Rich in cultural references, yet intimate, Guillaume Airiaud’s work touches the recesses of our inner libraries of experiences and images. It creates a multi-directional reception and understanding of the world. The artist’s workshop – both his physical studio as well as the range of gestures embedded into his artistic practice – is almost a ritual place. There he deconstructs the accepted realities and builds tension between the content enclosed in a frame and the “invisible”. His works are based on the language of iconography and traditional craftsmanship, through which he creates his own original world, drawing on recognisable shapes and symbols.
We grow up surrounded by objects, figures, and patterns, building our own associations based on the familiar cultural codes. Airiaud exploits them by drawing on well-known techniques, such as embroidery, silversmith, or marquetry, and materials – textiles, straw, and metal – translating them into an original, contemporary language of forms. Although they seem common to most people, his way of using them goes beyond the prevailing applications. The artist’s works function at the intersection of sculpture and installation, even though essentially they operate in two dimensions. Airiaud describes them as “sculpture-objects”. He encloses them with scenography, often creating site-specific installations, thereby forming a spatial continuum with the surrounding environment.
In the early years of his artistic practice, Airiaud developed a simplified, yet eloquent symbol – a form of a logotype. It is constituted by an illusory cuboid, constructed through formal and colouristic differentiation of its individual surfaces. The artist describes it as a perspective with an entrance and an exit, the essence of which lies in the formally non-represented passage. The motif and the message behind it recur in some of his works, including the installation ‘Love Me Tender’ draped in a print based on the multiplication of the symbol.
From this gesture of creating a pictorial metaphor for his practice, Airiaud develops works that play with multiple variations of optical perspective. It was the geometric perspective that opened a new chapter in art history and the work of such artists as Masaccio and Brunelleschi. Its use creates an infinite possibility of permutations and formal solutions. Guillaume Airiaud continues this research, opening up the world of art and mathematics to new horizons. In the works ‘R-Evolution 2: Artist and the Renaissance’, ‘Threaded’ and the artbook ‘Memories/ Love Me Tender’, the motif from Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Perspective Machine’ print from 1525 (in which an artist studies and experiments perspective view of a vase), is used repeatedly. The artist ably uses this as a quotation that serves as a basis for pondering and reflecting on optical illusion, the limitation of space by simplifications or the imperfections of human vision.
Airiaud creates ambiguities. He is not so much interested in the frames he constructs, as in the space “in between”. In it, he sees a mystery, in relation to which we, the viewers, read and create our own stories. The aforementioned work ‘Love Me Tender’, realised in the form of a gate, is not only a symbolic, but also a more literal expression of Airiaud’s interest in the theme of transformation. It is the feeling of nostalgia and loneliness that reveals itself in the artist’s desire to emphasise the role of the transition – something that stands amidst the genesis and the decline; and that is the anchor of our understanding of how time passes.
For Airiaud, creation is a process revealing his resistance against “fast production”. The use of artisanal, time-consuming techniques provides an opportunity not only to delve into traditional craftsmanship, but also into the process of preserving the labour of the artist’s body inside the art pieces. The high-quality craftsmanship and precision reverberate in each of the works presented in the exhibition. ‘Love Me Tender’ becomes a form of a visual foreword to other pieces, in which Airiaud explores various techniques. An attentive eye will spot here a row of pearls running through the print, details embroidered on it, or the overlapping and multiplied motifs. In them, the artist meticulously manipulates a variety of materials and symbols to create a spatial, expressive form, balancing and playing with decoration and concepts. A complementary art book contains a sensual study of the details used in the main piece. The intertwined elements taken from the installation are reproduced here with fastidious passion.
In a series of masks (‘Gorilla’, ‘Elephant’, ‘Piranha’, ‘Leopard.Swan’) the artist combines his passions – silversmith and tailoring, pushing his “sculpture-objects” into their most organic forms, including anatomic ones. Same as in other pieces, Airiaud skilfully combines materials in his brass masks, decorating them with fish teeth, leather straps or hair. Finally, in such works as ‘Forever’ and ‘Cross’, straw marquetry applied onto complex geometric constructions builds phenomenal optical illusions. When examining them, one realises the astonishing craftsmanship of their execution. At the same time, viewers can appreciate the translation of a technique into a sensitive and contemporary record of the artist’s message.
If ‘Love Me Tender’ had been created in the Renaissance, perhaps it would have included the theme of Saint Sebastian or some other saintly figure. While Airiaud’s work is clearly inspired by religious art, it refers to spirituality in general. The artist multiplies themes referring to both philosophy and individual experiences, skillfully presenting them with universal motifs drawn from the Western cultural circle, thus giving us room for our personal interpretations. Perhaps the best example of this presents itself in the three-part series of objects ‘Histoire du Coeur’, ‘Forever’ and ‘Lost in Love’, containing the formal essence of his practice. Airiaud plays with the durability of the materials and its potential connection to the conveyed themes, which can be interpreted as a linear record of a relationship.
The works ‘Forever’, ‘R-Evolution 1 & 2’, and ‘Blue Knight’ feature another procedure often used by Airiaud, namely the creation of layers and delicate, barely visible extensions of perspective lines or elaborated grids. These delicate constructions form structures onto which the main elements of the art pieces are set. In this way, multi-layered compositions are created, combining painting and sculpture. Airiaud projects optical illusions and blends creation of spatial forms with image making. He plays with concepts and stories, and reflects on aspects of surface and volume.
To Guillaume Airiaud, seeing is a process of confrontation and a tool for distortions. It acts as a field to create illusions and, at the same time, a space to show the “invisible”. Art historian Erwin Panofsky described the use of perspective as a procedure that can create merely an illusion of insight into an imaginary space, cut out of a larger whole by the frame of a painting . Likewise, Airiaud shows the complexity and infinity of a space enclosed by the external world, where perspective serves as both – a way to simplify and at the same time to open to new, invisible worlds, using the paradox of existence in the grid of images and their concepts.
Marta Czyż, Karolina Wlazło-Malinowska
Guillaume Airiaud was born in Nantes. He studied visual arts at the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as art history at the University of Nantes and Freie Universität in Berlin. He lives and works in Berlin.
 Panofsky E., Perspective as a Symbolic Form, ed. G. Jurkowlaniec, UW, Warsaw 2008.
14.09. – 27.11.2022
Artist: Guillaume Airiaud
Curators: Marta Czyż, Karolina Wlazło-Malinowska
Organiser: Fundacja Sztuka w Mieście, Ghelamco
Patronage: Instytut Francuski w Polsce