“Portrait of an artist” by Mélissa Burckel Artistic Director – Curator

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Clémentine Henrion is a French designer who graduated from the École supérieure des arts appliqués Duperré. In the heart of the Marais, she runs her creative studio called Design For Pragmatic Daydreamers . She works as an artistic director on eclectic projects. As set design, scenography, fashion design and illustration.

I discovered Clémentine Henrion’s work during the 34th edition of the European Heritage Days at Éléphant Paname. The place had given Clémentine carte blanche on the theme of youth. I remember being transported by her dreamlike, which highlighted “the flight of a youth driven by the audacity of carelessness.” 

A few years later, I contacted Clémentine in the context of a project for the ultra-premium Mexican tequila brand “Patrón” (Bacardi-Martini France group) at the request of the agency Moma Event. An event inspired by the rituals of Día De Muertos, an extremely popular traditional festival in Mexico, for which Clementine Henrion has created a personalized altar.

Research axes, constraints, respect for traditions: How can an artist-brand collaboration be successful? 

Clémentine Henrion offers to Acumen Magazine some answers during an interview in her Parisian studio.

SCENOGRAPHIE CLEMENTINE HENRION

Mélissa Burckel:  Hello, Clementine, how are you?

Clémentine Henrion: Pretty good, thank you, Mélissa! I’m just starting to re-appropriate this post-confinement life. I really liked this space-time interlude … and the first days of recovery, the noise and agitation of the city were quite disturbing, bordering on violence. Fortunately, the projects are getting back on track and that helps to regain confidence. The desire to create is still there and collaborations are even more essential than before.

Three words to describe what we have been experiencing since March 18th?

Spleen-and-ideal! Sorry for the word game, but this unprecedented crisis has given me the feeling of being caught in a total paradox, between a feeling of serious darkness, a nightmare that persists when I wake up every morning … and also the very concrete aspiration for simple happiness within reach, free of the superfluous. In these anguishing moments when we no longer know anything, what a blessing to be able to find refuge in our dreams!

I wanted to discuss with you the subject of collaboration between artist and brand and, more specifically, the notion of constraint in art. When I suggested that you create an Altar for a brand event, what was your very first reaction?

Obviously, there is always the question of making a personal universe cohabitate, therefore a minimum of egocentricity, and the constraints of a brand with the commercial stakes. But, knowing your expertise and your audacity, I was immediately confident! Your Autel project spoke to me right away. The afterlife, the memory of disappeared beings, the link between the terrestrial and celestial worlds are all themes that have inspired me for many years. My dear sister, a visual artist, and I have worked hand-in-hand to build my creative studio.

When she passed away in 2011, I had to relearn how to be enthusiastic, how to remain as solar as before and even more. It is out of an instinct for survival and as a tribute to her generosity that my work has moved in this direction: to continue to build, whatever the cost, ultra-colored, light, optimistic worlds, in full awareness of this other reality. Overcoming the ordeal of mourning offered me the ultimate weapon to believe in it.

An altar is like a call to Heaven, an infinite and confident opening towards the incomprehensible and the elusive.

That is why building an altar for you on the theme of the Día de Muertos seemed to me like a gift, because you knew all this.

SCENOGRAPHIE CLEMENTINE HENRION

Our concept was already well established, the location chosen … You had to take a lot of technical constraints into account, respecting the brand DNA, production deadlines, budget, etc. What was the most complicated constraint to work with?

The most complex challenge was to succeed in staging a mystical experience of contemplation – therefore a very personal emotion, specific to each person – while keeping in mind that the installation itself, an Autel-Photocall, would be a place of passage. The spectator, invited to lose themself in their thoughts, would also become an actor of the installation and would be highlighted in the middle of offerings, drowned in the light. How to make this intimate and contemplative bubble exist in the swirling tumult of the festival?

As an artist, do you think that constraints abolish all forms of improvisation in the creative process? 

On the contrary, for commissioned works, I see constraints as an excellent starting point, a framework that eclipses the famous anxiety of the blank page.

Constraint is a challenge, and our creativity is redoubled by it, because the client is waiting for us at the turning point; that’s where our creativity comes in and has to prove itself, in the most unexpected way. The result often gains in power because it is nourished both by the artist’s originality and the client’s professional experience. 

What is your working method? Is it always the same whatever the project?

I like to consider my creative process as a global concept: I “prototype” ideas in connection with sensitive reminiscences to give them a plastic materiality. I start by looking for a lot of visuals to imagine the universe that will revolve around my story. In the case of an illustration (even advertising), my story will start with a funny and inspiring title, and then I will paint the whole picture that will live around it. I use symbolism, puns, winks, poetic references. Every element sketched will never be there by chance. Everything has to hold together, to justify itself. For an installation, it’s my imagination that’s tripping in 3D.

