The W Collective
The W Collective was in residence at the Pragovka Art District in Prague in August. Three of its members, Catherine Radosa, Judith Espinas and Sylvain Azam, look back on this experience and the preparation of their next exhibition, "Extraordinary Entrances IV".
You founded Atelier W and a collective of the same name in Pantin in 2010. What was your approach?
Judith Espinas: We were already a group of several artists. We created a workshop out of convenience, to extend our group thinking beyond our individual practices. Very quickly, we knew we wanted to open this space up to other artists because there are few spaces in Paris for this kind of free experimentation and exhibition.
Sylvain Azam: Also, and above all, we wanted independence. And the idea of escaping the individualistic struggle for attention at galleries and art fairs which most young artists participate in after graduating from art school. In our workshop, we find a kind of community that is often forgotten after graduation and yet is very much appreciated.
Where does “W”, the name of the workshop and the collective, come from?
Judith Espinas: It stands for several things! Firstly it refers to the address of the workshop, on Avenue Weber. But it also references a novel by Georges Perec, W or the Memory of Childhood, a dystopia which speaks to us all. For me, W also represents Cassiopeia. In the end, this letter can accommodate all the definitions – including our work, in a single letter.
Sylvain Azam: Yes, I think every member has their own interpretation of the W as a symbol...
There are ten of you in the collective. How do you work together?
Judith Espinas: The main thing is our desire to work together as a group, even though we each have our own individual practices outside of it. Coming together allowed us to think as a group and to very quickly put together an initial collective exhibition in 2014 which was very close to our hearts, “Extraordinary Entrances I”. On the practical side, we have an exhibition space on the ground floor and a floor to accommodate artists over the long term.
Sylvain Azam: Today, we no longer necessarily exhibit the work of our founding members because their practices have matured. The venue is aimed more at young artists.
Catherine Radosa: Artists of different ages, backgrounds and nationalities! Like 27-year-old Charlotte Heninger, from the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, with her plant-based approach to subject matter. I'm also thinking of Julia Gault, 28, who notably studied in Rio de Janeiro, and who thus orients her work around measuring the height of her subject matter. Or the painted portraits by Bilal Hamdad, a 32 year old Algerian graduate of the Oran School of Fine Arts…
In August, you were in residence in Prague for your project "The Extraordinary Entrances IV". How did the project and the residency come about?
Catherine Radosa: I am Czech-French and I was personally in contact with members of the Pragovka Art District, which is not dissimilar from W, due to the very nature of its location. Their design and demonstration workshop is located in the former CKD Kolben factory in Prague: it is a former industrial area, a wasteland, which is reminiscent of Pantin. There's also the idea that artists are like plants which cleanse the air in these places.
More than a year ago, members of the Pragovka Art District launched a call for applications for groups of artists to create an exhibition in their space. We started with a period of remote research. Once we were there, we assessed the space more precisely. In a way we were like archaeologists of the future, wandering around, observing, looking under things, taking photographs. This place is undergoing a complete transformation, during which its buildings are being destroyed and then rebuilt. It contains temporal, material and symbolic layers.
Judith Espinas: We also wanted to shake up our habits. As the geographical shift inspired new practices, we decided to produce everything on site.
Sylvain Azam: We set ourselves the rule of buying nothing, or barely anything. A month is a very short time to create under these circumstances. Even if it was a very exciting way to work! And that principle really guided our choice of materials.
What materials are most heavily featured in your exhibition?
Sylvain Azam: One of the key materials we can talk about – without revealing too much about the exhibition! – is the shroud of reclaimed scaffolding which gives both movement and structure to the whole. Many elements also revolve around rope, knots and weaving.
Judith Espinas: One of the challenges was to move around without creating clutter. We didn't want to produce big items. Catherine also took us to the flea market where we discovered things we hadn’t worked with before. We wanted to use elements related to the architecture and buildings of Prague, which involved exploring the city and meeting its inhabitants.
Catherine Radosa: We liked to play with the idea of the "anarchitectural", using soft shapes. The idea is to examine one of the possibilities of the architecture of the future.
Beyond everyday encounters with the people who live there, have you begun working with people from Prague?
Judith Espinas: From the start, W has been keen to open its doors to a wide audience. In keeping with this principle, every week we hosted children from a recreation centre in the city.
Sylvain Azam: Other informal collaborations have developed, including with the Czech artists’ collective Rafani, whose studio we visited in the Žižkov neighborhood. Its members then visited us to explore our work. We would like to continue this collaboration by inviting them to Pantin.
Catherine Radosa: At the invitation of Roman Rejhold, director of the Luxfer gallery, we also took a three-day working trip to Ceska Skalice to present the collective to artists and teachers from the Brno art school.
Recognised in 2019 by the Institut français Artist Collective programme, W completed a residency in Prague in August 2019.
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