Xavier Orssaud | Studio Encounter at EKWC
View of the exhibition À fleur de roche: nourriture, 2023, Centre Culturel Georges Vanier, Montréal, Canada.
This text discusses the work of visual artist Xavier Orssaud, and was written after a studio visit during his residency at the European Ceramic Work Center (EKWC) in Oisterwijk.
I met with Xavier a month into his three-month residency. He warmly welcomed me in EKWC; I was grateful to see the huge workspace for the first time, walking past kilns, glaze rooms and the high-ceiling studios, to get to his own. The studio is spacious, with work tables and walls filled with materials, new ceramic work samples and notes on elaborate ongoing processes. Excited about having the time, space and equipment to dedicate himself into further research on materials and colours, he immediately lets me into the specifics of experimenting in different forms and scales!
‘You have to be very rigorous when testing; if you want to find something very interesting you have to test in a lot of different directions’
The artist splits his time in EKWC and his studio diving into books of glaze chemistry, exploring recipes, trying out gloopy forms; sharing his days with fellow residents in a communal way. The following lines are an attempt to convey parts of our engaging time together and offer an inside look into Xavier’s compelling artistic practice.
on matters that matter
Xavier challenges himself in his personal and professional life to make visuals and ceramic artefacts that reflect on human attitude towards the more-than-human and explore the relationship and ambiguity between organic and mineral matter as a means to rethink our link with nature. Asked about the motivation and meaning behind his work, he humbly admits that it is ‘difficult to escape the frame, as it has to do with what is happening with the environment today.’ What he does is composed as a visual critique on the environmental crisis and on human interventions to natural landscapes. The dedication and honesty are reflected in his voice. ‘I know that within the discourse about nature I also have to adjust myself and my own practice.’
shifting landscape narratives
It is impressive to see how his work embodies a sense of urgency but at the same time comes from a place of playful creative experimentation. Merging screen printing and ceramics, the artist explores shapes and placements to build critical landscapes. For his latest projects, Xavier has been combining screen prints and installations. Researching landscape painting of the 16th – 18th century, he was intrigued by how artists of the time painted landscapes indoors, providing only artificial, idealised depictions.
‘When they were painting a landscape, they were not going outside. They were sketching, coming back to the studio and organising it, composing it. So, it was all fake! Does it really represent how nature is? Nature is chaos, it’s a mess!’
We dive deeper into this conversation of humans trying to exploit and adjust nature to their own liking. To critique this approach of ‘organising’ nature, he created his own allegorical prints named ‘Ideal Landscapes’. The prints are composed in photoshop merging paintings with photography from now in a patchwork manner to highlight how human intervention affects landscapes. In the first print he shares with me, part of the installation végétation, multiple paintings from the 16th century are combined with the picture of a large mine in the former USSR. The installation’s 3-dimensional structures and images echo each other:
‘I use screen printing in a way that blurs the limit of when it stops being a painting and starts to be a photograph, once it is printed. (points at the installation) this was a crescent built for an exhibition in Montreal; the shape of the crescent refers to the shape of the mine. It’s all connected. It’s fossilised nature and here we are talking about mining. Mining shapes the landscape, leaving a huge trace.’
He shows me another one of his Ideal Landscapes, this time featuring a photograph of a landslide in South America.
‘I felt very guilty to work with this image; there were victims because of this landslide but it is what is happening right now, I had to show it’
For his project Gathering food after the disaster, Xavier collected his own food waste: chicken bones, orange, avocado, citrus skin, eggshells, tomato brunches. He explains in detail how he dipped them into clay to make sure the shape is not lost, how he fired them at 1000 degrees, burning the organic matter and eventually creating fossilised shapes of his food later to be completed with rot-looking glaze.
But what happens after the exhibition?
Close to the end of our encounter, we reflect on ways such practices can be respectful towards nature as well as sustainable. Making prints is a long process requiring water and energy so he prefers to work with quality over quantity, carefully picking visuals to be printed. For his installations, almost all materials are reused or repurposed. All 850 kilos of rocks used for the À fleur de roche exhibition in Montreal were donated.
‘After the exhibition, I put a note online saying I’m giving away pebbles, do you need them for your garden? Just come! And people were very happy!’
At the exhibition space of EKWC, he plans to create the physical landscape’s ground using coffee collected from the common kitchen’s coffee machine. The coffee is beautifully laid on a shelf in his studio to dry. Closing our conversation, we discuss the Rivers and Tides documentary, Andy Goldsworthy, radical ecology art initiatives and ways he would see his practice evolving in the future in a reciprocal relationship with nature:
‘If not in a museum or gallery, I would be interested in working outside. In the woods. My process will have to go through weather, through rain, through sun.’
Bio Xavier Orssaud
Xavier Orssaud holds an MFA in Visual Arts from École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris Cergy (2022) and two BFA (2006) from the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne in Visual Arts and Aesthetics. His work has been exhibited in various solo shows and groups shows in Canada like la galerie La Cenne (Montréal, 2021), the 12th Biennale Internationale d’Estampe Contemporaine (Trois-Rivières, 2021), la Galerie de l’Atelier Circulaire (Montréal, 2023) and Open Studio (Toronto, 2019). His projects have been supported by the Art Council of Québec (2019 et 2021) and the Canadian council for the Arts (2023). He is currently in residence at the European Ceramic Work Center (EKWC) in the Netherlands. French and Canadian, he lives between Paris and Montreal.
Xavier Orssaud website