Château Fleur de Lisse welcomes Barthélémy Toguo for a new exhibition: Chroniques du vivant, curated by Constance Rubini, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design in Bordeaux. After working in France at the Manufacture de Sèvres and in China at Jingdezhen, the two capitals of world porcelain, the artist is now in Malaga, in the south of Spain, to decorate the amphorae on display at Château Fleur de Lisse. He has chosen a theme that is close to his heart: ecology and the earth. The earth, the nourishing mother, echoes the terroir of Saint-Emilion. A meeting.
Barthélémy Toguo painting on the amphora. Photo HdM GALLERY
The migrant crisis, climate change, pandemics, political conflicts... despite the tragedies they reflect, your works retain an inexhaustible faith in life. How do you cultivate this energy?
My work is nourished by its own energy. Although I deal with serious and grave subjects, such as migration issues, I always do so through the question of flows. Each of us, as well as our world, is crossed by these currents that connect us and send us back to our own nature. In my work, in which life occupies an important place because it is the basis of everything, identity and freedom are only made possible by its flows and by the energy that inhabits each of the figures and each of us. To cultivate this energy is simply to be aware of it and to become conscious of it, because it is the true root of our humanity.
They say you are an impatient and bulimic artist, a marathon runner, a rebel by nature... and you, what would you say?
Rebellious, I don't know. I think I am first and foremost a curious artist, always looking to know more, to see more, to meet more. That's how my art is nourished: by encounters, visual discoveries and work. Impatient, no doubt, because our world does not wait.
Painting, drawing, watercolour, sculpture, ceramics, performance, photography, video... your works explore all media. How do you maintain this multidisciplinary freedom?
It came naturally to me. Through photography and performance I have been able to explore my body and the human body in many different ways: physical, carnal, spiritual. The work I do today is deeply nourished by those early works, because they refer directly to the notion of the physical body and the mind. I also believe that each medium allows me to best express the great diversity of identity, history and symbolism in the idea of culture. For me, all this is very much connected.
As a nomadic artist, always in touch with world events, where do you create best?
I work mainly in my studio in Paris, but also in Cameroon at Bandjoun Station. As I travel a lot, my ideas often come from encounters outside my studio and, if you think about it, the real source of my art, even the material, is outside my studio. This is the case with the bundles of fabric that made up my work at the Louvre this year, which came from African markets.
In 2021 you will be a UNESCO Artist for Peace, what message would you like to send today?
The nomination was a very important moment for me. It was a recognition both as a citizen and as an artist. The idea I wanted to convey through my art is first and foremost that of transmission. Human dignity, education, respect: all this really comes from the idea of transmission, through which we can grow roots and become who we are. Our world needs human exchange more than ever.
Tell us about Bandjoun Station, your cultural project in Cameroon, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year...
As you said, Bandjoun Station is a cultural "project". It is not meant to be a museum or even a cultural institution. Above all, I wanted to bring together very different personalities, techniques and interests in one place. That is why our residency programme welcomes ethnologists, geographers, historians, choreographers, craftsmen, doctors, agronomists, etc. The ultimate ambition of this project is to translate the idea that creation is universal, but can take very different paths.
You also develop organic farming projects...
In addition to its artistic programme, Bandjoun Station wanted to take on an even more important mission: the preservation of its environment and the education of its inhabitants. Through our coffee plantation and our system of food self-sufficiency, we want to connect our residents with the place they live in. There has been a problem with the seeds distributed to farmers in Europe: they have become dependent on the industry to manage their new crop every year. This phenomenon is happening in Africa with maize and bean seeds, and we have had to fight against it: to save the seeds that our mothers used to save from one harvest to feed the next. We want to be an example for other citizens. The people who come to Bandjoun Station learn about agriculture and rural culture by becoming aware of their environment and their consumption. For me, this relationship with nature and its products was essential in the dialogue with art.
As part of the BAD+ exhibition and its Art in the City and in the Vineyards programme, you are exhibiting works created for the occasion at Château Fleur de Lisse. What attracted you to this adventure?
I am very attached to the idea of heritage. The Bordeaux region, and Château Fleur de Lisse in particular, represent for me a very important historical wealth. The issue of vineyards and environmental heritage is a topical one and one that artists need to be involved in. It is therefore a great opportunity for me to invest in so many places and to bring to life, in my own way, a land full of history.
In the workshop in Malaga, the amphoras are ready for high-temperature firing. Photo HdM GALLERY
Did the fact that the vineyard is biodynamic appeal to your ecological instincts?
Absolutely, it is in line with the mission I had set myself in Cameroon, which was to enhance a place of agricultural cultivation both scientifically and aesthetically. Making this ecological choice means taking an interest not only in the land, but also in the social and economic life that it nourishes, which is why it is a major subject of education and knowledge today.
The choice of support was made for amphorae... for what reason?
I have always been interested in works related to ancient ceramics: vases, plates, etc. The amphora has the peculiarity of referring aesthetically to its technical use: to preserve its contents. In the past, they were tied together for long journeys by sea or road. This form and history fascinated me because it is an object that directly refers to the journey it has made.
What kind of wine lover are you?
I am a white wine lover, especially sweet wines. Monbazillac, or a good Sauternes!