in english


The vegetable labyrinth is a usual park ornament. Generally, its many crossroads force us to proceed in a succession of choices, at the exit of which the walker is obviously likely to lose himself, without being able to reach neither the centre, nor the exit. These pleasant “gardens with winding paths” can be a playful, decorative metaphor of destiny. But other labyrinths – those, for example, whose image was left to us through stone age engravings  – provide single-journey maps : i.e. those who get in are inevitably drawn to its centre. To face the Minotaur there, according to the ancient legend, or to meet oneself there with fear, when the fabulous animal comes to symbolize the dark forces hidden in the depths of its psyche. On these two shapes of labyrinth, one could refer to many scholarly texts. One will prefer to evoke the humorous filmed conference-performance that Eric Duyckaerts devoted to them, itself shown in a labyrinths of glass and mirror inspired by the fairs and canals of Venice, and who was among the last avatars of a topic which very often has been seized by contemporary artists.

What is striking, in the case of Dédale, the metal labyrinth set up by Gilles Picouet in the courtyard of the Granvelle Palace, is that he uses both models by diverting them. Based on the single journey map, it offers walkers an increasingly narrow single corridor as they approach the centre. The artist evokes a (square-shaped!) snail shell… But this plan is to some extent contradicted by its implementation, since the walls of the corridor consist of mobile panels sliding on rails (invisible because hidden under the floor), that visitors can move to release themselves, to take short cuts, to even furrow the structure in any direction. Without ever getting most, here they are, Masters of their course, both users and interpreters of the work.

Although they were not labyrinths strictly speaking, some of the former achievements by Gilles Picouet strongly reminded us of them. In 1998, in Credac, contemporary art center of Ivry, a vast room appeared entirely strewn with narrow pierced strips of tape, intersected in an apparent disorder (1). They covered the ground in its totality while leaving vast gaps in the random layout allowing the viewer to move around inside the art work.

The installation, along with the manufacturing of the elements at the assembly of the unit was precisely constrained: the room was made up of hardboard strips of various lengths but 12 cm wide, openings with regular intervals and perpendicularly crossed, so that they can be connected with orange and blue pipes, usually used for the passage of gas in blowtorches. The assembly mode took a seaming point called “saddle stitching”, which made it possible to realize the varied figures on place, the layers of various thicknesses, and, for the visitor, of numerous crossings. Thus deployed, occupying all assigned space (approximately 300m2), the layout of Credac seemed to be able to extend indefinitely in a chaotic way like a formation of live, organic nature. Later, in the art gallery of Le Pavé Dans La Mare, another artist, Rémi Uchéda, was supposed to put the piece together again in his own way, as if he were interpreting a scope. “Thus, Gilles Picouet admits, I could see a new image being drawn with the potential to enrich the corpus of possibilities”. From this was to result a radically different configuration including – in particular – the vertical set that was missing from the first presentation. (2) But this had to be made from the same “mécano”, that is, from a usual material, which the artist borrowed from the ordinary world of the industry, away from the world of art.

Although he happened to be interested in poor – though loaded with affect or memory – materials (it was the case, in 1995, for a palisade of recuperated boards assembled by “back stitching”), he would chose materials stripped of any seduction. However, their texture, properties, visual aspect, and innovation, are still of great interest to him and he will gladly consider the proposals by manufacturers and the technical sections of architectural magazines. In 2002 in Besançon, the making of three works – which constitute in the eyes of the artist a triptych – is rather exemplary from this point of view.

The first one, an environment tested with a prototype in a workshop, aimed at occupying a very large room in the most chaotic possible way, thanks to four rollers of plastic-coated cloth randomly perforated, some of the holes being consolidated by eyelets, reels of cord, and pitons fixed in the wall, the ground and the ceiling. For the assembly (in the most literal sense) of the room, the the height of fabrics was set while drawing on the cord passed in the eyelets and the pitons, exploiting the tension or the flexibility to create corpulent or rectilinear forms (3).

These extents of white fabric, matte, suspended, were clearly evoked a ship sailings. They seemed to float in the air a little like a sea of clouds and, multiplying the points of view, inviting to displacement, on a journey, producing a kind of landscape. The used material, a white, immaculate and flexible fabric, of which the glare contrasted deliberately with a little stripped plaster framework, had been carefully selected by the artist among proposals of a representative of the T.T.T. (Fabrics, Textiles of Trévoux) factory .

Meanwhile, in the library of the university campus all made of glass and metal, the artist carried out a true reconfiguration of the place from which he just disturbed the functioning, by installing a long white corridor between two papered walls of two different types of thickness of bent net between them, forming large pockets intended to collect thousands of polystyrene balls (6000 exactly), flattened beforehand in the workshop to create spaces between them that were more random than those generated by the round form. At the top of the walls, over the entire length, two neon slopes produced an indirect light returned by the false ceiling, still reinforcing the feeling of isolation and confinement. Sometimes overhung by the accumulation of balls in the net, sometimes mixed with those piled up in columns, the visitor almost had to cut through a path in this corridor (4).

