Hoël Duret
Hoël Duret
by Julie Crenn
artpress n°449, November 2017

Hoël Duret studied at the Nantes art school from 2006-11. Little by little the concept of bricolage entered into his practice as he appropriated and reinvented Modernist artworks transcribed into cheap materials. His work is structured by architecture, tools and the do-it-yourself ethos, as can be seen, for example, in the double edition I CAN DO ANYTHING BADLY (2013-2014). This collective work interrogates the loss of amateur skills as part of a review of a social and aesthetic history of DIY practices in Western civilization. His current approach echoes his early work under the influence of artists like Marcel Broodthaers, Robert Filliou, Éric Duyckaerts, Jacques Julien and Laure Prouvost where failure rhymes with irony and the critical spirit
Duret constructs a protean thinking whose principle object is the act of creation itself. To that end his chosen domain is the absurd and his main persona the idiotic, clumsy artist whose plans always end up in failure. Underneath this burlesque and often droll surface lies a critique of intellectual elitism, the dominant aesthetics and sanctified references. He circulates between territories, referencing film, design, dance, painting, music and architecture. His visual and critical reflection develops through various projects in which fiction play a central role. Each project adopts various forms corresponding to the stages of the narration, occasioning videos, performances, books, paintings or sculptures. These projects are constructed like movies, with a script, scenes, identifiable characters and settings. The history of the arts is very present. Between tribute and irreverence, he distills allusion in each one of his productions. In 2013-15 he launched La Vie Héroïque de B.S., the story of a designer who has been given the absurd job of perfecting the properties and shape of the chicken egg. This project engendered three exhibitions and a video opera in three acts. For Duret this was the occasion to draw a satirical portrait of the Modernist aesthetic. From Jacques Tati to industrial design, and from the Italian 1960s to Le Corbusier, the result is a collage meant to idealize the glorious past and its grand utopias. More recently, he presented UC-98 (2016), a new tentacular piece whose main subject is an undersea fiber optic cable that activates the characters : two dancers, plastic jellyfish and a retired mermaid. Here he explores our relationship with information, its modes of distribution and its impossible digestion. Duret envisions art-making and the role of artists with a great deal of freedom and a multiform vision that tends toward a total art stripped of all authority.

Modernism Begins at Home
by Antoine Marchand
Instantané 84 catalog - Hoël DURET, La vie héroïque de B.S. - Acte 1 : As a tribute…, April 2014, FRAC des Pays de la Loire edition

Fuelled, like many artists of his generation, by postmodern theories—from the Californian High & Low to conceptualized decompartmentalization as advocated by French philosopher Jean- François Lyotard(1) among others—Hoël Duret has no time for borders, hierarchies and other classifications, preferring to set his practice in an expanded field, a wider context that unabashedly combines elements from various cultural fields. No fear grabs him therefore when he takes hold of standard references and icons, which he delights in making his own, all the better to dissect them. In Build your own landscape for example, a video made during a trip to Marfa in 2011, he explains how to “build” a landscape, by revisiting the genre’s traditional typology, namely territorial division, on-the- road experience, breakaway and high vantage points, emphasizing the artificiality of the state of the American landscape. With Monade Island Project, a collective experiment carried out in 2011—one of the forms of which was styled on Walt Disney’s legendary vision of the futuristic city EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow)—he envisaged a rational building project at odds with the contemporary world, an inevitable echo of modernist utopias and other alternative communitarian experiments. Also interested in questions of handcrafting and related issues—including DIY and homebuilds —young Duret has put together, over several years, a corpus based on these various forms of expression, not so much for the aesthetic value they convey but for what they say about the workings of our society. Hence his recent opus I CAN DO ANYTHING BADLY, Faire sans savoir est un sens commun, in which he seeks to write an “informed potted history of handcrafting” embracing various trends, periods and countries —from the British Arts & Crafts Movement to American countercultures or the German Bauhaus. Or Sans titre (L’Information est une vocation), a set of 132 drawings created in 2012, which form a spec sheet for turning an urban advertising billboard into a living shelter, applying the flexibility and adaptability of DIY to pressing needs of daily life, while also referring in passing to a kind of survivalist aesthetic recurrent today. The installation Schön und Modern (2012), for its part, brings together many of the issues raised by the artist in recent years with its four models of iconic modernist architecture (2) in reclaimed wood. By reducing these iconic achievements to their simplest form of expression, Hoël Duret emphasized the aptness of their balance and proportions—like an overproduced piece of music that is just as effective when stripped of all superficial arrangements. Yet despite drawing on and handling such standard references, Hoël Duret does not lapse into mere fascination with form (taken from modernism in particular), a characteristic failing of a certain fringe of contemporary creation. He sees himself rather as a critical heir, favouring tangible and feasible proposals over collectivist utopias.

