by Shraddha NairMar 17, 2020
Few acts of reconciliation are hard to make, and few are beyond the scope of any plausibility. The tropical summer with long looming days frilled with the conditions of lassitude and bouts of precipitation is something I cannot come to terms with. Perhaps, over the years, I have accepted these endless days and nights as an inevitable part of life but securely kept them outside the brackets of a successful reconciliation. The art installation In Capsule created with sand by the Swiss artist Morgane Erpen sought my immediate attention to follow her artistic practice. The shift of an artist from continental weather to tropical in order to pursue an artistic practice triggered my deep-seated interest around the possibilities of mercury levels in the environment to set the tone of creative representation.
The extremities of the climate — a continental snowstorm, dry summer, perennial rain, sandstorm waves — have played a significant role in setting the creative tone of artists. More than the human tendency to stay in harmony with the harsh weather, it is the nature of adaptation to the surrounding that has encouraged modes of survival. This thought runs in the majority of her works, including Under the Strata, Loyalty Integrity to name a few. Erpen, in an interview with STIR, talks about her choice of material - sand - for this particular project. “In this exhibition In Capsule, I explore the relationship between man and nature through material explorations. I arrived in Cairo during the time of the sand storm, Reyah Al Khamsin. The sand as my main inspiration makes the greatest part of this work in its different shapes. The work presents the contrast I found while searching for the materials in Cairo, between the traditional process of hand-blown glass and the industrial plastic that is very present in various forms in everyday life. Is manipulating the ‘material’ our way of giving ourselves a sense of authority over what controls us?”
As the ecological crisis is rising to an unprecedented scale, the role of art in the Anthropocene is pressing the need of the hour. When the traditional categories of knowledge and practice are questions, human interjections are necessary to question the forms of artistic representation. To bridge the gap between artistic practice and theoretical inquiry, Erpen stresses, “questioning the relations between man, society and nature, hence my particular appeal to the Anthropocene, I develop an analytical and sensitive approach to these confrontations, mixing in-depth research on the themes with fictional elements. My work is mainly composed of installations and sculptures and is closely related to experimentation and research around materials. My practice focuses on the modern way of life: the way we consume and live, the new technologies available and more specifically, our impact on what surrounds us.”
The transdisciplinary way of presenting the crisis aids the assessment projects of human activities in the geological systems. The term social Darwinism inadvertently bought the life science and social science to the recognisable parameters of a complex ecology of knowledge. Long before it could be fully celebrated as a moment of triumph, the works of Erpen like In Capsule, with its minimalist apparatus including copper tube, glass pieces, sand, compressor, PVC, pertinently question what constitutes the human way of living in harmony with nature, and everyday packaging turned into Anthropocene fossil for the exhibition Under the Stratra , asserting the severe consumption by the human tribe against nature. Erpens says, “Man is always indulged in his surrounding, capsuled in constant movement…being a part of it and being out of it, our relationship with nature is dominated by the challenge of ‘to control or to be controlled as if the total integration of man and nature is impossible. The Egyptians are fighting against the sand and the dust everyday. They are trying to push out the desert further and further of the cities and more, especially Cairo. In Capsule is a way to give a voice to nature by letting the sand going out of the capsule and recreating a kind of desert on the ground of the gallery. I’m questioning here the place and the right of the contemporary human in front of the nature that surrounds him. Can we live in harmony?”
For the plastician artist, the immersive part of her practice is integral to have a holistic experience around her works. Erpen admits, “I really like to work with installation because it often allows the visitor an immersive experience. He or she can walk through the different structures and then becomes immersed in the environment by feeling the energy of the art piece, for example - In Capsule by the sound of little sand storms and the feeling of the wind but also with the heat of the fire in Carduus. Personally, I think the more the audience can connect with my work, the more it will echo with them. The spectator will be able to understand my world and the messages I want to transmit. Thinking the art piece by including the spectator from the beginning of the creation is more than essential. S/he is part of it; without their presence the piece means nothing. Something is missing.”
Given the times we are living in, the crisis – be it climatic or pandemic – cannot be easily abated. Erpen opens a pertinent discussion with her minimalistic practice to take a step deeper into this exercise of keeping a close check on the impact of the Anthropocene epoch.