by Shraddha NairDec 21, 2019
“In the early 1980s, computing was becoming increasingly present in the media and people began to talk about the information society. Computing was yet to be explored by contemporary creative artists, though. I understood that computer tools were going to be, for me, the basis for a structurally original approach. These possibilities seemed unlimited and the transformations unending,” says Miguel Chevalier, a new media artist as he talks about how he knew from the very start of his creative career that he wanted to push the boundaries of technology in fine art. At the time, Chevalier lived in Paris where people were rather skeptical of this new medium and hence, there was little patronage in terms of resources to fuel Chevalier’s active imagination. However, this didn’t hold him back at all, motivating him instead to befriend engineers at the French National Center for Scientific Research, who eventually allowed him access to their computers where he developed his first-ever digital artworks. In few years’ time Chevalier was awarded the Lavoisier grant from the French Ministry, which took him to Pratt Institute New York, which had a freshly inaugurated digital art department.
Chevalier experienced the shift from analog to digital media first-hand, his artistic practice growing alongside it in a way where it was closely intertwined with new developments in the industry. He says, “In the late 1990s and in the early years of the new millennium, a new era opened with the sudden appearance of the first graphic cards capable of calculating thousands of polygons for video games, allowing an immersion in a 3D world in real time. So, I developed with the help of specialists my first generative artworks such as the digital gardens Sur-Natures”. Similarly, micro-computing, the sophistication of projectors and the recent invention of 3-D printing have enabled Chevalier to bring his visionary ideas into reality we can all experience.
Chevalier was born in 1959 in Mexico City, where he lived until ’85 when he shifted to Paris. As a child, Chevalier was exposed to a multitude of cultural and aesthetic ideologies from artists like David Siqueiros and architects like Luis Barragan whom he interacted with regularly. Of equal influence was his extensive travelling during his younger days. “My parents and I, we often went to a small countryside house, 150km away from Mexico. I was fascinated by the strange plants growing in the garden, especially by carnivorous plants,” says Chevalier, crediting this exposure with his fascination with the natural environment, a motif which often finds its way into his work.
Whilst in Kyoto, Japan for a residency, Chevalier’s fondness for nature grew deeper. The manicured gardens in Kyoto moved him to better understand the relationship between the natural and artificial. This motivation is clear in his virtual garden installation Extra Natural (2018), which was showcased at Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, France. This installation is larger than life, enveloping the viewer in a lush virtual garden of fantastical plants. The vibrantly coloured plants sway gently and bloom randomly, creating an artificial paradise of sorts. Chevalier embraced the digital aesthetic, creating the plants with atypical forms and textures, with an overtly vectorised aesthetic. Chevalier’s work is abundant with references to the natural as well as cultural environment we experience. His series of Magic Carpet installations are created taking inspiration from the visual identity of the country he creates it in - a site-specific and culture specific method of creating. For instance, the artwork in Morocco drew from Islamic art while the same work in Italy was representative of the mosaics found in the country. Chevalier says, “These installations can contribute to the awareness for each community and for each person the importance of conserving their heritage and their cultural identity in the globalised world”.
This 2020, Chevalier’s work is seen at Wood Street Galleries in Pittsburgh from January 24-April 5 and at a group show in Ullens Center for Contemporary Art Beijing from February 22-May 5. He will also be exhibiting two interactive installations at Museo Internacional del Barroco in Mexico from May 16-September 20, as well as two more shows in Buenos Aires and Seoul in June and July respectively.