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At first glance, Descamps + Mazzi stand out for the extremely produced nature of their art. The gesture is tangibly precise, with a confident intentionality at work. Their sculptures, installations and murals include recurring, potentially utilitarian and at least decorative elements. First reaction: we are dealing with objects, something that we use for something. A comforting feeling for our psyches built and surrounded by consumer goods: "It's pretty, isn't it? How much is it? "... The works appear to form a system and create a closed environment where interplaying shapes, colours and materials all claim: each piece is in its right place vis-à-vis the others—everything is complete, save the external gaze. Are we free to interact with these objects, manipulate them? Their intrinsic accessibility prompts us to: works placed at ground level, playful colour code, straps surging from the surface... The various pieces combine in a fundamentally haptic ensemble.
These same elements that instinctively placed us on familiar territory gradually prove deceptive. Growing doubts about the nature and destination of the works start affecting our faltering vocabulary. The presumably perfect and readable system loses ground to a more conceptual questioning. Therein lies the other intentionality of the artists: hybridizing their visual art practice, taking inspiration from the conventions that define a utilitarian object. And this, to come back to the fundamental question: to what extent have we become mere homo consumens (Erich Fromm), our gaze tampered with by the expectation of a finished product, immediately consumable, disposable, replaceable? Descamps + Mazzi shun the ready-made, a worn-out paradigm of contemporary art. They confront two practices of making that are crafts and visual arts, mocking the ubiquitous codes of lifestyle. In order to free the gaze from a purely teleological interpretation of things, the duo creates autonomous, hence destabilizing forms. But to the often off-ground processes of science fiction, the artists prefer a speculative approach, with almost-familiar forms aimed at shaping an emerging gaze, able to think the malleability and fluidity of our environments. In this sense, Descamps + Mazzi's work borrows from the philosophy of speculative design whereby the object, far from offering an immediate solution to an identified need, opens up a space of possibilities, conducive to imagination and renewed reflections on our relationship to the real (Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby). Descamps + Mazzi thus create structures of indeterminacy and, in so doing, open up the discussion on the infinitude of their art practice.
However, the artists' approach is not one-sided. The question of the work’s absolute utility supports a diagnosis that is in fact critical of our consumer society. However, and in a dialectical play, this formal and conceptual research also challenges us to decipher the works. Interaction is indeed at stake here, the purpose of which is not so much our relation to the work, as a reflexive look back at ourselves. To catch the eye and engage this reflection, Descamps + Mazzi define protocols based on recurring colours and essentially geometric shapes, running through the sculptures, installations and murals. There is what looks like the letter A, reminiscent of a prehensile shape. There is the half-circle, a symbol of incompleteness and imbalance. There are elements of typography which normative validity remains unsettled. These are all units of meaning that the artist duo calls “gabarits” (French for jigs), thereby paying tribute to the technicality of artisan work. From this practice emerges a visual lexicon in which even the preparatory acts are made visible, as if to insist on the evolving potential of the forms. These self-proclaimed codes guide us and lose us at the same time since the “gabarits”, defining the visual properties of one work, may shift anytime to another work and become one structural element.
Descamps + Mazzi postulate that shapes are beings of their own. Their works are expected to evolve and recompose following internal dynamics. At a time when individuals stake claim to fluid, multidimensional identities, we need to think of the surrounding artifacts as equally fluid, turned not towards an abstract, blissful or dystopic future, but towards a probable present which we shall endeavour to constantly reconfigure. The works’ value thus stems from their current aspect but even more so from their inner transformative potential. Conceptualizing a kinetic desire, they are not, however, its simplistic and alienating representation. Their power resides in a movement to be invented in relation to themselves, as much as with oneself. Descamps + Mazzi’s art practice is therefore one of making, understood not as productive performance on the artists’ end, but as catalyzer of our collective desire for action at a cognitive and physical level. Their art invites us to create our own narratives, shake up our classic understanding of what stuff is, and turn to the extra-ordinary, finally.
Tina Allison Wetchy
Alumna of the Visual Arts MA in Critical, Curatorial and Cybermedia Studies at HEAD – Genève, Switzerland
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