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Working with the found object

  • In his solo at Experimenter in Kolkata, A Second Coming, Julien Segard uses his art to extend the story of discarded and found material
  • This show is part of Experimenter’s tenth anniversary celebrations

‘Najafgarh’, a charcoal and gouache on paper, cardboard, metal and wood
‘Najafgarh’, a charcoal and gouache on paper, cardboard, metal and wood (Photo: Julien Segard and experimenter, Ballygunge Place)

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As you enter the Experimenter gallery at Ballygunge Place in Kolkata, you chance upon an installation featuring a group of everyday objects—wires, pipes, and more—suspended in the air. In another room, filled with drawings, collages and watercolours, the same materials make an appearanceagain—this time as sculptural installations. With some of them protruding into the wall or stopping just short of the drawing frames, it feels like they have invaded the space.

These works form part of A Second Coming, a solo show by Julien Segard, an artist based in Delhi and Marseilles, who has been exploring the relationship between man, landscape and architecture in his practice. “Segard’s work explores the severe edges perpetuated by urban structures, free-flowing contours of nature’s invasion into these structures and the shared intimacy that grows into each other’s spaces and claims each as its own,” states the curatorial essay. In another corner, one can see an iterative body of sculptures—a stone, two houses, three ruins, four gravediggers—which stand as symbols of survival and hope.

Segard has also created an on-site work by painting directly on the gallery walls with soot, creating a backdrop to his ongoing body of works on paper, Divide Construct Deconstruct. The five-room space at Experimenter, with its varying dimensions, was ideal for the artist to work on site and create a narrative that runs through the gallery. One can also see a series of three paintings, Hexane, Heptane and Octane, named after three complex petroleum chemicals. One can find animal and human figures flitting in and out of the three canvases, with the volatility of the environment being the theme that ties the various subplots together.

‘Octane’, a watercolour gouache on dyed cotton fabric
‘Octane’, a watercolour gouache on dyed cotton fabric (Photo: Julien Segard and experimenter, Ballygunge Place)

While he works with a variety of mediums—building bridges between different techniques, using one to inform the other —Segard has always been interested in the found object and the quality of “poor” materials such as plaster, soot and wood. “Seeing the beauty in the simplest things is a way of being able to focus attention on the essence of the sculpture. Using these (materials) also allows me to maintain a certain kind of spontaneity,” he says.

Another large piece, Najafgarh, also features discarded material found while scavenging through Delhi, creating a fragmented dystopian landscape. As he says, “I have been working with the found object since my student years. In the beginning, it was for economical reasons. But I think I have developed a taste for them ever since—their stories, texture and patina.”

Segard collects them while roaming the city on foot or motorbike, without a specific destination in mind, putting himself in a situation comparable to that of the flâneur invented by the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire. “A page with existing notes or stains is already quite something. To me, it is an opportunity to extend a story,” he says.

One can see the interplay of light and shadows in the exhibition—referring, perhaps, to his interest in the night, which reveals details that are hardly visible in the glaring daylight. It’s as if the works have extended themselves into the rooms with their shadows. “I made an installation recently in which the shadows were more important than the actual objects. In a work titled Meteors, these shadows multiply the presence of the hanging sculptures to create an immaterial fresco, like a small shadow theatre,” says Segard. Similarly, in the work titled Evening Assembly, the colour is displayed on the underbelly of the sculpture, thus creating a faded tint in the shadow. He explains, “They are like projections, revealing the volume of an object, and creating a distortion of its silhouette.”

A Second Coming is part of Experimenter’s celebration of its 10 years, with year-round programming to highlight the relationships it shares with artists such as CAMP from India, London-born Bangladeshi artist Naeem Mohaiemen and Samson Young from Hong Kong. According to Prateek Raja, co-founder of the gallery, Segard’s work brings together an organic yet disjunctive practice, influenced by the personal experience of living in vastly expanding urban situations, negotiating the built environment and a complex network of relationships.

“The show is a relook at these experiences of living and making work, and also provides an insight into the fascinating mind of Julien,” says Raja. “Emotion, fragile balance of material and form, and a constant urge to push boundaries are some of the aspects that have underscored our conversation with him over the years.”

A Second Coming is on view till 25 July.

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