The third intervention required plywood, with two flat models, equipped with clothing made for the occasion by a dressmaker, Fabien Durand, and the polyurethane, in the form of two cut out blocks, presenting, in hollow, the same figure as that of the models (5). The polyurethane was hollowed out, cut out with a revolving wire controlled by software. Positive and negative were laid out in alternation in the window of a clothing store. The cut made in these foam blocks made it fragile for certain forms held in stock which subsided gradually, the artist preferring to display the nature of the material and observe its distortions rather than to work to obtain and maintain an ideal form.

Thus, hardboard, plywood, polyurethane, polystyrene, latexes, concrete, plaster… must above all fulfil a function in a given context. Let us remind ourselves again of the two giant jigsaws, one made on the terrace of a Montreal cafe, out of concrete and abrasive, and the other in 2002 in Belfort. For the latter, the artist had replaced the abrasive by barbed latex, traces of the mould in which the latex had been run. For an intervention at the Salines of Arc et Senans, in 2005, he assembled wall sections using balloons of rubber skin assembled with cast plaster. Once the dry plaster and the deflated balloons had been removed, the material appeared extremely soft and smooth, sometimes slightly tinted, contrasting with the rough character of the run-out.

The use of metal for Dédale is in line with this experimentation of materials and techniques, but more importantly its process requires tools of the trade and team work. “It is necessary to make it with the 15 tons of raw material 13 tons of which finished matter will remain”, adds the project manager. In addition, if the “cheap” side of materials used by the artist may come as a surprise,  self-weathering steel has for a long time acquired a noble status in the field of contemporary art: Richard Serra, Rudi van de Wint, inter alia, largely used it for exterior rooms. Its property is known to produce a car-protective rust. Here, it is also the warm side of its russet-red colours which encouraged Gilles Picouet to use it for the inner face of the panels, creating a form of intimacy, whereas galvanised steel sheets were selected for the exterior and for the floor: on the contrary, it is a clear and cold material, but whose glare agrees particularly with the bluish moiré of the characteristic stone of noble constructions of the city of Besançon. Over its entire surface an oblong pattern – Dedalus Icarus – is brought out. At the level of the two central panels the pattern becomes triangular, evoking in a remote way a formation of migratory birds in the eyes of the artist. This vision reminds us of Icare’s take-off by Jacques Lacarrière who is readily quoted by the artist: “What a delight! This dawn, this light wind, this flight, especially this freedom, this horizon!” (6)

The multiple ways of producing, storing, handling, working with materials, are at the centre Gilles Picouet’s work. Under construction! was the title of one of his catalogues. At the time of an exhibition of the Clara group that he created with three other artists, Virginie Delannoy, Emmanuel Aragon and Samuel Buckman, at the art center Passages of Troyes, a room was invaded by boards of all kinds and piled up in a false disorder, as if they were on standby on a building site, or stored in a warehouse. If they mixed, curiously and superbly, stuffed wild animals which seemed to wander among the pallets, beams, gathered panels or of blue polystyrene, as in a forest, whose trunks would have already  been manufactured for construction.

In the case of the labyrinth under construction, a place of constant exchanges between the artist and the factory team (an engineer, a project manager, and two welders) is crucial. Gilles Picouet is no conceptual artist who will leave it to others to do the job. On the contrary, it should be mentioned that it is the specific production of Mantion, a manufacturer of rails, cranes and sliding doors, which is the origin of the artistic project, for which the technicians then come to suggest innovating solutions taking their usual practice into consideration, in particular by installing the rail below the panels whereas until then it was posed high up.

The passage of the angles when you slide the mobile panels requires a particular reflection: it was usually done by a curve whereas the artist wishes to preserve a at 90-degree turn as much as possible. The art of the welder, his capacity to anticipate and control the distortions of overheated metal, is also largely required in this particularly delicate making. A large place is dedicated to the “assembly in white”, an integral assembly of the room that must precede the final assembly in situ by the numbered elements. In addition we will note that even the design of Dédale reveals a particular alchemy, mixing the mathematical rigour and the risks of experimentation, the free-referee of the artist and the accepted constraint, such as an anniversary evocation of the company and therefore 90 metal panels composing the walls. Initially, in order to give a progression guideline in the construction industry, the artist had referred to the series of Fibonacci to determine the growth of the number of panels by side, but the guideline was modified in the process, in order to make the corridor less narrow and more practicable.

The scale of the work, the way it entirely uses the space at the Cour du Palais Granvelle, and the fact that it is made of sliding pannels traditionally used in permanent constructions confirms Gilles Picouet’s artistic orientation towards architectural issues.

