Garrett Hoffner, Miners, 2009, Offset Poster

Although separated by thousands of kilometres, Marie-Jeanne Hoffner (France) and Stephen Garrett (Australia) meet within the shared terrain that has been gradually created by them through exchange and experiments. Laying the foundations of this mutuality has allowed them to build a bridge between their respective practices. This common ground, named by the artists as RE/DE, is inaugurated in La Rochelle containing all the promise that comes from a gold rush. The exhibition can be seen as a research laboratory—allowing all kinds of structures to be infinitely deconstructed and reconstructed; in short, to continue to dig until one finds and discovers a new form: transforming, moving and constantly evolving. RE/DE carries a collaborative challenge for the artists (however impermanent their exhibition may be), aspiring to expand their artistic horizon: which is the extended zone of contact between their two ways of creating and thinking.

One of the most common ideas between Garrett and Hoffner is the particular attention they pay to the various spaces and places they have journeyed and lived—whether workplace or studio, apartment or house—revealing the trace, shape and structure through transcription and measurement. For instance, the preparation and production of maps and models are placed into their perspective and then created as two and three-dimensional outcomes. These strategies are anchored within an architectural logic, instilling, through the use of different mediums, the displacement of existing sites from other places. Thereby creating a shift in the practice of representation rather than simply a replica. These translation and slippages multiply the errors—and wanderings—while expanding the margins and gaps, guaranteeing the originality of the work and its detachment from reality on which it is first based. Like an island, the work is an extension of reality: separate while remaining, if only symbolically, attached. 

Observing the logic of remaking, a process of repetition that can carry within it an inbuilt discrepancy, these representations deliberately fail to convince, thus introducing a form of "game" between the artwork and its referent, relying sometimes on an optical illusion. For example, in Advance/Retreat (Gallery 1) (2008) Garrett, collaborating with a group of artists and designers, vertically places 9000 meters of nylon thread under tension a few inches of the wall, making the white thread on the white wall almost imperceptible. With Rampe d’escalier [Bannister] (2007), Hoffner made a work which evoked an optical illusion using translucent PVC film. By transferring the negative space between the banisters using a black marker on the PVC, the motif of the staircase masked the entrance without blocking it access. This replication or over-printing, creates a subtle disorientation in perception. It is in the sharing of this sensitive approach that Hoffner and Garrett have each created several site-specific interventions that are based on site-specific impressions.

One of the first artworks created by Hoffner was a membrane of latex covering an empty room of an apartment. Rue du Moulin, Nantes 1998 [Windmill Street, Nantes 1998] thus acted as a second skin. Imprinted with memory, the sense of place created through the latex’s low relief highlights the static elements in the room—doorways, windows, moldings, a radiator, the fireplace etc—and other scratches that had left marks. In a similar vein in 2006, Garrett exhibited at the Alliance Française Melbourne, a rolled up craft-paper drawing that was first used to cover the entire floor of the gallery. Marked with white chalk from rubbing onto the floor, Blueprint (1:1) highlighted the different textures of the floor—vents, edges, floorboards etc—and was then rolled up. The similarities between the two artists work or their "common ground" resurfaced in the work of Garrett in 2007, with the installation Drawing for Floor and Wall: part of the floor surface was covered with adhesive transparent vinyl. The "harvest" obtained from different dust and debris left scattered on the ground, was then transferred onto the white wall, presenting a type of fresco of evidence, or a sensitive forensic process taken from the place itself. 

The site-specific dimension is a key feature in the work by Garrett and Hoffner. Being attentive to the places they invest in and that they literally take the measure of, the two artists design work partially determined by the details intrinsic to the spaces where the work is to be inscribed. Reconfigured, sometimes processed, these spaces become containers for objects, or will sometimes give rise to real passages and offer new methods to experience the space. 

The project presented at the Espace Art Contemporain de La Rochelle revolves precisely around a structure that connects the three rooms of the gallery. Referring to the type of structures used in mines, it recalls the gold rush, a myth still very real, particularly in Australia where gold mines are still in use. In this way, the work conceptually plunges us into another dimension, underground and hidden, it transports us back in time, memory and fantasy. Presented in the exhibition, is a silkscreen image of the largest gold nugget ever found—evidence of a particular reality—reflecting the almost surreal nature of this extraordinary object. Finally, embodied in neon, the word HORIZON, now illegible, evokes a line referring to a uneven landscape. 

