KUNSTFORUM International: Dorian Gaudin

I like it when the technology remains visible and something magical happens anyway.

The French-American artist Dorian Gaudin, born in Paris in 1986, explores the tension between statics and movement, control and chance in his kinetic works. His works always revolve around the application of movement and its effects: whether in the form of a collapsing wall, which he showed in a group show at Balice Hertling in Paris in 2013, or an uncontrolled rolling cylinder in his first solo show in New York, "Jettison Parkway" in of the New York gallery Natalie Karg in 2016. For the cabinet exhibition “Rites and Aftermath” in spring 2017 in the Paris Palais de Tokyo, he built a complex machine park, at the center of which was an apparatus with a twelve-meter-long sheet made of thin, elastic spring steel strip that was set in motion at irregular intervals.

Dorian Gaudin, son of the choreographer Jean Gaudin and the dancer Sophie Lessard, who studied 3D animation before switching to art, showed a performance in his first German solo exhibition in Berlin in the Dittrich & Schlechtriem gallery in spring 2017. Its sculptural center, a fragile guitar object made of riveted aluminum and polyurethane foam, was destroyed by himself in the process. Gaudin's wall objects also play with the moment of destruction: the thin aluminum of the pictorial body is crumpled up like paper; Scratches and cracks become gestural entries that are accentuated by colored anodizing or the application of chrome. These objects also directly depict physical effects.

Magdalena Kröner: I would like to know more about “Rites and Aftermath”, your exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.


Dorian Gaudin: In Paris I mainly tried to play with the idea of ​​timing as the dominant element. In the center was an object that looked a bit like a conveyor belt: a steel band lay on a horizontal bracket, like a giant blade that moved in a random pattern and curled up at a certain point. The whole process, especially building tension, was very slow. There were phases in which nothing at all happened for a long time. Anyone who, as a viewer, had been exposed to the situation for a long time could, however, at some point have an inkling of when the tape would suddenly rise up or suddenly roll up. The idea was to gradually put it under increasing tension until it had to come to a kind of tension release.

How did the audience react to that?

The built-in delays played with both the expectations and viewing habits of the audience that, if nothing had happened for a while, they might have lost patience and just moved on. But as soon as people saw the slightest movement or heard something, they immediately sat down again and waited eagerly for something to happen again. Not only was there the assembly line, but there were also a number of smaller chair objects that stood around it. They were controlled by randomly programmed hydraulic motors, jumped into the air at irregular intervals or simply fell over. Sometimes it happened that almost all the chairs jumped up at the same time, which always gave people a bit of a shock. (laughs) So it always happened that you stood in the room, and only heard a short noise when another chair had fallen nearby. This moment of irritation interested me most: you perceive something, but you don't know where to focus your attention. The result was a game of surprise moments and the instinctive reactions of the audience, a mixture of boredom and tension.

That sounds like a lot of work, and it also sounds like an ingenious engineering feat… You always emphasize that you are not an engineer; nevertheless, technology and technical precision form a central aspect in your work.

I think one of my great qualities is less technical understanding than stubbornness. (laughs) That means, when I get something in my head, I come up with ways and means to achieve it, no matter how, and in the end it works ... mostly. Stubbornness is so much a part of me that you can also see it in my work ... If you think of the wall object that I showed at Balice Hertling, which collapsed and tried again and again to straighten itself, then that was it certainly above all a reference to my stubbornness and the countless attempts to build something new over and over again. I like it when the technology remains visible and something magical happens anyway.

At your solo show "Dirty Hands On" in Berlin, your approach seemed to be rather low-tech ...

You could say that… (laughs). In Berlin I made a conscious attempt for the first time not to do kinetic work. The object in the center of the show, a guitar more than six meters high, worked for me less as a sculpture than as an independent actor. I saw this object as if it was performing itself.

On the other hand, wouldn't it make sense to become a performance artist as well, as it's hip again right now?

No no! I definitely didn't want to appear as a performer in Berlin, even if I was inside the guitar sculpture and triggered the movement. I just liked not having to focus all my energy on the very technical and complicated mechanical aspects of a work, but rather having space to think of something and to be able to relate myself to the object directly and spontaneously . I would like to continue researching this area in the future. This action gave me the opportunity to really try something new, even if of course I was worried the whole time that the guitar would just break apart and my performance could come to an abrupt end. (laughs)


What was the starting point of this work? Was it the idea of ​​making a larger than life object? I immediately thought of Claes Oldenburg, who had initially developed his "Soft Objects" as props for performances in his New York "Shop". It was only later that they became “classic” sculptures.

I wanted a ... how should I put it ... I wanted to make an "anecdotal" object that seemed able to contrast the very abstract wall pieces. I wanted a simple, almost archetypal thing that everyone would recognize immediately.

... but that didn't last long. What role did the destruction of the object play?

