Floryan Varennes’ “Matriache” Sculpture Brings Up Epic And Heroic Feelings

Floryan Varennes

Artwork’s Title: Matriache (2022)
Materials Used: Muselières, tubes medicaux, pvc medical, attaches en inox, rivets, anneaux, instruments medicaux / Muzzles, medical tubes, medical pvc, stainless steel fasteners, rivets, rings, medical instruments
Floryan Varennes, Matriarche, 2022, MAGCP France, ©Yohann Gozard & Floryan Varennes

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

My research goes through a double prism: on the one hand art history (I study a lot of archives, and I visit a lot of medieval and artisanal museums and I also watch and play a lot of fantasy video games) and on the other hand scientific advances on our body and our living spaces ( progress on health, medication, new curative technologies, human relations and our biotope). To this I add a lot of historical, scientific and metaphysical reading. From these explorations, I often stop on an element that attracts my attention, then I start to excavate this detail in a compulsive way. I draw notions, facts, stories from it, which I then materialise with my practice. I am very interested in material contrasts, this is what drives my reflection as a sculptor, I often use glass, transparent pvc, dried plants, surgical steel, iridescent fabrics, medical velvet, leather etc. Finally, my gestures are very technical (cutting, drilling, riveting, gluing but also harvesting and drying etc.), I like when my sculptures are visual trompe-l’oeil, believing that a factory has produced them, whereas everything is done by hand over long periods of time.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Intense, epic and ambiguous.

Could you share with us some insights on your sculpting ‘Matriache’ (2022)? Is there any particular story behind this new work?

This sculpture comes from one of my heroines (I have several who are fictional and/or real): my mother who is a nurse. She is a care technician who has always been concerned with humanitarian issues, with the idea of protection and regeneration. In this way I can say she is a key component of my work and of this posture turned towards the future. Whether it is hyper-technology in hospitals, or this relationship to “care” in which I have been immersed for over 20 years. I benefited from a residency at the Chambery hospital in 2020 as part of a cultural mission, just before covid, which really put my finger on the pulse of my desire to work on health (both from the point of view of the patient and the care). It is perhaps there that these new heroes, these new knight figures, who work for others, for regeneration, appeared to me as an obvious thing. My sculpture ‘Matriarche’ (2022), made of transparent pvc in the form of expandable armour, is the evolution of an earlier production called La Meute (The Pack). This piece deals with technical issues such as biopower, hyper-protection, expectation and surveillance. But I also talk about form, transparency, the idea of care, concern and control.

Your work seems to introduce a strong and remarkable re-imagination of socially established terms and notions interpreted by your personal and unique perspective today. ‘Matriarche‘ (2022) seems a dynamic sculptural work which involves an ambiguous visual language as well as a military structure; ‘Matriach’ is an obvious reference to female dominance that sports a direct contrast about the preoccupations we all experience such as the relationship between military ethics and gender roles? Breaking rules or playing with them is it meaningful at your artistry?

My work pierces gender relations, (and I use the word “pierce” deliberately) by neutralising them, or by accentuating female representations and voices without falling into all the trappings of art history. I also want to emphasize my interest in care – which includes care and solicitude – while never obscuring the aggression that these practices entail. I explore its ambiguity by bringing it closer to the military arts, questioning the inherent violence of healing processes and the antinomic healing dimension of war. I take up the Foucauldian concept of biopower, a form of power that is exercised over the lives of human beings – as individuals or as a population – to protect them, but also to control them. I blur the line between the compassionate purpose of care and the constraints of its orchestration. Matriarche is a floating sculpture with a threatening air that is matched only by its tutelary role as guardian. This sculpture has its roots in medieval armour with a futuristic twist. This entity protects us and watches over us, at the same time as it threatens us, as the steel muzzles that form its core underline. I also materialize the concept of pharmakon – both poison and remedy – and I place myself in the continuity of Bernard Stiegler’s thought for whom all technology – including medical technology – is pharmacological, being able to help and serve either to build, to elaborate, to raise the world, or to destroy it.

