Taking inspiration from the technological objects that populate our everyday lives, Camille Blatrix builds machine-like sculptures through a combination of industrial and traditional processes.
In the Parisian studio of French sculptor Camille Blatrix black dollar signs are graffitied on the walls, hammers and cutting knives are lined up along workbenches, and strips of wood protrude from behind a ladder up to a mezzanine where a rusty effigy of a dog stands watch. “Sometimes I dream of being a painter. Just having one canvas and a lot less dust,” he says, sitting down in a camping chair positioned at the center of his eclectic workspace.
This interview was produced in collaboration with BMW Cultural Engagement, the department of BMW Group committed to to supporting modern and contemporary art, jazz and classical music as well as architecture and design. They have commissioned Camille Blatrix to create a new artwork as part of BMW Open Work, an initiative produced in collaboration with Frieze since 2017.
“All subjects, even technical objects, are about emotion. For example, iPhones are super scary, but at the same time, super sexy. I’m interested in this contrast.”
The son of a painter and ceramicist, Blatrix initially studied graphic design in Strasbourg. “My father never really made a living out of his art, so at first I felt like I should do something safe,” he says. Soon realising that it wasn’t the right path for him, he transferred to study sculpture at Beaux-Arts de Paris, where he discovered his love of “building, cutting, and working with materials that are tactile and 3D.” During this time, he completed an exchange in Los Angeles. “When I was a student I was more attracted by the U.S. art scene,” he says, explaining that the French industry seemed “a bit dead” in comparison. “We have such a rich cultural history, with pioneering artists such as Duchamp, and while it’s important, I think sometimes we get a bit stuck in this area,” Blatrix muses. “Now I realize there were a lot of things I missed about France.”
Blatrix’s works are often referred to as futuristic, and you can see why. Just by searching the artist’s name online one is confronted with images of sleek white objects reminiscent of battery packs, and polished wooden surfaces covered in red markings looking midway between games tables and circuit boards. But Blatrix himself insists that his work is not grounded in futurism. “I just work with objects that surround me,” he says. “I’m most interested in new technology, like large industrial machines, cars that drive themselves, that kind of thing. But I would not qualify these as futuristic, because they are already here.”
Blatrix also aims to imbue his technology-inspired sculptures with a degree of melancholy, and his work is described by Alice Conconi—gallery director of Andrew Kreps, Blatrix’s gallery in New York—as having “slick surfaces” which “often mask deep emotional references, allowing them to reveal themselves slowly over time.” While some may not view synthetic, man-made objects as sentimental, Blatrix believes that all subjects, even technical objects, are about emotion. “For example, iPhones are super scary, but at the same time, super sexy. I’m interested in this contrast,” he explains, referring to the fact that while many are concerned about the threats they pose to privacy, nowadays people can fall in love through their apps on their smartphones.
“It’s a dialogue of attraction and repulsion, a seduction dance between the car and the sculpture.”
The concept of contrasting elements is also a force behind Blatrix’s latest project, which was commissioned by BMW and Frieze as part of their Open Work program. Due to be unveiled at Frieze London this October, the piece will be displayed at the BMW Lounge alongside a dark green BMW, and will be illuminated by the car’s headlights. “It’s a dialogue of attraction and repulsion, a seduction dance between the car and the sculpture,” explains Blatrix, who is interested to see how viewers will perceive the two objects in relation to each other. Titled Sirens, Blatrix’s sculpture is reminiscent of a large white shell from the exterior. The inside is covered by blood-red Alcantara—a synthetic textile used for car seating—and houses a small lamp, intended to transform the space into an intimate cavity or shelter, “where you can hide from the car, from technology, or everything.” It also emits a mysterious sound, which the artist explains is intended to emulate a siren’s song and prompt viewers to contemplate the theme of desire. “I was thinking of The Odyssey, and the sirens [or mermaids] during Odysseus’s journey that were incredibly attractive, but also deadly,” says Blatrix. “This is the relationship I have with iPhones and technology in general. They’re enticing, but under the surface, there are weird and dangerous things.”
Produced in the same factory as the car it is presented alongside, the sculpture also benefited from the advice of technicians from BMW Individual, the branch of the company focusing on car customization. “I loved working with this department because they’re really about finish,” enthuses Blatrix, explaining that he decided to work with very simple shapes in order to really focus on their execution: the paintwork, the colors, and Alcantara interior. “All of those details are what make a car, or artwork, personal.”
Working with technicians is nothing new for Blatrix, who has previously worked with aluminum factories and French CNC companies to create his sculptures. “I’m kind of a geek,” he confesses playfully, explaining that his desire to discover new techniques, skills, and work in new factories was the main reason he was keen to work with BMW. Blatrix also enjoys mixing mechanical, industrial processes—such as CNC, laser cutting, and aluminum anodization—with more traditional methods. “With new methods, you can do basically the same as what you can do by hand, it just takes less time,” Blatrix explains. “Sometimes I prefer working by hand because it has more opportunity for improvisation, but I try to combine the two approaches, so the distinction between artist and machine disappears.”
While Blatrix’s work has previously been shown internationally at Art Basel, Lafayette Anticipations in Paris, and CCA Wattis in San Francisco, his presentation as part of BMW Open Work at Frieze will be the first time his work has been shown in London. “I think that’s one of the great things about art, that you get to discover the world through museums,” he says, explaining how after the art fair he is going to go down to Devon with his family to explore the English coast. He also refers to a show he presented at Mostyn gallery in Llandudno, Wales in 2015. “It wasn’t a very large or famous museum, but it was great just to be in this unusual place and discover the amazing countryside around it,” he continues, reminiscing about eating fish and chips on the beach after the show. “I don’t have a particular dream, or a particular museum I am dying to show in. For me it’s more about experiences, discovering nice places, and meeting nice people. That’s something I really like about art.”
Camille Blatrix is a sculptor based in Paris who was commissioned for BMW Open Work to create a brand new sculpture entitled “Sirens” for Frieze London 2019. BMW Open Work is an initiative that has been produced in collaboration between BMW Cultural Engagement and Frieze since 2017. Curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini, the platform invites a different artist each year to develop a visionary project inspired by BMW design and technology.
This interview was produced in collaboration with BMW Cultural Engagement. To find out more, why not read our interview with Thomas Girst, BMW Group’s head of cultural engagement.