He indeed used metal for the first time in the building of a footbridge adjacent to his own house, the object being half way between artistic experimentation and home architecture.
Regarding the tower made in the park of the Blanès Museum (8), in Montevideo, the artist speaks about “vulnerable architecture”, a concept which came to his mind by walking through the streets of the city and by observing the degradation of the buildings. “I wanted, he says, to build architecture on human scale with perishable materials at the outside, so as to observe what will occur, how people will react, how the material will work over time. The project was conducted in quite open-mindedly, both the form given to materials and the construction as a whole”.
The tower of the Blanès Museum, which we can see approximately one year after was built, celebrated by “the removal of the last stone”, on October 28, 2004, measuring a little less than 5 meters. Placed close to the gate of the park, so it could be seen from the street, it consisted of 24 brick stages of plaster perforated by multiple holes, narrowing towards the top, thus giving the tower the shape of a truncated cone. At middle height, its width was about that of a human scale. The entry, whose form of the unit was homothetic, was turned towards the interior of the park, so the tower appeared closed from the street and directed towards the sundown penetrating each evening on the construction.

The artist moulded the plastered blocks one by one: that is to say 281 blocks whose perforations were obtained by placing plastic rolled-up sheets in the mould, oriented in such a way that the smallest opening sometimes would open on the outside, and sometimes towards the interior of the tower. 14 different moulds were necessary and gradually narrowed by the displacement of the side walls. When this displacement made an opening on the interior curve disappear, which corresponded to him on the external curve was obviously hidden, that’s why there were pastilles in relief, intended to make the construction perceptible. Beyond the astonishing hand-made implementation the principle of construction starting from a modular form seemed to match the architecture, which also led to the concept of the labyrinth.
To come back to the tower, it is only after conducting the project that the artist started looking for a site. By seeking the ideal place for the work to come, he reversed to some extent the practice of in situ. However, a strong relation had to be established with the city park which would surround the work (9). From the interior of the tower, the view, through the holes, was focused on the foliage in a hazardous way. Outside, the shadow of the trees played on the whiteness of the plaster. The sun which penetrated through the holes projected many luminous anamorphic discs on the walls .

Simultaneously, after requesting that access should be free, that graffiti should be allowed, and that no limitation should be imposed on the visitors; the artist set up a very  precise observation protocol. A photographer, Dario Vairioletti, took a photograph a day for 24 days each month, from the same viewpoint indicated by the artist, 12 other photographs being left on the initiative it photographer to finish each roll of film over that year in the aim of making a 12-second film.
In addition, the disassembling of the tower was supposed to complete the experiment. Thus free access and freedom, were articulated as a means for an end. Not at all cultivating the melancholy, Gilles Picouet thus kept the tower from falling into ruins. By preserving the foundations, however, he opened the possibility for having another thing to happen at the same place: as a result of this destruction, the ring of concrete which was used as a foundation could be seen on the surface, lying on concrete pillars 3 m. deep. The destruction then induced a new state of the work by unveiling what remained from the entire year inside the construction: a hidden – though well present – quotation by Heraclitus translated into Spanish, “quite a common thing to start and end on the circle circuit”.

However imposing on its surface (not to mention its weight), and although he uses extremely more complex techniques, the labyrinth of the Granvelle palace remains like the tower of the Blanès park, that is, an object on human scale. When Robert Morris for example creates a labyrinth in the Italian park of Fattoria di Celle a Santomato di Pistoia, or on the island of the sculptures of Pontevedra, in Spain, he insists on raising the two-meter walls so that the visitor getting inside is dominated by the walls and cut from the surrounding space. To this impression of being locked in, the unpleasant feeling of having to walk on sloping ground is added in Celle. And if the labyrinths by Robert Morris – like those by Gilles Picouet – are in accordance with the ancient tradition, the single journey offers anyone taking this journey no escape through any opening nor through any other path. Let us say that, even if it refers to the playful dimension of the labyrinth of a garden, Morris, like most contemporary artists using this subject, as was already the case with the surrealists, will readily glorify its dramatically ominous dimension. In Besançon on the contrary, the height of the walls, limited to 1,5 m., allow the visitor to both see and be seen.

We have already mentioned the human scale in the vulnerable architecture of Montevideo (10). In the work by Gilles Picouet, the question of the body is essential, in that it is about the image of the body, or of the relation to the viewer’s body. The models and the hollow shapes shown in a window, mentioned above, combined as passerbys were brought to project mentally themselves onto the figures. In the same way, in 2009 at the citadel of Besançon, when the artist displayed large paper bags on which life size silkscreen human figures were printed, inspired by a catalogue, used by architects – but their roughly sketched contours gave them a sense of reality – these diagrammatic characters drawn up on a paper sculpture at once solid and flexible, would mix with the visitors in a kind of intimacy (11). In the same way, the height of the walls of the labyrinth are subordinated to the size of the walker.

As already mentioned, Gilles Picouet insists on neither dominating nor worrying the user with the labyrinth, but on the contrary on offering him the control of this disconcerting object, like that of an immense toy, which he still compares to a music score. In his view, the panels slipping on the rails and the changing intervals separating them, are similar to notes on a gigantic stave. With its visual rhythms which are made and then destroyed, Dédale seems to beat time at a stone’s throw from Foucault’s pendulum displayed at the heart of the Time Museum.