Bordeaux, France

Benoît Maire

FRAC Aquitaine

The Nouvelle Vague: Benoît Maire, who spent some time studying philosophy before striking a path through the meanders of contemporary art, embodies this very French universe—defended body and soul in the 1960s by Godard, Truffaut, Eustache, and Varda—in more ways than one. First of all, he belongs to a new wave of artists, French but not only French, who deploy a rather discreet, radically intellectual art far from the laws of the market, an art whose anti-Pop formats tend more toward Conceptual art on the one hand and folk art on the other. Second, this thirty-two-year-old artist borrows unapologetically from the talky, pastel-colored aesthetic of avant-garde films. So, with L’île de la répétition (Repetition Island), 2010, a feature-length film, shot in Super 8, which he was invited to show all summer at the FRAC Aquitaine in Bordeaux, Maire pays homage to Éric Rohmer, who died last January, the most ethereal but also the most voluble of all the filmmakers of the New Wave.

The film’s complex scenario, constructed around nine chapters of varied lengths and settings in an endlessly repeating loop, follows the destinies of five key figures of Romanticism: Søren Kierkegaard, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Chatterton, John Keats, and Cordelia, the young heroine in Kierkegaard’s 1843 Diary of a Seducer—all of them most eloquent about the impossibility of reconciling art and life. In the Paris of today or at the misty yet sun-filled seaside, Maire’s characters love a little, talk a lot, and wonder about the reason for their presence on this island of repetition. As in a video game where a player has several lives, they are born and die several times in the course of the film’s sixty-eight minutes and thus encounter one another at random and variable ages. Chatterton, for example, never makes it past seventeen, the age at which he committed suicide with arsenic, while the introverted Dickinson has a longer segment that leads her to the age of fifty-five. Repetition is a theme dear to Maire, who in 2007 spoke about it in these terms: “One has to note that repetition is an enormous concept, terrifying in its extent and able to crush us with its philosophical weight.” Three years later, however, he’s learned to make the concept of recurrence seem light as a feather, manipulating it with virtuosity like an Impressionist painter wielding his brush.

After a premiere at a very exclusive independent cinema in the center of Bordeaux, the film served as a backdrop for “L’espace nu” (Naked Space), Maire’s exhibition at the FRAC Aquitaine, itself subject to effects of repetition. The show brought together several hybrid sculptures built from objects found in flea markets that engage one another in a game of formal correspondences. The motif of the table is omnipresent, referring at once to “the carpenter’s table as well as the writer’s,” explains Maire, who defines himself “above all as a reader.” At the heart of this simultaneously functionalist and poetic mise-en-scène, extracts of the film—in which, in a process of mise en abyme, these same objects surge up like subliminal figures—give substance to the sculptures in the exhibition, which seem to become strangely animated on contact with their on-screen counterparts.

Claire Moulène

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.