“We try to push the limits of the formats we manipulate or invent new ones, most often through open, non-linear and non-heroic narrative approaches”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
EB&MM: We were born in the North-East of France and met during our studies at the fine art school of Nancy. After that we joined an artistic research lab in Paris for two years; there we started to work together, as a duo.
AT: When did it become serious?
EB&MM: From our perspective, it has always been! But on the career side, it was built little by little, through experiences with institutions or the private sector, opportunities and especially encounters and collaborations.
AT: Is there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
EB&MM: There was no one particular person, but many who influenced the development of our work, from our studies until today: our friends and artist peers from different generations, people who contacted us and followed us over time… Besides, the term “breakthrough” is perhaps not very appropriate. It’s more a question of a long time, of slow progress. From project to project we continue to do what we do, taking on new challenges, and after a while, we’re still there and people get used to us.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
EB&MM: Usually, there is a long maturation time before starting a new work, where we do research, read books… and discuss it together. We talk a lot, from morning to night. We share thoughts, contents and reflections, we get excited about it and when we start to feel that the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together, that a vision is emerging, we start to get to work. And if necessary, we also start looking for financing. Regarding our practice, we can say that it’s largely based on links and encounters between archetypes from art history (from the Pre-Renaissance to the cinema) and contemporary visual culture – particularly that of the web. We try to create pieces that are both critical and emotional, and that integrate with their very modalities of production the economic, political and social specificities induced by the different aesthetic registers they call upon. And there is often a bit of humour, even if the subjects we deal with are serious.
A Truly Shared Love, 2021, 4K video, 28’, video still
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
EB&MM: We generally have a fairly precise vision of what we want and what we are trying to achieve, even if it can, of course, evolve and be reevaluated during the creation time. But we know that it will not necessarily be received in the same way by everyone, so we try to keep a certain openness, to bring several levels of reading. We like when our works bring some impact and have something quite obvious – but with special care in the details and subtle layers of meaning. We also like to multiply the contexts of reception and to touch different kinds of audiences, as when work exists in the space of the white cube, but also on an online stock platform for example.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
EB&MM: We explored many fields but the video may be our medium of choice. We try to push the limits of the formats we manipulate or invent new ones, most often through open, non-linear and non-heroic narrative approaches. As we rely heavily on the internet culture, we use a lot of its imagery, contents and mainstream tools. So, we can mix professional post-production software, open-source APIs and cheap phone apps, for example.
AT: What do you feel while you work?
EB&MM: In many cases, it’s a succession of phases: fear and doubts, excitement, doubts, excitement, fear… until we can’t wait to get it over with, so that we can finally apprehend it with a certain distance, letting the piece detach from us and live its own life. But in any case, we can’t see it as anything but a joyful process. It’s not worth it otherwise!
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
EB&MM: When we like what we see and we feel that we’ll be able to like it for a long time. It’s also a balance between the multitude of little things we’d still like to tweak and the limit of our ability to do so – when we’ve done all we can to make it as interesting and accurate as possible.
Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion, b0mb, 2018, installation view, La Chaufferie, Strasbourg © Antoine Lejolivet
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
EB&MM: From many things: fiction, readings, social and political contemporary issues, our environment, our friends…
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
EB&MM: There are many, but they don’t necessarily have to be named; these influences come from many places and for many different reasons, some of them very small even if significant.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
EB&MM: We are led to use them, to promote a minimum of our activities and our pieces, but finally very little. On the other hand, it is an important and recurrent source of reflection which feeds our work. Even if we approach it from a pop angle (like memes or amateur photographs), social media are an obvious entry point for us who are interested in the effects of techno-capitalism, the monopolies, the quantification of personal data and their impact on freedoms and democracy, how behaviours are algorithmically shaped, etc.
AT: What is your opinion about NFTs and their impact on the art world?
EB&MM: A lot has been said about NFTs, not sure to have anything relevant to add about that. It’s a new way to remunerate a (very small) part of online content creators. Its arrival is quite logical and it’s not revolutionary in the sense that it maintains an illusion of technological solutionism while being beneficial only for an elite (the long tail phenomenon is already very visible regarding sellers). Concerning the art world, it produces a lot of discussions during social events and feeds a lot of fantasies, but contemporary art represents in the end only a very tiny part of the NFTs. As is the opposite. So far, we have only dropped one NFT, following an invitation from Domenico Quaranta for For Your Eyes Only, an online exhibition. What interested us, besides the interesting statement developed by Domenico for this show, was that it took place on Feral File, an artist-driven platform that develops a curated, rational and precise approach. And also we found it funny to publish this particular piece, our sex tape, which interacted very well with the context and hype of NFTs, where one always talks about numbers but never about art. So we’re not against it but we just want to find some meaning there if we have to release some.
Fireplace, 2018, Installation view at La Villa du Parc, Annemasse (© Aurélien Mole)
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
EB&MM: From our experience, we don’t know if we can talk about the contemporary art system, seen as a whole. We are engaged in very different, opposite and sometimes porous circuits, from projects between artist friends with little or no budget in alternative spaces to contemporary art fairs to institutions to online works (where collectors pay to ensure perennial and free visibility for all of an open-source piece). We deeply believe in the usefulness of what we do, but we also live in this world, so even if it’s often deeply revolting, we have to negotiate between these different activities, between alternative or committed collaborative projects and the art market – which is a kind of magnifying prism of the global economy, in a less regulated way (like the NFTs ;).
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
EB&MM: The most challenging aspect is maybe the continued pressure to be visible, to have one’s career recognized by the community to be able to continue to advance, develop and fund new projects. And the most gratifying thing is certain when, following the exhibition of one or more pieces, we get feedback that makes us feel that our work has produced something in people, that it has moved or stimulated them, that it accompanies them afterwards.
AT: What do you do besides art?
EB&MM: We teach part-time at ESACM, the art school in Clermont-Ferrand. This is something that matters to us, that is continually stimulating and feeds our work.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
EB&MM: There are many! Like most artists, we are constantly living in a lot of parallel realities between possible futures and those that will never happen. We will see what awaits us, hopefully, it will be nice!
Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion, Nakamoto (The Proof), 2014-2018, installation view, Villa du Parc, Annemasse © Aurélien Mole
Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion began their collaboration at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Their work sits in public and private collections such as the FRAC Ile-de-France, the François Schneider foundation, collection Famille Servais or collection Frédéric de Goldschmidt, and has been featured in numerous media outlets including Le Monde, Art Press, Libération, Art Viewer, New York Observer, Tracks, BBC and Frieze. Previous exhibitions and screenings include Young Art Triennale at Casino Luxembourg; Thessaloniki International Short Film Festival; Louvre Auditorium, Paris; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; MAC VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine; Villa Arson, Nice; Redline Contemporary Art Center, Denver; OCAT Shenzhen; Carroll/Fletcher, London; Moscow Biennale for Young Art; Seongnam Art Center; Palais de Tokyo, Paris. They have recently had solo exhibitions at 22,48 m², Paris; La Chaufferie, Strasbourg; Pori Art Museum, Pori; Villa du Parc, Annemasse; Steve Turner, Los Angeles.