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From 2009 onwards, we, Marie Ilse Bourlanges (FR) and Elena Khurtova (RU), have been working together as an artists duo based in Amsterdam (NL).
We position our duo-practice at the intersection between formal and conceptual, where materiality and temporality play an essential role. Our work explores the paradox between transformation and its inherent loss, in a format that varies from large-scale transient installations and performances (Dust to *dust, 2018, Shelf life, 2019), transformative sculptures (Wetter than Wet, 2018) and the artist book as a way to give permanence (Sans Réponse, Raise, 2018). In recent development with performance we look into the transient potential of materials that overcome the gap between form and content whilst still maintaining their temporality and vulnerability. Equally fascinated by the conceptual and narrative qualities of materials, we meticulously investigate the resilience of earth, the memory of porcelain, the erotic charge of clay and the textual quality of textile. Non fired clay is explicitely chosen for its extraordinary capacity of infinite renewal : unlike ceramics, which once fired becomes preserved forever, non-fired clay (or raw clay) has the potential to always return to its original form. This duality in temporality is at the core of our approach and especially meaningful in our investigation with the archive of Jacques Bourlanges.
Since acquiring the archive of Jacques Bourlanges (grand-father of Marie Ilse), author of an obscure and intriguing theory of a correlation between star constellations and French geography, we actively implemented our artistic interference onto this gathered content, each time generating new meanings and making visible the mysterious ways in which the mind works. From 2014 to 2018 we developed five solo-exhibitions and four artist books under the project title The Sky is on the Earth. During a six month research residency in Atelier Holsboer in Paris we categorized our approach into a series of chapters in order to decentralize how to apprehend the body and subject of an archive and offer multiple entry points : the esoteric and poetic theory of The Sky is on the Earth, the physicality of the archive and the mysterious persona of Jacques.
From explorations of the urge to preserve – that ultimately destroys – to the destruction of the source in order to create something new; from tampering with things so they remain the same to artists’ books that fade in sunlight; from terracotta boxes that ultimately turn to dust – and consequently back into clay we explore what it means to archive an already archived archive, continually reconfiguring the meaning of the words archive, permanence and history. Through the prism of Jacques’ obsessive search for world understanding, The Sky is on the Earth addresses the fragility of physical traces one may leave behind as well as the ones superimposed on our physical environment by higher forces. This long-term project was concluded in October 2018 with a major solo show in Arti et Amicitiae.
Starting with developing two distinct artist books in 2018, Sans Réponse and Raise, we choose to implement individual trajectories as part of our practice and explore their full autonomous potential. In Sans Réponse, Marie Ilse weaves a new relationship with her unknown and mysterious grandfather, Jacques, through words and textile translations. This is the starting point for her personal research on weaving/s love and madness. Her interest lies in the potential of materials to express emancipated sensuality and switch power roles in a fluid manner from dominant to vulnerable : in this perspective Marie Ilse specifically researches the erotic charge of clay and the textual quality of textile. She investigates how personal emotions and intimacy can resonate collectively to transgress conventions and social status. With Raise, Elena creates a poetic journey with maps, exploring how volume and spatiality can be represented in a form caught between printmaking and sculpture. Intrigued by the unusual representation of territory and terrain, Elena engages in an intuitive and playful process of reproducing the maps. Raise evokes the obsessiveness of the mind trying to keep track of the ungraspable, the natural tendency to try and rule through representation, and the loss of control as images break down into pure materiality. The duality between retaining and disappearing informations is Elena’s starting point for exploration on emptiness and representation.
Furthermore we started collaborating in 2018 in the format of an ‘open-collective’ with visual artist Mayra Sérgio. The underlying conceptual force is to find ways to investigate collaborative processes as such, from fluidity and interconnected relationship of elements, to pollination and friction. With our first exhibition Wetter than Wet, we research on the identity and trajectory of materials in a global and historical context while bringing together a scope of individual fascinations: earth is freshly dug, clay turns carnal and steaming, condensation gets tangible, distillation becomes circulation.
In conjunction with our artistic practice, we teach at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Royal Academy of Arts of The Hague and curate exhibitions as part of our educational program. Our methodology of bringing together material experimentation and conceptual development is at the core of our teaching practice.
– Elena Khurtova & Marie Ilse Bourlanges, 2019