The si­lence of the an­gel

The art world is high–pro­file visual artist Théo Mercier’s oys­ter. Yann Siliec

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CONTENTS - PHO­TO­GRAPHS Louis Canadas

— With his an­gelic looks that could set reels of film on fire, and his sen­sual, haunt­ing voice, Théo Mercier re­fuses to be drawn on the the­ory be­hind his work. He per­pet­u­ates the mys­tery be­hind his vo­ca­tion. But it doesn’t mat­ter. It’s up to the read­ers, spec­ta­tors and col­lec­tors of his oth­er­worldly cre­ations to ap­pro­pri­ate it. “My mis­sion as an artist is to chal­lenge or dis­turb with­out be­ing provoca­tive. In a so­ci­ety that serves up a mish­mash of in­for­ma­tion daily, leav­ing lit­tle room for the peo­ple watch­ing, lis­ten­ing or sift­ing through it to take it in, the work of art ex­ists pre­cisely to stim­u­late the way they look at it, their minds and their free­dom to in­ter­pret it.” Imag­ine a garage, the roar of a mon­ster mo­tor­bike revving up, a masked Daft Punk stunt­man […]. In the dis­tance you can hear the sound of a harp­si­chord play­ing baroque mu­sic. Then you see a trans­gen­der body, bust thrust for­ward, claws out, perched on high heels, turn­ing on the charm in a num­ber that could shift tec­tonic plates. Any­one who didn’t have the good for­tune to see this per­for­mance should jot down the fu­ture dates of Ra­dio Vinci

Park in their diary — a chance to un­der­stand the venom and the honey, the chiaroscuro games and ur­ban mythol­ogy stir­ring up the depths of their own fan­tasies, sum­moned by ev­ery tour de force Théo Mercier pulls off. The artist and sen­sa­tion of the mo­ment is un­clas­si­fi­able. He doesn’t be­long to a move­ment, and never looked to oth­ers to trig­ger his light­ning rise to fame. Born in 1984, the en­fant ter­ri­ble of the art world grew up in Paris’s 18th ar­rondisse­ment, sur­rounded by par­ents with a great in­ter­est in the arts and four beloved lit­tle sis­ters. At home on the Rue Lepic, he didn’t play with any­thing, choos­ing in­stead to be­gin a ca­reer as a se­rial col­lec­tor, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing over two hun­dred E.T. fig­urines, pre­cious stones, mar­bles, frogs and a cat­fish. Far from the pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of kids his age, he found in­spi­ra­tion in this strange clut­ter, that stirred a fas­ci­na­tion for underground cut­lure, which con­tin­ues to haunt him to this day. A cross be­tween a taran­tula dealer and a pi­rate, scour­ing Truf­faut gar­den cen­tres or the Saint –Ouen flea mar­ket, Théo Mercier fi­nally chose a world rather than a ca­reer. This world com­bined all his as­pi­ra­tions, which, once he had grad­u­ated from the ENSCI school of in­dus­trial de­sign in Paris, and the arts uni­ver­sity in Ber­lin, would cat­a­pult him into work­ing with Bern­hard Will­helm on his stage cos­tume col­lec­tion for Björk.

In 2008, he went to New York to as­sist Matthew Bar­ney on his River of Fun­da­ment opera project. Now a true blue blood of fas­ci­nat­ing de­sign, the multi–tal­ented young artist sent his plan­ets spin­ning, and the crit­ics sat up and took no­tice as soon as they saw his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion, in 2009, at the Hunt­ing and Na­ture Mu­seum in Paris. One year later, the “shoot­ing star ” had the in­ter­na­tional press at his feet when he cre­ated The Loner ( Le Soli­taire ), a mon­u­men­tal sculp­ture made en­tirely of wo­ven spaghetti, dis­played at the Paris Mod­ern Art Mu­seum, un­til it was ac­quired by the An­toine de Gal­bert col­lec­tion. Sex, death, ev­ery­day life, mixed hy­brids, ru­ins of the fu­ture, and di­verted ob­jects con­stantly in­vade a hu­man com­edy that is part macabre, part sub­lime, a black­board be­com­ing raw flesh, show­ing skele­tons and phan­toms, strangely be­witch­ing and in­sid­i­ously pet­ri­fy­ing. It would none­the­less be sim­plis­tic to see only the­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial be­long­ing to oth­ers in Théo Mercier’s per­spec­tive. His earthly power is that his work can­not be cat­e­gorised. He has the abil­ity to ques­tion the nat­u­ral process of art and time, re­sus­ci­tat­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy as a work of fic­tion, over­turn­ing the codes of space and time, spurn­ing con­tem­po­rary fash­ion ob­ses­sions and pre­fer­ring the re­mains of fan­ta­sised civil­i­sa­tions. His

The Thrill Is Gone ex­hi­bi­tion, for ex­am­ple, at Mar­seille’s Con­tem­po­rary Arts Mu­seum in 2016, meshed his own sculptures, au­then­tic 18th–century jars, Me­sopotamian art, fake fos­sils, re­pro­duc­tions of ce­ram­ics and PVC tubes. Be­hind the mix of skele­tons and Amer­i­can foot­ball masks ex­hib­ited as though they were Palae­olithic re­mains, the 30 – year – old artist never ducks is­sues, throw­ing him­self head­long into the very flesh of his art, so­lar and op­ti­mistic or blood­thirsty and dark.

Be­tween his stu­dios in Mex­ico City and Belleville, Paris, Théo Mercier walks the tightrope of his­tory and is now rep­re­sented by the Paris–based Bu­gada & Cargnel Gallery. He doesn’t set him­self bound­aries, ap­pear­ing in a string of ex­hi­bi­tions and per­for­mances, and he also works fre­quently with mu­si­cians Philippe Ka­ter­ine, Con­nan Mock­asin and the Sexy Sushi, who’s all the rage at the mo­ment. Does art now war­rant its sa­cred rep­u­ta­tion as a tem­ple to the se­ri­ous? Whether the fun­da­men­tal­ists of dis­ci­pline like it or not, no one can de­scribe a disconcerting work — one that should com­mand the ut­most at­ten­tion and in­ter­est — bet­ter than the artist him­self: “My work as a visual artist re­volves mainly around a game. I al­ways try to pre­serve a sense of de­ri­sion and of keen, spe­cific hu­mour. This al­lows me to take on some ter­ri­fy­ing sub­jects. Thanks to hu­mour, art en­ables you to talk about the best and the worst, in a word, ev­ery­thing.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS Louis Canadas Yann Siliec BY

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