The Intention of Total Immersion – An Interview with Jade Fourès-Varnier and Vincent de Hoÿm
Besides working as an artist duo, you co-founded and run Tonus, a non-profit gallery space in Paris. What’s your fascination with curating? Is it the specific condition of creating an exhibition?
Jade: Tonus is first and foremost an artist studio where we frequently organize exhibitions. We don’t avoid curating, it’s just not our job. Every year, we invite curators to produce a show and they do their job very well. The specific circumstances are the pleasure.
Vincent: We founded Tonus not because of a fascination for curating, but to fill a gap in the Parisian art landscape. Five years ago, there were six alternative spaces dedicated to contemporary art in Paris. Not a lot of opportunities for young graduates to have any visibility. It was important for us to do something very local and, at the same time, very international. Tonus is not about curating, it’s about generosity, about the community. We just give an artist the opportunity to do a solo or duo exhibition without interfering in anything at all. It means something for the young generation, and international artists appreciate being able to show their work—often for the first time—in Paris. Of course, we pay close attention to the selection and try to define a program that makes sense within the city.
That’s interesting, because Paris used to be the center of the early avant-garde movements. Then in the 1960s New York was the place to be, and lately many people have a crush on Berlin. Is Paris capable of reclaiming its modern energy?
V: A recent article cites more than 50 alternative spaces dedicated to art all over the city**. Added to this is the new art fair Paris Internationale. Newcomers and people are coming to town, and I think we can say this is a revival of the Parisian art scene. A lot of promising artists and curators are based in Paris or in the south of France and I definitely think there is a potential to build an interesting story.
Let’s talk about your works of art or more precisely about the situations you create. You transformed gallery spaces into family homes, as Gregor Schneider did with Haus u r. You had people stay over in your show like Carsten Höller. You even served food during the opening like Rirkrit Tiravanija. What’s your take on relational aesthetics?
V: Schneider turns the domestic universe into troubling spaces, claustrophobic rooms, labyrinths … Our message is much kinder, but the intention of total immersion is similar. In our shows, people walk on our carpets, eat from our plates, sleep in our sheets, can drink a glass of wine, or smoke weed in our installation. Tonus is also well-known for its conviviality. Our work is about sharing and being together. I think it has to be seen in relation to relational aesthetics.
J: I don’t totally agree; our practice is not based on human relations. First of all, we have this strong desire to create beautiful, harmonious works of art. Fresco, furniture, sculptures, food, video … it all creates an attractive atmosphere, which leads to a relational context—but the relational context is not a tool. That’s our difference to relational aesthetics. I feel much closer to the artists of the early 20th century, the Bloomsbury group, for example, is really inspiring.
V: I personally have a lot of affection for this theory—and the 1990s legacy in general. I’d like to say that our work lies somewhere between Matisse and Tiravanija. We put a lot of energy into aesthetic concerns, while always being attentive to the relationship we create with our audience, it’s the context and the people we’re dealing with.
Totally! That’s the way your recent show Hotel Jacent at PSM Galerie in Berlin worked. Would you say your artistic strategies are easily adaptable to any other context or place?
J: We always create a show with regard to its environment, however our ideas are totally adaptable to any other context. Hotel Jacent was our first show in a commercial gallery, but we would love to make this kind of show on a broader scale, in a museum for example. Our practice goes well with large-scale spaces, and we feel ready to deal with that, too.
V: The situation of Hotel Jacent at PSM was very inspiring. The gallery was formerly an apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom, and a double-salon with a romantic view over the Landwehrkanal. We thought about making a lover’s apartment, but we wouldn’t have had this idea in another context as easily as there. Our work is adaptable, but it is also meant to be activated by kind and generous people. For this project, the gallery owner had to adapt the opening hours, deal with reservations or bakery deliveries, and the laundry. There was a lot to manage, but she was crazy enough to play the game.
J: It’s essential that we adjust our artistic gesture to the context, to interact and play with the local energy. Recently in Metz, we got 30 students involved in a performance at FRAC Lorraine. That was so rewarding that we’d love to re-enact those moments in other places as well, all over the world.
Jade, you also mentioned the avant-garde movements as an inspiration. Doesn’t the idea of the artist-as-collective clash with the current aspiration of being unique, branding the artist-as-label?
J: Even though we aren’t individualists, we can’t say that we’re an artist-as-collective either. I mean, in that sense, that we don’t work with a community. Nevertheless, with Tonus we share a common energy and support our contemporaries.
V: Since school, we have been thinking collectively. We’ve invited and worked with many different people in various contexts. We’re running a gallery space because we love to federate. It’s healthy for us to share our time and energy, also because we always get something back. We learn from our hosts and accumulate new experiences, which again foster and enrich our work as artists.
So art has no limits?
V: As a song by 2 Unlimited goes: No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no there’s no limit!*
Alright, got it. Tell us about your life-work balance. How do you manage your double-bind relationship as an artist duo and lovers?
V: Well, we literally put all eggs in one basket.
J: Work and domestic life get muddled up … when one of us works late at the studio, the other one is at home taking care of the children. In one conversation we can evoke ideas for an exhibition, plan our holidays, or ask for the new code to enter the nursery. It’s a lot of daily discussions and basically, we never stop talking.
V: And a lot of action, too. Jade works at the studio, I have side jobs, the kids, Tonus, our social and romantic life … All this energy creates a very positive dynamic. It can make us mad, too, we both have Mediterranean dispositions and sometimes we quarrel.
J: Being two is a strength, it helps us make decisions. We know each other really well and have a common vision of life.
Seems like both of you are dreamers!
J: Dreamers and hard-workers.
* Lyrics of No Limits, from the eponym album No Limits. 2 Unlimited, May 1993, PWL International, produced by Jean-Paul de Coster and Phil Wilde.
** Pedro Morais, À Paris, un nouvel âge d’or des lieux d’art indépendants, in: L’hebdo du Quotidien de l’art, April 20, 2018.
Jade Fourès-Varnier and Vincent de Höym have been working as an artist duo since 2014. They both live in Paris. Recently, they have had exhibitions at the BOZAR, Brussels, PSM Galerie, Berlin, FRAC Lorraine, Metz, and Künstlerhaus Bremen. They both run Tonus, a non-profit gallery space located in Paris. For more information, please check out Jade’s and Vincent’s websites, as well as our previous feature on Tonus Hearts and places #7.