In your bio, it is highlighted that “at the source of his refection and practice, he deconstructs and interlaces two opposing chronological registers: medieval history and science-fictional futures. From the medieval period and its echoes in the fantasy genre, he exploits archives and margins that he compiles: from systems of parades, to the love relationships through the military relations”’; although medieval references or military element are directly linked to darkness and violence, the use of transparent medical materials or glass in your structures give me the impression of a spiritual and calm visual effect that finally makes me think about one main characteristic about your work which is clarity. Do terms such as clarity, transparency or purity bring up any kind of engagement to you as an artist while creating these works? Or does not this idea apply to your work?

Transparency – between attraction and repulsion – is an important visual reference in my work, always in the background: it can be found in glass, in PVC, in my banners, even if it is not visible, because transparency reflects light or brings to light fragments. Transparency also has its shadow side, I often say that it contains something dangerous, it’s for this disembodied aspect, which lets you see through it. In my opinion, there is something violent in transparency, something sinuous that cannot be seen but which always remains latent. I associate transparency particularly with power and emotions, it is a form of disembodied diaphanous violence, which paradoxically all bodies today are undergoing in various political regimes. Moreover, transparency, for me, is linked to states of emotional fragility that besiege the body and leave it open to multiple attacks. I make manifest this inherent fragility, which I employ in a series of medieval-inspired glass weapons entitled Amour Toujours (2022) with the following pieces: Flirt (2022), Assag (2020), Fin’amor (2018), Volens Nolens (2022) and Oblivion (2021). Produced in collaboration with the Centre International d’Art Verrier de Meisenthal in France, they evoke a succession of states of love, from meeting to breaking up, through the blaze of passion. Made of a transparent and fragile material, I reflect the strength of the emotions that assail us, pierce us, flay us and stun us, but also its precariousness, as glass can be broken at any moment, just as a heart or a political regime could be.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

Of course in a white cube, an art centre, a gallery or a museum but I like the idea of being visible also in a castle, a cellar, in a private home or in a forest, I think that art in general must be powerful enough to be seen anywhere, whatever the context. However, optimal conditions are needed so that the works do not deteriorate and the public can see them without too many constraints.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

I would say philosophers, historians, or contemporary researchers like Paul Préciado, Donna Haraway, Susan Sontag, Bernard Stiegler, Anne Besson, Jacques Legoff or Aubrey de Grey or more ancient ones like Hildegarde Von Bingen and Jean wier, and I have deeper affinities with other fields of research and I don’t limit myself to artistic spheres even if I love the mediaevals currents, symbolists and pre-Raphaelites, I’m a fan of 90’s anime, Evangelion, Ghost in the shell, Bersek; fantasy universes like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic The Gathering, Warhammer, or the production company A24. I also draw my research from what historically represents and operates the body such as heraldry, medieval weaponry, military chivalry, armorial systems, but also what heals or increases it to be understood as anthropotechnics, such as biotechnological sciences (and bioethics), phytotherapy (nootropic), aromatherapy, pharmacology & toxicology, biohacking, ortho-prosthetic systems, exo-armors, robotic surgery… Otherwise I am a firm fan of Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bul, Kentarō Miura and David Altmejd.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I don’t have a studio, I work from residency to residency in France and Europe, over periods of 1 to 6 months, which implies a lot of travel and time between productions and files. I am currently in residence at the Bonus atelier in Nantes for 6 months, then I fly to Canada (Quebec) for 2 months of residency with the institution Est-Nord-Est!

Which are your plans for the near future?

A lot of exhibitions, conferences and seminars in art and design schools and residencies in France and some abroad, which will be intense for sure. I will also focus on my teaching career from 2024 onwards, being a teacher is also at the heart of my work, being able to help others and pass on my knowledge, which is for me the basis and the primary concern of the artist’s work.

Additional Artworks

Floryan Varennes, L’Assemblée, 2021 ©Phobée Meyer
Floryan Varennes, Hildegarde, 2021 ©Phobée Meyer
Floryan Varennes, NK (Morgenstern), 2021, ©Phobée Meyer
Floryan Varennes, Oblivion 2021 ©Yohann Gozard
Floryan Varennes, Amours toujours, 2018-2022, MAGCP, FR @Yohann Gozard & Floryan Varennes


All images courtesy of the artist

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