The moment of destruction formed the center of the action: I was attracted by the idea that something only really gains in value when it is destroyed. Like a rock star who smashes his guitar on stage and that guitar becomes legendary. The object only becomes valuable when it is destroyed. In doing so, I wanted the destruction to come from within, almost invisibly; I wanted to create a magical and absurd moment.

This is something that interests me in a lot of your work: You set a process in motion, but you do not become visible in it ...

I wanted to act as an invisible force. In this sense, the performance wasn't that far removed from the kinetic work I had been doing up until then: I just replaced the motor, and now I was the motor myself.

What was the most exciting thing for you about this first attempt at a performance?

I realized that the physical aspect in particular was a completely new experience for me: I had invested a lot of energy, was sweating and was exhausted, it was great. Here I was able to implement my ideas immediately, unlike with the wall works, where in the course of the process I first have to see what actually comes out of it.


In your artistic process you often move on the borderline between creation and destruction. I liked the idea that you would revive the sculpture - the static object - in the performance. You dissolve the existing form by using movement. The execution of the movement destroys the original form, but only allows the actual work to arise. You once explained this very clearly by saying that these objects were primarily intended as an “invitation to imagine the movements and forces that triggered these deformations.” I would like to know more about that.

Yes, it is always very important to me to find and use a movement that best suits the chosen object. It used to be the case in my animations, and it is the same now, albeit in a completely different way. For example, imagine a cup: it is shaped like a cone. If you want this body to move, it will not jump, it will roll, not in a straight line, but in semicircles from side to side ... It is important to listen to the object to understand how it moves naturally , and then translate this movement. That plays a role in all of my work.

Tell me a little more about your wall pieces, which in Berlin formed something like the framework for the performance.

Above all, they are abstract at first, although here too there is a consideration at the beginning: I want to project a certain type of intention onto an object, as if I were giving the work its personality through the movement that affects the metal. I usually start by bending the aluminum arches, then I dent and crumple them more and more, at some point I also use tools ... it's all very physical and not necessarily controlled.


What role does destruction play in your wall pieces?

First of all, destruction is a means of creating something new. It changes the shape and also the value of the material: it is dented and warped, and it is precisely at these actually "faulty", because damaged areas, that the colored anodizing or chrome plating is added. I emphasize the destruction that has taken place; the existing damage, from the paint, resulting in a fetishized charge. These settlements thus arise as a reaction to the plastic, physical change in the material. Typically, the perfect chrome finish, like on a car's bumpers, is the most important thing for its owner. If these are damaged in an accident, even if only a little, they are usually replaced immediately. The high-gloss, For most people, a perfect surface is probably the best thing about a car, besides its shape and speed. My work begins after the "accident", as it were: I only chrome-plated after the damage, and thus make the object even more valuable. So I work in the opposite direction.


I would like to know more about the origins of your interest in kinetic art, which today is tied to historical positions, if you think of Tinguely or Calder ...

Yes, of course, I am often confronted with these associations. However, I am not at all interested in a comment or a reflex on recent art history. My fascination for this type of art is, I think, much more direct. I told you that my parents were dancers. Movement, performance and even something apparently as simple and mundane as posture played a big role in my childhood; dealing with it was omnipresent. So for a while the desire arose in me to become a dancer myself, but it was clear relatively quickly that I wasn't particularly interested in that. I think my interest was just broader than the exclusive body focus in dance, which was so important in my youth ...

So you focused on other bodies and their specific movements ...

Exactly. Very early on, I was fascinated by the specific way an object moves and the exploration of the appropriate movement for an object. How does something move and why? In 3D animation, however, it was always about a certain format, the perfect cinematic animation as the end result, since it was mostly about selling a certain product. I wanted to break that, because even during my studies I preferred to work with stop motion, that is, setting real bodies in motion. Working with kinetic objects was the way for me to bring all of my interests together. Everything was included here, but I was no longer tied to a certain format or a commercial statement.

Is colored anodizing and chrome plating painting for you? There are a few moments that connect your approach to painting: composition, gestural setting, choice of color ...

Hm ... (hesitates for a long time) ... I'm not a painter, if that's what you mean ... Let's put it this way: I'm not primarily interested in painting, but I definitely use painterly aspects: I use different colors and color gradients; I create reflections ... and to achieve that, I use commissioned processes that have to do with painting. And of course compositional decisions are very important, such as the decision not to chrome-plate the entire object, but only the areas that are most damaged. In addition, the drops of the chemical solution that occur during chrome plating are important. The viewer may initially perceive them as dirt rather than aesthetic settlements, but they are just as important as the shiny chrome-plated areas,

And that too is ultimately the effect of a movement; the movement of the falling drops that are preserved on the surface.

Exactly! The perfection, with which I play as a possibility, is briefly touched, but then immediately thwarted and directed in a different, more ambivalent direction. I am not interested in the effect of preciousness.

April 1, 2017