèges perfume ad, how has your experience been collaborating with brands?

ES: The col­lab­o­ra­tion with Courrèges holds a spe­cial place for me, giv­en the close bond I share with Nicolas Di Felice, the brand’s cre­ative direc­tor. Our friend­ship spans almost a decade, lend­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tion a deep sense of organ­ic con­nec­tion that unfolds over the long term. The process of cre­at­ing music with Nicolas mir­rors the shared expe­ri­ences we have with­in our friend­ship. Working togeth­er is more than a col­lab­o­ra­tion, it’s a means of har­mo­niz­ing our visions and craft­ing nar­ra­tives that res­onate with both of us.

SR: In your recent exhibition at Liebaert Projects in Belgium, you crafted an amusement park-like environment. Could you tell me more about the show?

ES: The idea behind this exhi­bi­tion was to res­ur­rect the essence of an old tis­sue fac­to­ry, inhab­it­ed by the ghosts of its for­mer work­ers, and reimag­ine their roles with­in a new­ly con­cep­tu­al­ized indus­tri­al set­ting. My goal was to place this indus­tri­al space with­in the frame­work of a pri­vate sur­veil­lance com­pa­ny, fill­ing it with a diverse array of urban fur­ni­ture, machines, and street arti­facts to emu­late a stor­age unit for this fic­tion­al enter­prise. I craft­ed a uni­verse for myself from the play­ful incor­po­ra­tion of slo­gans, the use of 80s video cam­eras to craft molds for my sculp­tures, and tak­ing advan­tage of the expan­sive space to manip­u­late machine-like sounds. This cre­ative direc­tion unfold­ed fol­low­ing my show ear­li­er this year at [Galerie] Balice Hertling.

SR: What are the upcoming projects you are working on?

ES: Presently, my focus is on research, and I find it quite sat­is­fy­ing after a busy year. Looking ahead, I aim to explore more col­lab­o­ra­tive projects, mov­ing away from a pre­dom­i­nant­ly solo approach. Let’s see.


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  • 17.sep.—29.okt.2023 / Solo Exhibition
  • Vernissage: 16.SEP.2023, 17:00

Erwan Sene

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