La Vie héroïque de B.S., his latest project to date, aims to take the logic of these various reflections a stage further, while demonstrating a new impetus never before encountered in his work. By means of a long-ranging epic, the artist offers a very personal take on the modernist axiom, devoid of irony or arrogance, but free from any inhibition. However, rather than developing a conventional, reasoned analysis, he has chosen to go off at a tangent and tackle it in a roundabout manner. Risky on paper, this endeavour has turned out to be extremely rewarding. Hoël Duret set about writing an epic fiction, an “adventure” that allowed him great poetic licence to distance himself from History with a capital H and to dwell on marginal elements that usually remain unaddressed. With perfect handling of the art of storytelling – in the literal sense of the word—he invites us to follow in the footsteps of a character called B.S.—as a tribute to Raymond Loewy?—described as a “designer aware of the challenges of his time, taking an analytical look at the experiments in design post-World War II”. By delegating this iconoclastic experiment to a fictional figure, he introduces de facto a critical distance, a subtle ambiguity between his status and that of his alter ego: is B.S. merely an avatar of Hoël Duret? Does the artist see himself as omniscient narrator or as detached spectator? The artist has adopted an unusual format for organising his narrative, taking an epic and romantic line reminiscent of nineteenth- century “Gesamtkunstwerken”. Much like the way that The Who transposed an operatic structure to rock ‘n’ roll when they wrote Tommy (1969) and Quadrophenia (1973), he has “composed” an opera in three acts, each of which refers to a specific point in the life of B.S., this designer intransigent to the point of absurdity. Narrative construction and critical analysis act simultaneously as mutual props, making it impossible to dissociate content and form. The exhibition in fact serves as a backdrop to the video footage – a mix of fiction and documentary – of this opera filmed within the exhibition space, while the opera format itself allows him to organise the narrative as a whole. Yet far from operating in isolation, this quasi-tautological structure does quite the opposite, enhancing the scale and ambition of the demonstration. What could be better than opera, an arena for artifice, staging and grandiloquence, as the structural context of this project? The narrative breakdown of exhibition/crux/ denouement makes it possible to follow the slow, irrevocable fall of this magnificent loser, so enmeshed in his beliefs that he is unable to change his way of thinking. The stage entitled As a Tribute..., presented at the Frac Pays de la Loire regional contemporary art fund, allows us to get better acquainted with the famous B.S., a rational analyst of modern and postmodern design. The range of pieces on display seeks to give an overview of the forms and materials of design over the last sixty years, in an inventory that calls upon a hotchpotch of volumes and materials from Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Enzo Mari’s forays into Autoprogettazione, designs by Josef Albers or Marcel Breuer’s façade reliefs. So many iconic modernist projects are brought together in a composite installation that revisits the domestic environment. Yet, instead of emphasizing the technical achievements and validity of the various productions, it is rather their precarious nature and inefficacy that take precedence here, reminiscent among others of the shortcomings of the famous Villa Arpel as devised by Jacques Tati in his film Mon Oncle (“My Uncle”, 1958). B.S.’s demonstration soon reaches its limits and relegates these icons to a somewhat vain pile, mere empty shells. Hoël Duret thereby reminds us that the modernist heroes were also and above all inventors, with all the errors, unsuccessful attempts and other failures that this entailed; his character is the ultimate paragon of this, a figure steeped in certitudes, sometimes verging on the pathetic with his self-confidence and underhandedness. This exhilarating exercise in deconstruction moreover questions our own relationship to these innovative forms, a legacy of the twentieth century, often close to fetishization. While the inaugural section presented at Carquefou dwells on the beginnings of the plot and the introduction of the main protagonist, the two acts that follow —entitled respectively “the dilemma of the egg” and “the sirens of Corynthe”, titles that seem to come straight out of a Tintin album—see B.S. losing all conviction, teetering on the edge of madness and embarking on a mystical quest that will lead him to work alone, favouring an experience-based autodidactic approach over his own convictions.

This totally uninhibited approach allows the artist to write his own history of modernism by making full use of the movement’s undeniable potential for fiction. It is an extremely clever way of going full circle and of interweaving modernist rigour and the versatility of amateur building practices, pitting the former’s Holy Trinity of functionalism, rationalism and power of form against the latter’s vernacular anti- consumerist logic. It is a bit like trying to use a punk music primer to understand a Gustav Mahler symphony. This empirical conception of things allows him quite casually, in his accounts of the incredible adventures of this endearing madcap character, to take a fresh look at a modernist refrain so often cited, evoked and analysed that today it appears no more than a mere meaningless gimmick. Without falling into the deadlock of formalism, he manages to dust off our current relationship to modernism and its legacy, while at the same time questioning our ambiguous relationship to everyday forms and the objects around us, through a demonstration that is as masterful as it is entertaining.

(1) Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
(2) The Bauhaus Building in Dessau by Walter Gropius (1926); the Barcelona Pavilion (orig. "German Pavilion") for the International Exposition in Barcelona by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1929); the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier (1931) and the United Nations Headquarters by Oscar Niemeyer (1951).