Mimosa Echard’s paintings are amorphous containers of memory, matter, erotics and chance, in which objects, textures and pigments enter into a mesmerizing dance.
Chaos has a unique role in the work of Mimosa Echard. Through a precise balancing act between organic and artificial materials, control and chance, her spiralling pieces unfold in the process of their creation. They host inter-sensitive doses of intuition, research and obsession. Echard incorporates narratives from her closely-knit community in a hippie village in southern France, objects collected from friends and lovers, botanical knowledge, non-anthropocentric research and her fascination with the experience of being a body. Her recent solo exhibition Un boit de toi, Salomon at Martina Simeti in Milan features large-scale corporeal works she calls »fantastique bodies« that speak to such composite personal and material histories. An interview by Sonja Teszler.
Your exhibition Pulsion Potion at Cell Projects Space in London (2017) left a huge impression on me: a complex world of girlhood, tenderness, sexuality, danger, decay and even death.
It’s so nice to hear that. For »Pulsion Potion«, the whole exhibition was organised around my film »The People« (2016), which is the most autobiographical piece I have ever made. It is a kind of matrix that connects all my work together, a kind of map. I started making the film very young, about 10 years ago, initially as a long-term documentary project about the village Les Allègres, where I grew up. Over the years I accumulated a lot of footage, which then slowly became The People.
This journey you describe also speaks to your practice as a whole; a balance between »editing«, of having a degree of authorship but allowing for free interaction between images and materials.
Each work is composed with precision, and then the liquid brings chaos and accident. I would ›lose my appetite‹ if I knew exactly what was going to happen in advance and enjoy the random interactions that occur within the weird mess of objects, as the composition starts to form and evolve. During this process, I abandon my authority over the work, I try to not define it. Language itself is a kind of control, so I prefer to not overthink or overanalyse my work.
You’re especially open about the autobiographical aspect of your practice. Does that mean you don’t particularly intellectualize your work? How does this affect your views on the socio-political role of art?
This is a complicated and interesting question. I think for me what is considered ›intellectual‹ or ›political‹ must always be connected to what we consider ›personal‹ or ›intuitive‹. As soon as you start to interrogate these definitions, you realise that they quickly start to blur. This is of course something that various feminist movements have made clear, and something that I relate back to the hippy village I grew up in, where politics is something lived on a very personal level. I suppose in my work I try to be attentive to this complexity. I mean ›mystery‹ is a way of approaching something without seeking to explain or exhaust it and to keep the complexity ›alive‹, unresolved.
More than one-dimensional objects, your work host many interconnected elements. This is apparent in your recent exhibition Un bout de toi, Salomon at Martina Simeti, which sees your spiralling wall-based pieces bursting with various pigments, materials and textures – a complex microbial profile merging the organic and the industrial.
It is very important for me to have multiple interactions in my work, to create a kind of symbiosis. Everything needs to be liquid at some point to become something else, something beyond control. Somewhere between the A/B pieces and my cushion installation works (Cushions series starting 2017) the Salomon works just happened, leading me through a chain of associations: spirals, snails, stockings, intestines and the idea of an opening or a portal into the body, a fantastique body, a contaminated body. For these works I used medicinal plants connected to blood and the healing of wounds.
What do you understand as a »contaminated body«?
Contamination is complex, because it presupposes purity, wholeness, a ›virginal‹ nature. So perhaps what I find interesting is contradiction, and the complexity and interconnectedness of being a body. This is also where politics comes in: the construction of ›purity‹, or ›foreignness‹ is never neutral. Also, I like to think of contamination in terms of sexuality. For example, I imagined sexuality experienced as a flower for my exhibition LUCA at Dortmunder Kunstverein (2019), exploring the notion of a last universal common ancestor shared by all species. Rather than thinking about sexuality as means to contaminate the body, I tried to explore desire’s capacity to contaminate biological categories themselves, privileging organic intelligence over ›scientific fact‹.
We host myriads of bacteria in our guts, which determine our desires, our choices etc. In this sense the contaminated body also means it isn’t a body/spirit divide but rather an intermingled ecosystem.
Exactly. I’m obsessed with the inside of the body and the way it is represented: its textures, its borders, its intelligence. Science is only one of many ways we can ›know‹ and ›experience‹ the body. I have recently become interested in life on a microscopic scale. Last year I was a resident at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto, where I was researching this one-cell organism and ›training‹ it, conducting experiments and exploring the idea that plants, fungi, flowers and other species have a kind of memory, a kind of ›consciousness‹.
Do you think of your pieces as embedded within the cycle of life and death? How do organic compositions sit within a commercial reality from the standpoint of preservation?
I think what’s dead and what’s alive is a complex question, but I don’t particularly think about when I’m making work. I suppose there is a kind of ›vitality‹ to the organic reactions that occur in my paintings, for instance how a certain pigment is going to react to the liquid, but there is also something melancholic about the materials I use as well, for example resin can be used to embalm a corpse. I am interested more in the space between these two states.
In terms of preservation, organic substances can be precarious and fragile, but wood, paper, some fabrics, some dyes etc. are also just made from plants. And everything decays at some point, even electronic systems. So I suppose, kind of like my approach to objects in general, I am interested in this flux, in the idea of a continual metamorphosis.
Personal memory and fossils of the past have an important presence in your work. You often incorporate girly trinkets, jewellery, pieces of clothing, posters a young girl might have in their room. Could you talk about how you choose these objects and why you’re drawn to this particular world?
The objects that I use in my work often come from friends, lovers, family. I want to do something with them because I love them, because I have a special attraction to them. Also I don’t like to keep objects as stable memories. I like everything in my life and in my work to be in movement. The girly thing is maybe connected to my childhood, as anything girly was not very present and almost forbidden in my community – I was fascinated by that and the idea that merchandise could supposedly talk about my body and my gender, and my relationship to the world.
So you’re actually not approaching these objects from a nostalgic point of view but more as an alien world, with curiosity?
Yes, and I’m glad that you say that because I’m trying to stay away from »childhood nostalgia« as an energy. And I like the idea of this world being »alien«, it seems to perfectly capture the mixture of fear and attraction, as well as the particular dynamic between self and other, that exists within these objects.
In your case, the collected items appear in your works in physical form, but if you look at any artist’s studio or laptop folders, you’ll find many collections of images, materials and data that feeds their creations. Do you think of the artist as collector?
I’m not sure if collector is the right word because it implies some sort of control or hierarchy, a lack of movement. In my village, my family and I collect a lot of things, plants, objects, images, etc. that I use in my work, but it is never with this idea of preservation, or of creating something in itself. Rather these items take on new forms, new contexts, they lose their identity.