Carambolages enchantés: Denis Savary

1 September 2022 Off-site

Denis Savary is currently working on two projects: an artistic intervention at the ECA in Lausanne, on view since summer 2022, and the scenography for the Tactilisme exhibition at the MAMCO in Geneva. On the face of it, there's not much in common ... but that would be without knowing this prolific and unclassifiable artist, adept at the most surprising interweaving of ideas.
Ingrid Dubach-Lemainque


Who hasn't dreamed of a sunny break in the middle of winter? If you're ever tempted to do so, take a look at the new building of the Etablissement cantonal d'assurance contre l'incendie (ECA): Denis Savary's five parasols await you. These four-and-a-half-meter-high silhouettes, with their folded sides, look as if they're about to open up: farewell glass and concrete offices, head for the Costa Brava and even a little further inland, Figueras, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, who gave his name to this public art commission. The museum in the small Catalan town houses the costumes created by Gala and Dalí for the Dior fashion house and the 1951 Venice Carnival, one of the inspirations for the project by Savary, an artist from the canton of Vaud. This army of parasols, wisely lined up along a footpath, can be transformed into long, draped figures or ... why not lollipops? From a distance, as well as up close, these smooth-surfaced fiberglass sculptures readily accept the comparison with sweets on sticks, right down to their gradations of color; a connection that the artist does not deny, evoking the anecdote according to which Dalí created the daisy-shaped logo of the famous Spanish lollipops "Chupa Chups".


Deceptive immobility
With this first public art commission, Savary has learned to distance himself from the field of "impermanence" identified by Jean-Paul Felley and Olivier Kaeser during an exhibition of the artist's work at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris in 2016. While video, photography and drawing dominated the artist's artistic beginnings, today, still with the desire to "maintain the photographer's relationship with reality", he ventures into a permanent body of work. "It's as if it's always been there", a comment made by an ECA employee, is one of Savary's highest compliments. But if the pieces, fashioned "in a range of cooler and cooler colors that can blend in with nature", convey this deceptive impression of immobility, there's metamorphosis in the air: the whims of the weather (a ray of sunshine or a rainy afternoon) and the changing seasons play with the sculptures, which are sometimes transparent, sometimes opaque. A vague reference comes to mind, Claes Oldenburg, with whom Savary shares a weakness for changes of scale. It was he, the American master of pop art, who was photographed in 1962 with his piece 'Soft Ice Cream' strapped to the roof of his car: an iconic shot that Denis Savary recalled during a working trip to Sicily in 2017. It was one of those visual upheavals he's become accustomed to, caused by the sight of Alfa Romeo models made by a family ceramics workshop. "The associations are essentially formal, as I have a bond with the image", he admits, and the result? A series of fifteen small automobiles in colored ceramic, topped with Italian sweets - "cannolo", brioche or ice cream in a cone - called 'Gelamacchina'. Denis Savary's source of inspiration from the South never seems to dry up, nor does his interest in technical modernity. In Geneva, at the MAMCO, the two inspirations are once again merged around the figure of the founder of Futurism and the lesser-known "Tactilism", the Italian Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Concorde and the Futurist movement both held promise (speed, progress, the future), and today I propose a less heroic take on these two things", explains the artist. Once again, his work is highly referential: "My interest in art history is quite specific, and is linked to the history of modernity and the avant-garde, which today seems thwarted and full of unfulfilled promises. What remains of these illusions? Is a re-enchantment possible?


An ode to re-enchantment

This question has been answered with a daring scenography based on this new Futurist invention born in the early 1920s. The starting point is a "tactile tablet" exhibited in the Geneva museum room, about which Marinetti wrote: "Soudan-Paris, contains in its Soudan part rough, greasy, planing, pungent, burning tactile values (...); in its Mer part, slippery, fresh metallic tactile values (...); in its Paris part, soft tactile values, very delicate, caressing, hot and cold at the same time (...)". Faithful to With a taste for translation and the help of an upholsterer, Savary created his own life-size version of the Italian artist's model-manifesto: a "tactile bed" enthroned in the middle of the room on a bright green Pirelli floor (another nod to Italianness). The room is still divided into three sections: the "Soudan" at the head of the bed, evoking the dryness and harshness of the desert, with a non-slip step (a translation of Marinetti's rasp), a broom (instead of a brush) and a huge sponge; the marine world of the "Mediterranean" in the center, with natural materials - wood bark, leather; and finally, to retranscribe the bourgeois and cosseted interiors of Paris, a third "Paris" strip covered with fabrics from the Maison Lelièvre's historic collection. For the overall ambience, one hesitates between a hotel room (a feeling reinforced by the presence of a TV retransmitting the images of 3D scans from the touch pad); a space station room, which would draw the ensemble towards a science-fiction universe (the black-and-white images of the scans recalling satellite images of distant planets); or the playful, colorful atmosphere of a child's bedroom. In Denis Savary's work, the apparent simplicity of the objects and the banality of the situations covered in a pop look are not devoid of irony, without ever lapsing into cynicism. 
It's a glimpse into the world, seen through the prism of poetry and perhaps even childhood - from parasols with a false air of lollipops to little cars. A territory of childhood and reverie to which we could add other creations: puppets ('Alma', 2007) and inflatable airplanes ('Concorde', 2022), frogs straight out of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales ('Franz' series, 2019-2021), deconstructed miniature dollhouses ('Villa' series, 2021) and even blown-glass pears ('Louis' series, 2020), ersatz to the famous poisoned apples. A roguish vocabulary borrowed from fairy tales, betraying an attempt to reenchant the world. Between assemblies of references and visual associations, Denis Savary's brain, always on the lookout "to find pile-ups much stronger than reality itself", seems to function, in short, like a Russian doll.
Ingrid Dubach-Lemainque, critic and art historian, lives on Lake Murten.

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