Artist Elise Morin's Latest Installation Welcomes Visitors to Paris

Elise Morin's SOLI at The Peninsula Hotel Paris. Photo by Laurent Zabulon.
Elise Morin's SOLI at The Peninsula Hotel Paris. Photo by Laurent Zabulon.

In March, The Peninsula Hotels launched “Art in Resonance,” an ambitious new global art initiative that supports and highlights the work of emerging artists through a multi-year collaborative program. On the occasion of its second exhibition, this time at The Peninsula Paris, multimedia artist and Paris-native Elise Morin spoke with Cultured’s editors about the unveiling of her latest sculptural installation, SOLI, as well as her career-long interest in the relationship between technology, materiality and the environment.

Translated from French

What first ignited your interest in art? As far back as I can remember, I never wanted to do anything else. It wasn’t a rational or triggered choice; creating art is just intuitively where I felt my freest and best.

My desire to work on the creation of forms that would substantially reflect a need for global thinking, as well as be representative of a moment in history, is closely linked to my experience living in China and Japan from 1998-2007. In 1998, for my graduation project, I travelled to shoot an experimental documentary in Hong Kong. I was literally stunned by the expansion of urbanism, the migratory flows, the gigantism and the speed of this city. It was the eve of the year 2000 and we were all a little lulled by the belief that this date would carry with it a radical change. I was just 20 years old, and science fiction and reality were meeting before my eyes. These new horizons took precedence for me over questions about the avant-garde nature of art in which apprentice artists in European art schools were engulfed at that time. I sought to intimately link the sciences, arts and technology in my artistic practice, in order to offer a sensitive look at our way of living in the world that goes beyond apocalyptic or contemplative conversations; in other words, to look— without hierarchy—at the materials and living things that co-exist today.

What is the first piece of art that you remember really sticking in your mind? It's hard to pick just one. As a child, I was fascinated by the traditional, anonymous wood and metal sculptures from Ghana that were present in my home. And every night, I fell asleep before a reproduction of the white horse head of Géricault. This image is fantastic, disturbing and ambiguous. I learned much later that Géricault considered this horse's head a self-portrait, which partially lifted the mystery of the formal, conceptual and intimate power it still exerts on me today. As a teenager and a young student, Walter De Maria's The Lightning Field and Nobuo Sekine's Phase-Mother Earth were aesthetic shocks that considerably broadened my horizons. The works of El Anatsui, Christo and Jeanne Claude, Giuseppe Penone, James Turrell, the installations and videos of Ana Mendieta and Pipilotti Rist (especially Ever is Over All), the architectural research of Buckminster Fuller and many other works all reside within my most influential memories of my artistic training.

What are your preferred mediums for your own work, and why? My work is formed from the confrontation of a subject and the materiality of objects. These are precisely chosen, sourced and charged with a singular history, sometimes belonging to the vast domain of new technologies. I do not have one specific media. I experiment each time with new processes to link a subject, a mode of production and a place, but my method of design and the purposes remain the same. The real and virtual materials that interest me nourish an aesthetic where regeneration, ritual, and transdisciplinary collaborations can be bases for poetic experiences and representations. To create new imaginaries, one must look for the keys of the modern hidden in the archaic, the way that a raw material like copper is constitutive of a computer.

Elise Morin next to her art installation SOLI. Photo by Matteo Prandoni.

You’ve noted that your work takes into account the “material burden” of artwork, as well as the “ecological implications of transporting, storing and showing art.” Why are these concerns so important to you, especially now? I work a lot in public space by creating inclusive, ephemeral works made from reusing local industrial materials. Questions about the durability of the work, its transport or its storage were therefore not really the subjects. The work was a stage for a larger cycle within a unique territory. Once the exhibition was over, all materials and energies were reinjected into other practices, uses or circuits. By transforming itself tirelessly, the material can take many forms and temporalities; but, undeniably, the way our landscapes and our environments are manufactured remains the underlying subject of all my work. The implementation of fragility and erasure interests me very much, especially when it is not immediately noticeable. My projects Ex-Vivo Golden Age and Water Carrier are fictional devices that show that fragility is a state that arises despite our efforts to prevent it—a state that we must tame.

On the other hand, my installation Waste Landscape works as a flexible declination of "topography of a second nature." It has been circulating for a dozen years in different places. The question of its materials and how the work is transported is part of the project. The upstream collection and production method is artisanal and draws people in, even without prior knowledge of the subject. An inflatable system makes air the only force needed to mount the work and the parts, once disassembled and folded, take up only one cubic meter. The same is true for SOLI, my work currently on display at The Peninsula Paris as part of their global program “Art in Resonance.” This choice of production mode transforms the work’s possibilities and uses, and prompts us all to wonder we, especially artists, can create more sustainable creative processes that will better our collective future.

What are you most excited to be working on now? Over the past two years, virtual reality and plant biology have entered my research. I am currently developing a project called SPRING ODYSSEY, a multimedia device that explores the invisibility of radioactivity in collaboration with biologists and astrophysicists.

A story of our relationship to the living and the conquest for space is outlined through the development of a "mutant" plant, currently growing in a greenhouse in Paris-Saclay. This fragile yet resilient plant can make radioactivity visible. Linking plant biology and poetry to create new media that allow for technological, artistic and biological experiments is very interesting to me. A series of photos, videos and drawings will be exhibited in November to present the first step in the overall project, which will then grow into an installation, film and VR experience.

In addition, in collaboration with Bettina Prentice and Isolde Brielmaier, curators of The Peninsula Hotels’ “Art in Resonance” program, I am working on the next SOLI exhibition, to appear in Hong Kong in the spring of 2020. SOLI was just unveiled for the first time and will be on display through November 15th. Through “Art in Resonance” and the financial support of The Peninsula Hotels, I was able to pursue and experiment with a new technique involving the agglomeration of materials (in this case pulverized CDs) in order to create a delicate work of light. We are now also creating a performance that will activate the background of the piece in a relevant way for the next experiential exhibition at The Peninsula Hong Kong. This performance aspect will be particularly exciting for me, both artistically and personally.

Elise Morin's SOLI at The Peninsula Paris from Cultured Magazine on Vimeo.