Nina Chalot and Cyril Teste, French curators of the Schools Pavilion at the Prague Quadrennial
Nina Chalot and Cyril Teste are co-curators of the Student Exhibition that will represent France at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (8 to 18 June 2023). Following a residency with seven students, they have designed a device in which water communicates with stone and gesture.
Updated on 16/06/2023
© Lovis Dengler Ostenrik
Could you tell us a little about your respective careers? How did you decide to work together? How do you think your respective skills complement each other?
Nina Chalot: I trained in working with materials for over ten years in a ceramics workshop, and I've also done a lot of self-taught textile work. That's what got me into ENSCI - Les Ateliers, an industrial design school developed by Patrick Bouchain to offer highly original, cross-disciplinary teaching methods based on project-based learning. My course at this school focused on the processes involved in making objects, and the ecosystems with which they are linked. Having started out as a freelancer, I worked mainly alongside architectural teams before joining Ramy Fischler's agency, where I specialised in scenography and museography. It was here that I met Cyril, on an opera project. He was interested in the visual arts, and I was interested in the performing arts.
Cyril Teste: For my part, I've had quite a varied career, which began with painting. I did four years of foundation with a teacher from the École des Beaux-Arts, while also studying theatre. After that, I was only at the Beaux-Arts for one day, as I was called up to the Paris Conservatoire, in the dramatic arts section. From there, I taught myself and specialised in directing, before also working in video. My main field of interest is everything to do with current technologies, from robotics to virtual and augmented reality. Then, with others, I created the MXM collective, bringing together technicians and creators, which led us into theatre and opera. At the same time, we created a school project, a roaming laboratory, linked to the idea of cross-disciplinary transmission, which has enabled me to teach at a wide range of schools, from Le Fresnoy to Les Arts Décoratifs.
You are the curators of the Student Exhibition at the Prague Quadrennial, whose theme this year is "the rare". How did you choose to interpret it?
Cyril Teste: Initially, we created a lexicon around this theme, like a halo around a core. Through this question of rarity and preciousness, we turned to what is most "natural" to us, which is quite simply nature. This led us to the question of water, as an element that is certainly omnipresent around us, starting with our bodies, but which has lost all notion of preciousness and rarity in the collective consciousness. Today, water is no longer perceived in a sensitive way. So for me personally, it's not a question of approaching water from a perspective of ecological militancy, but rather of returning to a sensitive and natural question, which is in fact also very political. I come from a farming background, where water was extremely precious, a crucial element for living and also for communicating, since people would meet at springs.
Nina Chalot: With this project, we use sensation to arrive at a new type of relationship with nature and with people. It's often water that brings people together.
For several months now, you've been coordinating a team dubbed the "Ninth School", made up of students from seven schools offering training in scenography. How do you see this aspect of your project? What role does irony play in your approach?
Cyril Teste: To return to the question of rarity, it's not just a question of object, form and production, but also of process. The process makes the work, and when you're co-curator of a pavilion for students, the question of teaching obviously becomes central, along with a reflection on how we can approach learning. For my part, I'm very much in touch with the issue of education, which has been at the heart of my work from the outset. How do we find rare forms of learning within schools?
During the development of this project, you and your students took part in a series of residencies across France. Why did you choose this working protocol, and how did it work out? How do you look back on it now?
Nina Chalot: This aspect of the project took shape gradually, through residencies lasting one week per month. We wanted the students to be supported by different personalities with different skills, so that they could draw on them and pick out the elements they needed. There was no pre-established program. These skills included stonework, with the support of the Verrecchia Endowment Fund, the values of companionship, and the contribution of Céline Pelcé, a culinary designer, who brought a certain relationship to context and living things. I also organised meetings and conferences, for example with Sébastien Thiéry, the founder of the Navire Avenir, a lifeboat in the Mediterranean, a situation where water has an entirely different symbolic value. This reinforced the students' understanding of how to work in multi-disciplinary, geographically-distant teams on major social issues. I also invited Benoit Brissot, a baker and artist on the Île de Vassivière, to take part in the workshop: in each case, an extremely wide range of skills were used, to show the students that scenography can be found everywhere. At the Maison Jacques Copeau, we also met a researcher who told us about the village's springs, and a gardener who took us on a tour of a river petrified by limestone. We have also recently been joined by the Blam workshop in Nantes, who bring us their expertise in engineering and metalworking. More generally, each stage of the project reinforces the lesson that you don't move from an idea straight to production, everything is interwoven right up to the assembly of the object. Everything is a project.
You have chosen to place two elements at the centre of your pavilion: water and stone. Could you tell us about this choice, and how it fits in with local constraints?
Cyril Teste: It will be a pavilion that effectively combines water, stone and gesture. The object we're going to build is surrounded by a metal structure, a bit like scaffolding, at the centre of which are hanging basins, like strings of pearls, that will fill with water. This water will be activated from the Vltava, the river that runs nearby, the idea being to bio-source it, i.e. to fetch it by hand. The pearls will then be activated like an hourglass, transpiring and transmitting water by capillary action from mineral element to mineral element.
La France est également représentée à la Quadriennale de Prague par le Pavillon Pays et Régions du duo d'artistes Théo Mercier et Céline Peychet.
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