From the brightest open space, to the darkest excavation where shines the possibility of buried gold, RE/DE is an invitation to travel, to explore the spaces and places from their surface to their depths...

Anne-Lou Vicente, Paris 2009

[download original exhibition poster here]

[to read original essay and interview in French, click here]

Garrett Hoffner, Welcome Stranger, 2009, Silkscreen


Certainly, separating and creating are not mutually exclusive: one has to hold one’s own when one is separated, and had better be separate to create anew
— Gilles Deleuze, “Causes and Reasons of Desert Islands” Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)

Anne-Lou Vicente: How did your artistic collaboration begin?

Marie-Jeanne Hoffner : We worked together on building one of my pieces at Linden Art Centre, Melbourne in 2006. The wood was reused for Stephen's work in a show, which I curated at The Alliance Française Gallery, called Interior Design.

Stephen Garrett : More than just recycling… The new form creates a new artwork yet still retains the old one within it.

 MJH : And the next…

SG : That was the beginning of “Re/De”: REconstruction and DEconstruction.

ALV: Tell me about this idea to create only one (id)entity from both of your work.

SG : Within our collaboration, it is something we aspire to but we have not resolved yet… It is a difficult concept to work out properly.

MJH : We have a lot in common within our individual work, but the idea is to create a new entity I guess. More than forgetting our specificity, it is a way to focus on something we haven’t quite developed yet.

SG : A hybrid form, enabling a push within and outside of our relevant practices. An extension of form.

ALV: How did you work on this exhibition?

MJH: It’s the first show in our collaboration. I invited Stephen to come to La Rochelle during my residency and proposed that we begin our work here, in France, like a journey… Most of the concepts we wanted to establish were elaborated in Australia, and of course we are keeping in touch a lot through the Internet and “Skype” which makes it wonderful to communicate. We have been sending each other images from our archives, images found on the web, and sometimes objects… and mostly worked on the idea of collages, in a very broad way.

SG: This has been a crucial aspect of the artwork’s development. It was a process we couldn’t predict or assume would work. It has been an essential dialogue, and those images—some funny, quirky, strange and inspiring—have become a key aspect of the exhibition’s advancement.

ALV: What do you show in the gallery space?

MJH : For the show, we decided to build a wooden structure that would be like a displacement of a mining structure... It would circulate in the gallery space through doorways, and maybe lead outside, like a spine. We are trying to create a structure that connects the elements within the exhibition and could also be considered as a bridge between France and Australia. Maybe the mining structure can be seen conceptually as a bridge in its architecture as well…

SG : Or a bridge to connect islands… There is a strong analogy between the architectural structure of the mine—the supports that hold the earth away—and of the passage of the body: the movement from outside to inside, between one space or state to another.

ALV: This movement can also evoke migration. We can find this idea in the silkscreen you made from an image of the biggest golden nugget ever found. It was in Australia in 1869, and it’s called Welcome Stranger. What does the gold rush evoke for you?

SG : The gold rush locates the activity within the landscape. It also suggests the architectural structure of the mine. A gold rush aspires to cultural and social optimism. Working on this collaboration, we consider these various ideas and use them to create a site-specific intervention within the gallery.

MJH : It's also dealing with the nature of place and brings up the dream of settling. This also considers settlement at a time in history when movement had another meaning, evoking a sense of freedom in this context is much harder. But I don’t mean it's a reality... People are still digging for gold. It’s not romantic at all. But culturally, as Europeans, we have a sense of romanticism about it. It's also the time of Ned Kelly: the infamous bushranger. That's why we can be nostalgic. But I guess for you, Stephen, it's much more grounded…

SG : I think the key to our exhibition is the activity of cultural shifting within the history; moving through states of being, like Deleuze’s islands, which opens up the metaphor as well.

MJH : Finally, everything is about trying to fit somewhere and to find the right place, isn't it?

SG : This idea of finding the right place is also about the right work. There is something fundamental in the penetration of the surface—through the mine—that takes the individual underground to work.

MJH : It seems my approach also concerns the penetration of space as an extension of oneself... but mainly as a projection, like a type of camera obscura. Whether for you, the underground seems to be more determined...

SG : More so, the breaking of the surface. I am interested in the activity of moving through the layers from one space or state to another as a conceptualized activity. There are differences in your work and my outcomes but the concepts are similarly driven.