As in meditation, I enter into complete immersion in the “dreamed” installation. This leads to days and nights to draw, to think about sensations, colors, sentences that I would like to make resonate in the spectator’s mind. The concrete then joins my process, with its share of constraints, calculations and precision.

And in the context of the personalized Altar? 

I began by researching the history of the Día de Muertos, watching videos, listening to music sung on tombs in Mexico to imagine the atmosphere, the heightened emotions, the smell of the night in the cemeteries with their offerings, flowers, incense … Then I looked for a setting that would allow us to feel this authenticity. It is not easy to talk about death in the context of a festive and, despite everything, commercial event.

Finally, I had to take into consideration the technical constraints of a scenography that could be set up, around which the circulation of the public remained possible: what seating to choose, what dimensions, how many decorative elements to place around the altar with the risk that they would be degraded, how far to go in the detail? As this feast was very rich in abundance, it was imperative for me to highlight this dazzling generosity, while keeping in mind the budget constraint.

 

creation clementine henrion

Concerning the assembly stage of your installations, do you agree on modifications and/or areas for improvement? And in the context of the realization of the Altar?

For all my installations, I make numerous preparatory drawings, photo simulations and plans. I like to plan the “high-risk” stations so that there is no disappointment with the rendering in situ. Of course, you have to be prepared to deal with imponderables … and you always discover happy improvements to be made on the day of installation. It’s very exciting because it’s during these moments that our expertise is refined, sometimes with the fear of not being able to do it in time. It’s a big dose of adrenaline, and it’s also where we feel like we belong: knowing how to improvise in all situations, remaining serene and creative, against all odds.

In the case of the Autel Amor Eterno, the basic structure was outsourced, so it was thought out down to the last centimeter and validated beforehand by the client. My room for improvement lay in the entire accessorization. On the day of the installation, I would really discover how my exuberant offerings and the still bare basic structure would live together in the enigmatic setting of the Hunting and Nature Museum. 

 Can you tell us which artists inspire you? 

David Hockney, Delphine Coindet, Anne Bourse and Gregory Cuquel. And finally, I’m never tired of looking at Pierre Probst’s illustrations for children.

Which installations have made a big impression on you? 

Robert Wilson’s staging of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein On The Beach at the Théâtre du Châtelet. 

Lee 121! Ann Veronica Janssens’ supernatural green fog.

Kitchen, an American kitchen built entirely out of tiny glass beads by artist Liza Lou.

L’Expédition Scintillante, Act 2 (light show) by Pierre Huygue, presented at the MAC de Lyon at the 2003 Biennale.

What would the installation you dream of making look like?

It would take the form of a grandiose, imaginary, techno-free party, with a slightly muffled sound like a cotton dream, and I would have the pleasure of experimenting with all my favorite disciplines. Bathed in the nocturnal half-light of a humid forest, we would stroll under a sky of aerial creatures – huge kites – translucent like stained glass windows with changing lights. On the ground, on a bed of dew-covered leaves, Quechua tents would be animated with phosphorescent digital prints and colored fumaroles would emerge.

Multicolored blown glass totem pole sculptures would be the deities presiding over this great “technifolle” mass. 

Can you tell us about your next project?

 The artistic direction of “Milky Ouais,” a concept brand created in duo with my friend Amélie Fiat, dedicated to the creation of rare and fun objects for the world of childhood and adolescence … The launch is planned for autumn 2020. And a fourth sneakers collaboration with Le Coq Sportif, to be discovered in July 2021.

SCENOGRAPHIE CLEMENTINE HENRION

Clementine Henrion’s 5  favorite things 

Your favorite art gallery? The Dominique Fiat gallery and the Semiose gallery.

Your last great artistic emotion? After the confinement, I took my little girl for a walk to the church of Saint-Gervais. Without knowing it, we arrived for the Vespers service. The peaceful echo of the songs, in this new context, was very comforting and reminded me of my young years, when we could still enter this church late at night, a little drunk and happy to be alive. I remember it as a serenity out of time.

Your place of inspiration? The decor and accessory rental companies for cinema and events, Lanzani and Defrise, where you can find all sorts of incongruous objects. It’s a real trip back in time and a great joy when you love the smell of nostalgia and storytelling.

 One of your favorite addresses? The secret garden of the National Archives, with its unsuspected groves and its charming little pond.

Your Proust madeleine? The call of Nature hidden in Paris: the smell of the banks of the Seine, a mixture of old, fresh and mossy stone, of muddy running water playing in the sun’s rays, and of very distant History which immediately transports my heart to the charming banks of the Loing, in the house so loved by my grandparents …

And the cry of the seagulls above the Marais, as if, turning a street corner, we were going to discover a small hidden beach, and the promise of seeing the sea again, soon …