An interview with the Frenchman making art history at Dallas Contemporary
Equally adept at filmmaking, soundscapes and sculpture, French artist Loris Gréaud delights all the senses. Throughout his multilayered installations, he has designed a wall that vibrates to his brainwaves, written a hip-hop symphony for sea creatures, crafted a space ship-like habitat for ducks, and celebrated “underground activity” with a subterranean conceptual space that includes a vending machine selling candies that taste like nothing.
Acclaimed for his monumental Cellar Door installation at Palais de Tokyo and the only artist to have simultaneous solo exhibitions at the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Gréaud is poised for a triumph in his first American museum show, “The Unplayed Notes Museum,” which opens to the public on January 18 at the Dallas Contemporary. His work is so transformative and boundary shifting, it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume the artist has synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon where sounds are colored and words recall taste.
“Here, they’re open to any kind of idea,” Loris Gréaud says of the Contemporary. “I think it’s one of my best art experiences over the past 13 years working with an institution.
“I wish I had synesthesia,” Gréaud laughs in a chat a few days before the exhibition is unveiled. Instead, his process begins with his unlimited imagination, moving through levels of collaboration with scientists, engineers, musicians, designers and filmmakers. For this show — an expansion on an idea he explored previously at New York’s Pace Gallery and Galerie Yvonne Lambert in Paris — Gréaud takes over all of the Contemporary’s 26,000-square-foot space, transforming it into a “new kind” of natural history museum.
We captured a moment in the middle of installation for a quick conversation about the genesis of “Unplayed Notes” and what the future holds for this singular talent.
CultureMap: Can you talk about the three dimensionality of your work? When you are planning a piece, what part comes first — the sound, a sketch on paper, a model? How does the complex chain of translation begin?
Loris Gréaud: The point is always an idea — it’s always triggered by an idea. It’s mental. Then, when this idea is growing to be an obsession, then I start working on it and I start asking questions and travel and meet people and work with other people. My whole process is always about the original idea, whatever form it takes. It could be a movie, a fragrance, a blast of air or a full institution museum show.
CM: In the past, you have referred to yourself as an “empirical machine?” Can you explain what you meant?
LG: It was not about myself; it was more about my way of working. It’s the same king of thing that happened for a director in cinema when you want to shoot a scene. It has to go through different kinds of people — the guy who takes care of the lights, the actors. The momentum all of these people will transform what you want in the end.
It was a metaphor of this kind of process. When I have an idea, it becomes an obsession and I try to bring in different people to insert different questions. The result is empirical, because it’s changing all the time.
CM: Collaboration is very important to you. You’ve worked with David Lynch, Charlotte Rampling, Sonic Youth. Is there anyone you wish to work with that you haven’t? What is your dream collaborative team?
LG: Basically I’m meeting all these different kinds of people, whether it’s David Lynch or a crazy scientist. I meet the right people to answer the questions on a project. The project defines the people.
When I started my feature film [The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures], I started over three years making connections with the scientists who had knowledge of the depth of our oceans. That’s how I went to MIT, because I needed them to answer the questions to my obsession. The dream in collaboration will be always the best person to be able to answer a specific problem or question.
CM: How did the idea of a natural history museum come to you?
LG: “It’s a multilayered project, but it can be direct at the same time. We take the form of a natural history museum framework, and it folds from the real press release into a novel. When you read it, it sounds like fiction. My idea was to use that text [from the release] as a fiction and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wrote it, and I trigger it in the reality and everything that’s read will happen in the opening [members only, January 17].
You will enter a natural history museum, a world you know nothing about. ... We’re going to cut the heat in the museum, so when you open the door, you don’t even know if you’re supposed to be there or not. It’s really challenging. I always try to get excited by my projects, so I’m trying to do challenging things for me, as well.
CM: Having achieved so much in your career, what inspired you to come to Dallas?
LG: Basically I was filming for six months in South Asia for a project I’m doing, and I got a call from Peter [Doroshenko, the museum’s executive director]. I’ve known him since 2007, and since 2007 we’ve said we want to make a big project together. I traveled from Vietnam to Dallas and started with the idea of making a museum inside the museum, so basically at the moment we talked about the production itself to when we finished the modelization, the project took 11 months.
I was waiting for the right proposal for me to be able to do this, and when I was walking through the space with Peter I thought, “This is crazy, but I love it.” I think it’s really related to Dallas or Texas, people are really, really helpful with this crazy idea. There was no way I could accomplish this in New York.
In the past year I did this really crazy thing at the Pompidou with a drop tower and people falling all day, and there were so many issues with security, the office fighting with the institution. But here, they’re open to any kind of idea. I think it’s one of my best art experiences over the past 13 years working with an institution. All the team is with me and behind me, so I’m really thankful.
CM: Will this piece travel to different spaces after its time at the Contemporary is done?
LG: I think the project will end at the end of the show. We will release a monograph that will explain all the process, the “unplayed notes.”
CM: Since you’d never done a solo show in a gallery and now you have, what is your next dream to accomplish? What are the museum shows you have planned for the next two years?
LG: After this show, I will take a few weeks off! The next project is really, really exciting. In 2015, it will be specific project for LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], and it’s the first time the LACMA has commissioned a feature film. Then in the beginning of 2016, [I’ll be showing at] the Hermitage State Museum in Saint Petersburg.
After that I will retire [laughs]!
“The Unplayed Notes Museum” by Loris Gréaud is on display from January 18-March 21 at the Dallas Contemporary. The artist will give a free chit chat January 18 at noon at the museum.