MJH : Yes, I think we can sometimes use very different materials, but keep the same echoes.

ALV: The mining structure evokes surface and depth, penetration and rising. It’s also about the appearance/emergence of an image on a film, the revelation. Or, as in memory (like a camera obscura). This makes me think of a material you used in several works, Stephen: it’s salt, also known as “White Gold”… It’s an interesting coincidence, also because here in La Rochelle, there is a big bridge leading to l’île de Ré (DE/RE, another coincidence…), where there are lots of salt marshes.

SG : Salt is important within cultural and social history. It has a physical presence, which is analogous to the landscape and to the body. We have vast saltpans in Australia, it rises from under the earth, changing the landscape. Mythologically as well: saltpeter is an ingredient in turning lead to gold. This was also an essential ingredient in explosions or gunpowder, which they used in mining. Black powder I think they called it?

There is a strong relationship between the evolution of the landscape, something that is changing within its own course (as in an island that forms or breaks away) and the activity of the human in the landscape (like a miner, or a traveler, or even a castaway). Together these form a natural order that coalesce and are ongoing and of course, ever changing. I think this highlights the relationship between Re/De, a system of mutation and adaption, and Gold Rush. Both produce a constant state of modification. I imagine when one is looking for gold there is a desire to find wealth which drives the prospector to keep searching. I like the image of “creating holes” in order to find what one is looking for: working in the space between fact and fiction, or the known and not known.

MJH : An artist I met in Australia dug a hole in the gallery space... Some others dug holes in Europe. The “hidden” as an idea is relevant: what is it that we are searching for? Friedrich Hölderlin wrote a poem about housing love... And he describes the desert as being the only place, impossible as well… I was trying to photograph some construction in the Nullarbor Desert in Australia for this.

 I must say I became very impressed by Australia, and I do project a fantasy onto its surface. I can’t separate my fascination from its history, which is a dramatic mix of love and hate, through “discovering” a land, to the drama involving the displacement of millions of people… and only 200 years ago!

ALV : The motif of the island is dealing with separation and connection (to and from the continent) with the notion of the space in-between. This evokes both the visible and the invisible: what has emerged or is hidden appears as a reversal (what is under and invisible is like a photographic negative). Marie-Jeanne, you sent me a text of Gilles Deleuze called Causes et raisons des îles désertes. He writes that, “every island is and stays deserted in theory”, and that deserted islands are a territory for REcreation. It also can make us think of this famous book of the Argentinean writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, published in 1940, The Invention of Morel, which is itself an adaptation from The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells. The narrator is supposedly on a deserted island and he discovers a machine that brings him out of reality and into illusion—of love, freedom etc.

MJH : Yes. Generally within my work I think I make this relationship between the landscape and the self. The island evokes exile. I realized it quite lately. From that position you are separate; being able to look from a distance you can maintain this sense of disconnection.

SG : I really like the geological difference between the formation of islands. There are two ideas of natural order—the breakaway from the main body and the new autonomous body. We can see this idea as well within colonialism, the occupation of land and the expansion of the empire, as when the British occupied Australia. They declared, that as an island, it was terra incognita. As a land it was empty. We know this was not the case with our indigenous population. It is interesting to note that Deleuze speaks of the second origin of an island as a sacred space and gives the deserted island its whole meaning, that it is something profound and mythological. This is the idea of making, de-making and re-making. The land that is flooded to become an island, to be occupied as a place of birth and beginning. Re/De keeps everything in a state of mutability, a transitional point or zone.

ALV : Let’s end this by talking about the notion of mutability. Maybe evoking your neon project: the word “horizon” in the form of a landscape.

MJH : After some time searching, we finally decided to use the word HORIZON, which is spelt the same in French and English. The project is to create the word HORIZON in neon and then to stretch it back to a straight line. It’s about transformation and the idea of materials containing extensions within themselves. Horizon is perfect: it’s the landscape, the infinity, the perspective, something impalpable, and a pure invention.

SG : The HORIZON is that which separates two spaces, and is where those two spaces touch or encounter each other. It acts as the seam between space, holding everything in balance. As a word and as a concept, we can imagine HORIZON as the place that directed the ship that once sailed into the vastness of an unknown ocean in the hope of finding an empty island on which to land…