Interview with AubryBroquard

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At the core of artist duo Aubry/Broquard’s practice (Bastien Aubry b. 1969 and Dimitri Broquard b. 1972) is the development of compelling environments that combine craft and design to create art. Their work, at the same time humorous and precarious, is motivated by the poetry of failure and the beauty found in the less-than-perfect. Much of their work features deformed or otherwise misshapen ceramic objects, such as jugs or pipes, which are placed on perfectly-designed shelving units or displays, offering a clear vision of art in opposition to design, their secondary profession. Aubry/Broquard have recently participated in Fire It Up: Ceramic as Material in Contemporary Sculpture, curated by Olga Stefan at Dienstgebäude, Zurich, Helmhaus, Fourt Asna Clay Triennial in Karachi, Pakistan, Lokal-Int, Biel, Switzerland, and many others. Olga sat down to have a chat with Bastien Aubry from the artist duo…

Olga Stefan (OS): You have been working together for many years, as designers before and now also as artists. How does the collaborative process work with you? Walk us through this process.

Bastien Aubry (BA): Dimitri and I met at school in Biel, where we studied design. We worked together during the school years and afterwards in different professional contexts. We then decided to establish our design studio FLAG.
It’s easy for us because we have pretty much the same taste and we are both always motivated to look for new ideas. This is very important. In the beginning there is an idea or a sketch or some conceptual attempt that one of us has started, then we discuss it and we both work on it. But mostly, when we do an exhibition, we also discover things (good or bad) by accident. These discoveries often bring us to the next project.

OS: How did you start migrating from your design practice towards what we call fine art? How do you synthesize your artistic practice and design practice?

BA: For us, art was always an inspiration for design. Drawing was always very important during our studies. We always made drawing series, which were really essential to our artistic development because they were modes of free expression, without the commercial limitations imposed on us by clients. For us drawing is the basis of our design work, as well as artistic work. The objects that we produce always begin as drawings. We love the rough aspect of sketches—the less detailed, the better they are.
But as designers, after a while, we started to get a little bit frustrated because the clients never chose the options that we found to be the best solutions. In fact, in graphic design you always need to communicate very positive and precise things—there is no place for free or personal interpretation as there is in art. Through the years we developed our ‘own world’. At first it was a world made of all the design leftovers that no one wanted but that we really loved (our book And there will be light  features those leftovers). Then we started going deeper into the realm of the imperfect, the ugly, the kitsch, the mistakes, the fake, etc… Always as a reaction to the perfection of design. It slowly became somehow difficult for any of our clients to ‘enter’ this world, because they also had a pretty clear vision of what they expected to get from us. So after a while it became clear that we had to do our own stuff, without commercial constraint.

OS: Tell us what type of work you make and the topics that you explore. 

BA: As a reaction to design, we are fascinated by primitive, amateur and naive forms, everything which is inspired by handicraft. But we also have a strong modernism and composition background, so we try to mix them, for example in our work Les Modernistes. Humour is an important part of us—as seen in the big cigarettes in LOL, Jugs, or Nuts (the porcelain dog). As a matter of fact, in all our works the form is comical, we do not take it seriously, it’s rather exaggerated or hurt. In all our works humour is at the centre.

‘The grotesque look attracts us (the ridiculous, the non-serious). It’s a reaction to the straightness and sterility of the life we are living in’.

OS: Since you are always discussing each other’s ideas, how do you ultimately decide which ideas are worth bringing into production?

BA: We decide to produce the pieces that sound the most interesting to us conceptually and visually. The exhibition spaces, the budgets and the time we have at our disposition also influence the final decisions.

OS: When you work on a concept, for example, in Les Miserables, which was shown at the Helmhaus in Zurich, do you also consider the display as an inherent part of the concept? Or do you consider the display a secondary matter to be adapted to the site?

BA: For us the display is a very important part of our work. When we conceptualize an exhibition, we like to create an entire world. For this reason the displays are totally a part of these universes. It’s also important because we like to work and think about the notion of design. Where are the intersections between art and design? Between form and function? The objects that we create—which are inspired by the everyday, the utilitarian—must have sculptural qualities. That means that we must feel that someone made or transformed these objects by hand, while also being unique works of art. We also decided never to use classical pedestals for showcasing the pieces.

OS: How do you understand the relationship between space and the objects you make? How do you want the viewer to experience your objects in space?

BA: First we try to build installations. These have to work from far away as an entire ensemble. Then we like to bring the viewer closer to the pieces, to bring them more into the details of each object. At first we like to create a surprise effect. They should feel imposed upon, maybe even lost sometimes. We like to confuse the spectator by working with unusual and incongruous materials like faux marble or ceramic planks. Also, we always consider the site where we exhibit. It’s important for us to react to the architecture and the historical context of the building.

OS: Sometimes you paint, other times you draw, or sculpt with ceramic or papier-mâché, like in Monolithes. What connection does the material you work with have with the concept of the work? 

BA: We always try to find the most appropriate materials for our ideas. But sometimes the process is inverted. From a specific material we also ask ourselves: what could be interesting to develop with this?
In the case of the Monolithes, it was the experience with the material that brought us new ideas. The do-it-yourself shops are also a very good inspiration for us.

OS: You have worked quite a lot in ceramic in works such as Les Modernistes, Drawings On Grids, or Les Cruches Molles. What attracts you to this material and how do you view the material’s history in connection with the objects you produce?

BA: Because we have a strong drawing background, ceramic offers us a lot of sculptural possibilities. You can build and destruct it as you wish. Like in drawings, you can ‘add stuff and erase it’. This technique also offers the possibility to paint or add images onto it. It becomes like a canvas. When it is burned and glazed, it becomes very precious. Everything you do looks gorgeous. We like to pervert the good ‘petit bourgeois’ taste!

OS: As we’ve discussed earlier, you are attracted to imperfection and flaws. Your Jugs, for example, are deformed and contorted, yet maybe still have some functionality. Tell us about this interest in malformation and its relationship to your view of art.

BA: The grotesque look attracts us (the ridiculous, the non-serious). It’s a reaction to the straightness and sterility of the life we are living in. If you look at the architecture and the interior design of today, everything is so square and standardized… We have to break the boredom. Art is a place where it is ‘ok’ to make things look ridiculous.

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